With Talladega next on the NASCAR docket, officials spent Monday afternoon explaining rule changes made following Ryan Newman’s superspeedway accident in February.
Both Newman and LaJoie survived this terrifying Daytona crash, largely thanks to structural rules changes implemented in the last decade. With additional changes announced in May, NASCAR has raised the safety bar still higher. Image by Kinrade / Motorsport Images
NASCAR announced the rulebook updates on May 1, the changes based on findings from the ongoing investigation of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Ford in Newman’s vicious last-lap Daytona 500 accident. Although the pandemic has hindered NASCAR’s efforts to hold a full debrief with Newman and Roush team principals, the two sides have been in contact and worked together breaking down the accident.
There were three trends NASCAR wanted to address with the rules update going into Talladega: slowing the cars down; reducing the likelihood of a tandem draft; and findings from the No. 6 car to address going forward.
A more complete list of those updates can be found here.
Slowing the cars down
With a reduction in the size of the throttle body, going from 59/64″ to 57/64″, the expectation is a horsepower loss of somewhere between 35 and 40 horsepower this weekend.
“General rule of thumb, the teams use 30 horsepower per second,” said John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president of innovation and racing development. “With the (reduction of) 40 horsepower, we’d expect the cars to slow down by over a second (a lap) compared to what they would have run.”
By removing the aero ducts, the hope is to mitigate the likelihood that cars could tandem draft. The reduction in power should also help with that.
The addition of the No. 20 and No. 21 bars, which can be seen in this graphic. These bars are located on the driver’s side of the car and are now mandatory at superspeedway races.
NASCAR made no changes to the roll bar padding specifications that were announced. The goal with the update was to ensure the existing roll bar padding, as purchased from the various vendors, is used in the form as delivered and not modified.
The oil reservoir tank or overflow expansion tank must now contain a check value to mitigate the loss of oil when the car is upside down. That also comes following the Newman accident, where fluid leaking out of the trunk was oil.
By requiring slip tape from corner to corner on the car, the thought is that if the vehicles are locked together, it will minimize the ability of one car to upset another. Officials acknowledge it won’t eliminate that issue, but friction should be reduced.
Lastly, NASCAR updated the window-net mounting regulations. Probst admitted they were seeing “early signs” that the window net was being used for aero purposes. Starting this weekend, NASCAR is looking to have a more uniformed specification for the window net and its mounting.
NASCAR had initially scheduled one practice session for Saturday at Talladega, to get laps on the track with the updates. However, last week officials announced that, given feedback from the teams that the current “show up and race” format is working well, that practice has been eliminated.
“I would say we’re at a point now with a lot of the simulation that while these changes, when we list them out, may seem like a lot for the teams, it boils down to a lot of power- and drag-type things,” said Probst. “Having worked through it with them, we don’t feel right now we need to add any practice time to the Talladega scheduled.”
Probst and John Patalak, NASCAR senior director of safety engineering, were asked what the biggest factor in the Daytona 500 crash that kept Newman from a severe or fatal injury was. Patalak replied that is something officials have been spending a lot of time looking at and considering.
“When we look at things as a whole, stepping back from the whole process, we really start to see the benefit of some of the rule changes that were implemented in the past,” said Patalak. “We had new roll bars added in 2013 to the roof and windshield. That was of benefit to both vehicles, the 6 and the 32 (Corey LaJoie), in this crash. We had new window net mounting structures required in 2013, as well as the laminate windshield. Those also both benefited the cars.
“I think in 2015 we required all belts to seat, containment seats, with seven‑ or nine-point restraints. That was a big step. Any time you have a car inverted, the driver’s weight and gravity is pulling against the seat belts. Without that seventh point, that negative G belt, the driver’s body comes out of the seat more. That was in place here.
“Probably the biggest takeaway from me, looking at it all together, was the enhanced vehicle chassis. That was mandatory at Daytona and Talladega starting in 2016; everywhere else starting last year. When you really look at the two vehicles, how they interacted, the severity and the orientation of it all put together, those couple things really stood out as highlights to the outcome that we had.”