NASCAR’s sanctioning body is often criticized for its inconsistent rulings and constant adjustments of the rules and regulations. They have been known to change rules at a moment’s notice, often during the season, leaving teams and drivers frantically trying to adapt.
Over the years, NASCAR has modified and changed several of its rules to make racing more exciting and enhance driver safety. Some have been as simple as mandating five lug nuts on every wheel and others have involved complicated regulations regarding car setups. Recent years have seen more and more changes to try and improve the product on the track, as NASCAR looks for a new, younger fan base.
Whatever the reason for rules changes, I’m sure NASCAR will continue to tinker and change its rulebook as they have been for years. With that in mind, here are the 15 rules changes that changed NASCAR Forever.
15. “Bump Drafting” Ban
If you aren’t familiar with bump drafting, it’s the the practice of using your bumper to push the car in front of you and maximize your ability to draft off one another, in effect making you both faster. Bump drafting has been practiced in NASCAR for decades but it gained mainstream popularity in the mid-2000s. Drivers began using the tactic at Daytona and Talladega, NASCAR’s two super speedways, as a way to maximize speed. By 2009, drivers discovered a system of “tandem drafting” in which they would lock bumpers all the way around the racetrack in pairs of two. NASCAR made changes to the cars to prevent tandem drafting in 2012 but drivers would still bump each other around the track.
Bump drafting can be a dangerous tactic. If you don’t hit the car in front of you square in the bumper, you can spin them out and cause a large wreck. Because of this, NASCAR began limiting bump drafting to only on straightaways, outlawing it in turns. In 2018, NASCAr completely outlawed any form of bump drafting and brought in strict penalties. This ban has essentially prevented drivers from pushing each other around the track to gain an edge, completely changing the way drivers race on super speedways in the future.
14. The Five-Man Pit Crew
The newest rule change in NASCAR came into effect at the beginning of the 2018 season. NASCAR has limited the number of pit crew members that are allowed to service the car during a pit stop to five. This change has already had a huge effect on race teams by changing the way pitstops are performed. There is no longer a specific crew member to jack the car up, and the fuel-man can only fuel the car, nothing else.
It’s still early in the 2018 season, but the change has led to slower pitstops and crew chiefs calling different strategies during the race. A lot more teams are taking two tires instead of four on pitstops to speed up their stops.
The strangest thing about this rule is that no one really knows why it was enacted. Was it an effort to slow down pit stops? Was it to cut costs for teams by laying off additional crew members? Whatever the reason, analysts, fans, and the media have yet to find a logical reason to make teams change the way they perform pit stops.
Like it or hate it, the rule is here to stay for the foreseeable future as NASCAR makes more and more rule changes to try and shake up the sport.
13. Impound Races
In 2005, NASCAR enacted a new race weekend protocol for its Cup Series. This protocol included a new impound rule, which stated that all cars would be impounded after qualifying and practice time would be limited. NASCAR only allowed teams one practice session before qualifying, and would then impound the cars after the qualifying session, meaning that no work or adjustments could be made to the car before the race began. If teams made any adjustments, they would be penalized and forfeit their qualifying time.
This impound process also took away the usual “happy hour” final practice session that teams used to shake down their cars and get a proper setup for the race. This meant that the first portions of races saw drivers using their qualifying setups and lacked exciting racing. NASCAR would eventually rescind its impound rule after several years, but the sport definitely saw a rough period while these impound rules were in place.
12. Five-Minute Crash Clock
The “Five-Minute Crash Clock” is one of the most controversial rule changes in NASCAR history. Before the rule was enacted, teams could go to the garage with their car during a race and attempt to fix it in an effort to get back out on the track and gain a few extra positions. In 2017, NASCAR enacted the five-minute clock meaning that teams have just five minutes to try and fix their car on pit road. If they can’t, they’re parked for the day. You can no longer take your car to the garage and try to re-enter the race after repairs.
NASCAR claimed this rule was enacted to prevent slow, damaged cars from entering the track and causing further cautions flags. The rule was changed again at the beginning of the 2018 season with the time being extended to six minutes. Many fans claim that this rule is good for the sport and has helped to limit caution flags. Many team owners and crew personnel have complained that the rule prevent them from making minor repairs and getting back on the track to gain a few spots and earn precious championship points.
11. Double-File Restarts
In the good ol’ days of NASCAR, on each restart the cars would line up single file and then any lapped cars would line up to the inside of them. This gave the first car down a lap a chance to race the leader and try to get back on the lead lap. In 2009, NASCAR introduced double-file restarts, just like at the start of every race. The first place car now decides if he wants the inside or outside lane and the rest of the cars form up double-file behind them.
