NASCAR eases rules to 'allow drivers to drive'

NASCAR announced that it will relax some on-track rules, putting racing back in drivers' hands in 2010.

The changes, which begin with next month's season-opening events at Daytona International Speedway, will allow drivers to be even more racy. They also follow the sport's "back to basics" approach, which includes a return to earlier start times for races beginning with the Daytona 500 on FOX (1 p.m. ET on February 14) .

NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France said that while officials will maintain law and order, the loosening of on-track reins is another step in enhancing competition.

"Safety of the drivers remains paramount in everything we do," France said. "Over the past 10 years we've dramatically increased safety and that mission continues. However, it's time for us to allow the drivers to drive. We don't want the rules and regulations to get in the way of great racing and fantastic finishes.

"NASCAR is a contact sport -- our history is based on banging fenders."

Among the changes: Bump-drafting rules will be eliminated at superspeedways (Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway). Teams also will use a bigger restrictor plate at Daytona.

Eliminating bump drafting puts responsibility for on-track moves squarely back in drivers' hands, a decision already welcomed.

"Words can hardly describe how excited I am about the return of bump-drafting," said Talladega Superspeedway President Rick Humphrey. "NASCAR's decision to put the racing back in the hands of the drivers is sure to have a positive impact on the competition and excitement race fans experience at Talladega."

Larger restrictor plates -- a safety feature at superspeedways -- gives drivers more horsepower.

NASCAR also announced a change to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' new car, replacing the wing currently mounted on the rear of the car with a spoiler. A full-field test is scheduled for March 23-24 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Following that, a decision on when to implement the spoiler will be made based on teams' input.

"When I heard NASCAR talk about losing the wing and going back to the traditional spoiler that we've all looked at for 50 years, I was thrilled," said three-time Cup champion Darrell Waltrip, a NASCAR on FOX analyst. "Losing the wing will give cars that conventional stock car look. And a bigger restrictor plate will make racing better and drivers happier. It's a change that a fan won't see or feel, but the driver will. It will give them so much more throttle response. It's like swapping a four cylinder engine for a V8."

Officials believe the switch from wing to spoiler will return to a more traditional stock-car look.

"Over the last couple of years, there have been dozens of changes to this car, with this being the most visible change," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition.

Also significant: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby has been promoted to Managing Director of Competition, with oversight of all three national series' directors, officials, inspection processes and race officiating. He will continue in his series director's role until his successor is found.

"Probably no one is more qualified for this job than John," Pemberton said. "He knows and understands the officiating and inspection processes better than anyone and is the perfect fit."

Other changes announced Thursday:

Mike Fischer, managing director of NASCAR's Research and Development Center, has some additions to his team. They include Brett Bodine as the Director of Racing Research and Development, Tom Gideon as Director of Safety, Research and Development, and Jamie Dipetro as Manager of Safety Inspections Research and Development. Beginning with the Feb. 13 season-opener at Daytona, NASCAR Nationwide Series teams will be limited to 15 crew members, including the driver, crew chief, spotter and seven over-the-wall pit-crew members. Teams also won't be required to provide a scorer. Last year teams had no limit on at-track crew members. NASCAR Nationwide Series teams may run no more than two races in 2010 without using an engine sealed by series officials. Last year they could run three races before using a sealed engine. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series teams will use double-file restarts in 2010, making restart rules uniform across all three national series. Series teams also will return to traditional pit stops, eliminating last year's procedure of refueling and changing tires on separate stops. Teams also may use a new, vented fuel dump can, eliminating the need for a catch can.