Bump drafting causing stir in Cup garage

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Ban the bump draft! That's the cry
echoing around the garage area at Daytona International Speedway
heading into Sunday's Daytona 500.

Bump drafting -- thumping the rear bumper of the car ahead to
help speed up a pass -- has become a common sight during races on
Daytona's 2½-mile oval.

On Thursday, during the second 150-mile qualifying race for the
Daytona 500, NASCAR bad boy Kevin Harvick used the tactic at the
wrong moment, hitting the rear of race leader Jimmie Johnson as
they drove through the second turn.

The contact sent Johnson spinning and sparked a seven-car pileup
that did major damage to the cars of Harvick, Mark Martin, Rusty
Wallace, Joe Nemechek and Dave Blaney. Martin's team was attempting
to repair his car, but the other four were all forced to switch to
backup cars and will have to start from the rear of the 43-car
field in Sunday's 500.

Martin, who also raced in the non-points Budweiser Shootout Feb.
12, said the level of on-track aggression has definitely gone up
this month.

"Both of the qualifying races were rougher than normal,'' he
said. "The Shootout seemed to be a wreck looking for a place to
happen and it was incredible that we didn't have one.''

Kyle Petty really dislikes the bump drafting tactic.

"I think it is absolutely, positively idiotic. Period,'' Petty
said. "At 180 miles per hour, whether you're running in a straight
line or in the corner, you shouldn't be running into people.

"We should be better drivers than to run into each other. Let's
go back 10, 15, 20 years. Who heard of bump drafting? People raced
each other clean.''

But Ricky Rudd said just about everybody uses bump drafting
these days.

"In our racing now, because you get stuck beside somebody, it's
not just a case of saying, `I'm going to give this guy a rap and
let him know I'm back here.' It's like, `Hey, come on and hit me. I
need to get by this guy because I've been sitting behind him for
two laps and I need to get on and go.'

"The pattern has been getting more and more aggressive.''

Petty, a third generation NASCAR star, said the bump drafting
shows a lack of respect.

"If you talked to Richard Petty or Bobby Allison about racing
at Daytona, the one word they always brought up was respect,'' Kyle
said. "They respected each other's ability. They respected each
other's equipment. They respected the speed they were running at.

"I don't think that's true any more. You don't have the respect
of the space that's yours on the racetrack. That's not your space
any more.''

NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said the stock car sanctioning
organization currently plans no action but will keep an eye on the
bump drafting situation.

"Bump drafting is a part of racing, especially when guys are
running plate races because they are afraid to lift out of the
throttle,'' Hunter said. "As a result, they slide up and hit
somebody as opposed to lifting and pulling up and causing a massive
domino effect behind them.

"I honestly don't think anybody tries to do it in the corners.
I think things like what happened yesterday results from a car
being loose and another guy pulling up on him. You can always
second guess accidents.''

Hunter said he expects Nextel Cup director John Darby and NASCAR
vice president for competition Robin Pemberton to advise drivers
"that it's not smart to be doing that in the corners.''

"We'll continue to watch it, but common sense in the driver's
seat should take care of bump drafting,'' Hunter said.

Impound lot
NASCAR announced recently that it will impound the
cars following Cup qualifying at about two-thirds of its tracks
this season and keep them from the teams until just before the
start of the races.

Only minor adjustments, made under NASCAR supervision, will be
allowed and the cars will have to start on the same tires and with
the same fuel load with which they qualified.

Now there are rumors sweeping through the garages at Daytona
International Speedway that NASCAR will do the same next year
before the Daytona 500, holding the cars from the end of qualifying
on Sunday until the start of the 150-mile qualifying races the
following Thursday.

"That's one of the options we're looking at, but it's too early
to tell what we're going to do for next year,'' NASCAR spokesman
Jim Hunter said.

New General boss
General Motors has named Mark Kent its new director
of racing. Kent will oversee engineering and marketing for GM's
motorsports programs, including NASCAR, IRL, NHRA, SCCA, Grand
American and American Le Mans.

The 44-year-old Kent replaces Doug Duchardt, who recently
resigned to become vice president of development for Hendrick
Motorsports. Duchardt held the GM position for two years.

Kent has worked for GM in powertrain development for both
production and race vehicles.