This doesn’t seem like such a big change, but it also lead to the creation of the “wave around.” This occurs when cars down a lap do not pit under a caution flag and are then given a chance to pass the leader and get a lap back before the race resumes. This has given many drivers an opportunity to bounce back from bad luck early in the race and get a lap back. It’s honestly created a whole new set of strategies.
Double-file restarts have led to more exciting racing on very restart and have been a huge improvement in the sport.
10. Pit Road Speed Limit
Before 1991, pit roads on the NASCAR circuit were like the Wild West. You could pretty much do whatever you wanted, including drive at any speed. Yeah, there used to be no speed limit on pit road, as it was essentially considered part of the race track. At Atlanta in 1990, the rear tire changer for Melling Racing was killed after being struck by a race car on pit road. This prompted NASCAR to finally implement a pit road speed rule.
Pit road speed limits are different at every track depending on the average speed and lap times at that track. Unlike other series, NASCAR does not allow a rev limiter for driving on pit road, it is up to teams to watch their tachometer and figure out the proper speed. If a driver is caught speeding, they are given a penalty.
It’s unfortunate that it took the death of a crew member for NASCAR to finally see the danger of an unrestricted pit road. But the implantation of a pit road speed limit has prevented any further fatalities and helped change the sport for the better.
9. The “Lucky Dog”
Allow me to preface by saying that this rule is technically referred to as “The Beneficiary Rule.” But the “Lucky Dog” is how fans watching NASCAR on TV know it.
So this rule is simple — when a caution flag comes out, the first driver down a lap gets to go back on the lead lap before the next restart. So how is this rule groundbreaking? Before the Lucky Dog, when a caution came out, driver still raced from wherever they were on track back to the finish line before slowing down to caution speed. This old way was abandoned immediately following a race at New Hampshire in 2003, when the disabled car of Dale Jarret was almost repeatedly struck while drivers raced back to the line. NASCAR officials felt this was far too dangerous and have used the Lucky Dog rule every since.
This changed NASCAR forever because now drivers have even more incentive to not allow the leader to lap them. They will put up a fight on the racetrack to prevent being put a lap down. It’s allowed for a lot more excitement and on-track shenanigans on race day.
8. Limiting Participation
For years NASCAR’s lower developmental series, like the Truck and Xfinity Series have been invaded by established Cup Series drivers looking for a bit of extra fun. The problem because very apparent in the mid-2000s when nearly every Busch (now Xfinity) series race was won by a Cup Series regular. In 2017, NASCAR finally decided to remedy the issue by limiting the amount of races full-time Cup drivers could run in the other two series.
Beginning in 2017, Cup drivers with at least five years of Cup experience were limited to just seven races in each of the Truck and Xfintiy series. Cup drivers were also completely barred from the championship-deciding season finale races. In 2018, the rule was further expanded to any driver racing full-time in the Cup series, regardless of experience. So now Cup regulars have to pick and choose which Xfinity and Truck events they want to compete in due to these limitations.
Whether you like the rule or not, a focus has now been put on the full-time drivers in NASCAR’s developmental series. They no longer have to outperform established Cup Series regulars to have the spotlight shine on them.
7. Points Declaration
From 2006 to 2010, the championship for NASCAR’s developmental Xfinity Series was won by a full-time Cup Series driver. This prompted NASCAR to change the way points were awarded in their top three series. Starting in 2011, NASCAR mandated that a driver could only earn points in one of NASCAR’s top three national touring series. For example, if a driver ran full-time in the Cup Series and declared for points in that series, even if he or she ran the full Xfinity Series schedule, they would earn no points and were barred from winning the championship.
This rule has prevented established Cup Series veterans from going down to a lower series and stealing the championship from developmental drivers. Whether the ruling is good for NASCAR or not, it has had a significant impact on driver development, allowing younger drivers to contend for a championship.
6. The Charter System
As far as I’m concerned, NASCAR’s tradition of free enterprise died when the Charter System was introduced in 2016. The Charter System granted 36 teams that had been full-time the previous four seasons an automatic entry into each Cup Series race. This essentially killed all of NASCAR’s small teams and put even more power in the hands of the full-time, powerhouse teams.
Before the Charter System, the top 35 in owners’ points were locked into each race. The top 35 were fluid based on points and you could earn your way in with a string of good finishes. This all went away in 2016 and so did many of NASCAR’s small teams, as they now had no chance of ever being locked into each race. NASCAR also limited the field to 40 cars (from 43) and decided that prize money would no longer be made public. This has led many to believe that with the Charter System came with smaller purses for races.
