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'Bump-drafting' will be monitored, possibly penalized

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Two days after Nextel Cup champion
Tony Stewart said the bumping and banging at Daytona International
Speedway must stop before somebody gets hurt or killed, NASCAR
decided to begin policing what drivers call "bump drafting."
The practice -- slamming into the rear of another car to maintain
momentum -- is common at Daytona and Talladega, the only two NASCAR
tracks that require carburetor restrictor-plates to choke
horsepower and limit speeds.
Although this has been going on for years, Stewart thinks it's
out of control. And NASCAR apparently agrees.
Nextel Cup officials said Tuesday that spotters in "zones" in
the turns on the 2.5-mile Daytona track will feed information to
NASCAR, which will then determine whether to penalize cars in
Sunday's season-opening race.
The decision came in the wake of Stewart's criticism of bump
drafting in superspeedway racing following a particularly wild ride
in Sunday's Budweiser Shootout exhibition.
Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition, and Nextel Cup
director John Darby outlined a plan to begin policing the bump
drafting in Thursday's two 150-mile qualifying races for Sunday's
Daytona 500.
"As we go forward in attempting to control bump drafting in
those areas, there's going to be some very subjective calls being
made," Darby said. "That's the reason we'd like to get this under
way as quickly as possible. ... Hopefully we don't have to make a
call. But if we do make a call in the twins, it wouldn't be quite
as painful as having to make it in the Daytona 500."
Pemberton said penalties for overzealous bumping could range
from driving through the pit lane at the pit road speed limit to
being parked for repeat offenses.
He said it will be up to the drivers to keep from getting into
trouble on track.
"It's a serious matter," Pemberton said. "To leave it in our
hands when we're not out there, they may get a call they didn't
bargain for."
Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip, said the new policy
could be a problem.
"That's going to be really arbitrary to police because even the
most sublime bump drafts at a time when a guy's getting ready to
make a move in another direction can result in sending a guy out of
control," Waltrip said. "It seems to me it would have to result
in a crash before (NASCAR) could react.
"If you bump draft going straight really hard, that's OK. You
have to know the other guy is going to continue in a straight line.
Even if you barely bump draft him, it would cause a crash if he's
starting to make a move."
Darby said NASCAR is going to try to work with the competitors
on the situation.
"Every bump draft will not create a penalty," Darby said.
"Every time a car touches another car will not create a penalty.
Unless it becomes very apparent to us that there is an unnecessary
hit, specifically in one of the no zones, we will not issue a
penalty."
Darby noted that bump drafting in and of itself is not an
offense.
"It can enhance the excitement of the race," he said. "As it
transfers to stock cars, and particularly applies to Daytona and
Talladega, with the cars running closer together, a bump draft at
the right time in the right place is not the worst thing in the
world. But it has been turning bump drafting into slam drafting
because the hits just keep getting harder and harder and harder."
Pemberton said having officials police bump drafting is not a
long-term solution.
"There are a number of things that can be done," he said.
"But we have to do it right and make sure that whatever the fix
is, the cars are at least as safe as they are now."