DOVER, Del. - NASCAR's new rule, which eliminates racing back to the flagstand during a caution period, was supposed to make things simple on the Winston Cup Series.
Although drivers applauded it at Dover International Speedway, many said the format is confusing.
Not only are cars not allowed to pass once the caution light is displayed, cars in today's MBNA America 400 also will have new rules concerning the way they drive down pit road.
Drivers from the Busch and Winston Cup series were told in a closed-door meeting early Saturday that once the yellow light flashes, everyone is to slow down and fall in line. To avoid the temptation of trying to race back onto the lead lap, NASCAR also said the first car a lap down would automatically be placed back on the lead lap after every caution.
Because of months of complaining and the potential for tragedy last week at New Hampshire, where cars had to swerve to avoid Dale Jarrett's disabled car at the exit of the fourth turn, the sanctioning body this week said it would prohibit any passing once the yellow light is displayed.
Over the past 55 years, cars were allowed to pass as long as they hadn't driven past the flagstand to officially fall under caution-flag rules. Although drivers had a "gentleman's agreement" not to pass, several used the opportunity to improve their position by racing back to the flagman and others raced hard to get back on the lead lap.
Last week, when cars came off the fourth turn three-wide and appeared headed toward Jarrett's stationary car in the middle of the track, NASCAR got the message. When the three cars narrowly missed Jarrett, the sanctioning body felt it was time to take action.
Drivers left Saturday's meeting with more questions than answers. Why would one lapped car get a lap back? What happens when cars are side-by-side when the caution flag waves? What happens if the caution light comes on during the final lap?
"There are a few things that are a little foggy right now because of the rules, how exactly it's going to work," said Greg Biffle. "I think we're going to have to get in those situations and we'll see exactly what's going to work."
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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