The Charter System is one of the biggest rules changes in the history of NASCAR, as it has completely changed the way teams operate. It has also led to fewer teams competing based on (supposedly) smaller purses. NASCAR now struggles to have a full field of cars show up for each race.
5. Green-White-Checker Finishes
In 2004, NASCAR adopted a new rule to prevent any race from ending under the caution flag, due to several incidents happenings at the end of races. Many ended under caution, which angered NASCAR fans who felt they’d been duped out of an exciting finish.
NASCAR’s response was to adopt a rule known as the “Green-White-Checker Rule.” This rule states that if a caution comes out and the race is to end under the caution flag, two laps are added and another restart is attempted. This rule has undergone several changes in recent years, but currently the rule states that NASCAR will attempt an unlimited amount of these green-white-checker finishes if caution flags continue to come out.
Now, the race can still end under caution, even with this rule. If the white flag flies for the final lap and an on-track incident causes a caution flag, the field is frozen and the current leader is declared the winner. Despite this, the green-white-checkered rule has led to countless exciting finishes that otherwise may never have happened.
4. Restrictor Plates
After a horrific crash by Bobby Allison at Talladega Superspeedway in 1987, NASCAR realized it had to do something about the high speeds at superspeedways. In 1988, NASCAR mandated restrictor plates on all cars at Daytona and Talladega. These plates restrict airflow to the engine and slow the cars down, allowing for safer speeds. However, a byproduct of these restrictor plates has been large, and often dangerous, drafting packs.
Restrictor plates allow for easier drafting. Drivers immediately began running in large packs, drafting off each other to gain an aerodynamic advantage to go faster. This has led to several large crashes, some of which have caused injury on occasion. But any NASCAR fan will tell you that Daytona and Talladega have some of the most exciting racing, due to drafting.
Restrictor plates have also helped level the playing field at Daytona and Talladega. Drivers for small teams with lesser equipment are able to use the draft to their advantage and run up front with the powerhouse teams. Some of NASCAR’s most memorable upsets have occurred in restrictor plate races.
3. The Car of Tomorrow
Safety is such an important part of NASCAR and rules changes are made every year to keep drivers safe. In 2007, NASCAR began mandating a new chassis and car design, dubbed ‘The Car of Tomorrow ” (or “COT”). It was boxier than the traditional car, and featured a winged spoiler on the rear of the car. The COT was designed to keep drivers intact, with added safety features. NASCAR also boasted that it would be cheaper for teams to build and operate this new car.
At first the COT was met with heavy criticism from both drivers and fans. The racing was poor, the car was slower, and it was not at all cheaper to build. In fact, the COT cost teams millions in development and testing, and even led to several small teams shutting down due to high costs.
The COT was a big pill to swallow at the time, but with the changes made to it over the years, the racing has improved and teams have found more cost-effective ways of producing it. Overall, the car has made NASCAR safer. That’s better for everyone, even if fans had to deal with some poor racing for a short time.
2. Stage Racing
In 2017, NASCAR made a massive change to the way we all know stock car racing. They decided to split races into three stages, each with a different number of laps with a caution period between each stage. The top-ten finishers in the first two stages would be awarded extra championship points in descending order, from ten for first place to one for tenth place.
Naturally, this change was met with criticism. Fans complained that adding two extra stoppages to the race would slow the event down even further. But NASCAR felt that this would add excitement by effectively having three races in one. This also prevents one driver from simply dominating the race and putting nearly every car down a lap and cruising to the victory.
After a full season of stage racing, the jury is still out. Many fans have started to embrace it, including myself. It really has added more excitement and teams employ much more interesting strategies to try and steal a stage win. I believe this is actually one of the better rules changes NASCAR has made.
1. The Chase For The Championship
In 2004, NASCAR changed forever when it was announced the sport would change from a season-long points structure to a playoff-style format to decide its champion. The first incarnation of this change was “The Chase For The Championship.” After the first 26 races of the season, the top ten in points would have their points reset and be the only drivers eligible to win the title. These ten drivers would race each other over the final ten races of the season to decide the champion.
NASCAR has since made several changes to their playoff format. In fact they now refer to it simply as “the playoffs” instead of “The Chase.” In 2014, the playoffs expanded to the top 16 drivers in points and the criteria to qualify for the playoffs changed. Drivers can now earn an automatic playoff bid by winning a regular season race. As long as they also finish in the top-30 in points, they make the playoffs.
Fans still argue to this day over whether a playoff format makes sense in NASCAR, but I’d argue that it’s definitely shaken things up. Gone on the days of a driver clinching the title with five races left in the season, rendering the final races pointless. Now there’s excitement to the last lap of the last race.