By Matteo Marcheschi

@ajetdryer on Twitter

February 9, 2017

The Impacts of Nascar’s New Damage Repair Rule

During Nascar’s press conference announcing the new race format, one comment was lost among all the talk about stages and playoff points: a new rule stating that teams will no longer be allowed to replace body panels, on pit road or otherwise. Nascar expanded on this new damage repair policy on Wednesday, introducing several new aspects to the rule, including a five-minute pit road clock to repair crash damage. This clock starts at pit entry and ends at pit exit. If a team exceeds this five-minute limit, their car will be retired from the race. Their car will also be retired if they take it to the garage as a result of crash damage, or if too many pit crew members jump over pit wall during the repair. Nascar says this policy doesn’t apply to purely mechanical issues, only to damage resulting from crashes, and that’s where the line gets blurred. Looking back, there have been plenty of instances where pit crews have been able to repair cars after crashes in over five minutes, and still get a decent finish, much better than if they were to retire the car.

Jimmie Johnson’s impressive recovery from a crash in the 2012 Chase race at Kansas has been thrown around in Nascar circles as one of these comebacks. Johnson backed his car into the wall just past the halfway point in that race, and drove to pit road with major damage. His crew was able to get it patched up over several pit stops, most likely totaling over five minutes. Johnson’s team would’ve likely had to retire under this new rule, but, in reality, Johnson came back to finish ninth, and stayed in the championship hunt. Austin Dillon’s third-place finish at Talladega this year, with a car that looked more like a pile of napkins than a Nascar car, also fits into this category. However, this new rule may make these comebacks much rarer, and even more special, with the pit crew’s efficiency playing an even bigger part.

The technicalities of the new rule, however, seem to raise red flags. What exactly counts as a crash? Kyle Busch’s infamous 2013 Coca Cola 600 camera cable incident comes to mind as one that would challenge officials. Busch, the race’s then-leader, hit a cord that had snapped while carrying a camera over Charlotte Motor Speedway. The cord sliced into the side of Busch’s car, which the team was able to repair. While Nascar allowed the teams impacted by the incident to repair their cars under the subsequent red flag, which is normally prohibited, this new rule may muddy the waters even further during these types of incidents. Whether this would have counted as a crash would be up to Nascar’s discretion.

How Nascar will enforce this rule, then, is still up in the air. How closely related would a crash and subsequent mechanical issue have to be in order for that issue to be considered crash damage? That question, and plenty of others, still remain for 2017.