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NASCAR

Motorsports notebook: It’s time for common sense to prevail in NASCAR

  • FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2005, file photo, Robby Gordon walks onto the track during a caution and gets ready to throw his helmet at the car of Michael Waltrip after the two collided, knocking Gordon out of the race, during the NASCAR Sylvania 300 in Loudon, N.H.  NASCAR added a rule Friday, Aug. 15, 2014,  ordering drivers to not approach the track or moving cars after accidents. (AP Photo/Tim Boyd, File)

    FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2005, file photo, Robby Gordon walks onto the track during a caution and gets ready to throw his helmet at the car of Michael Waltrip after the two collided, knocking Gordon out of the race, during the NASCAR Sylvania 300 in Loudon, N.H. NASCAR added a rule Friday, Aug. 15, 2014, ordering drivers to not approach the track or moving cars after accidents. (AP Photo/Tim Boyd, File)

  • FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2005, file photo, Robby Gordon walks onto the track during a caution and gets ready to throw his helmet at the car of Michael Waltrip after the two collided, knocking Gordon out of the race, during the NASCAR Sylvania 300 in Loudon, N.H.  NASCAR added a rule Friday, Aug. 15, 2014,  ordering drivers to not approach the track or moving cars after accidents. (AP Photo/Tim Boyd, File)

    FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2005, file photo, Robby Gordon walks onto the track during a caution and gets ready to throw his helmet at the car of Michael Waltrip after the two collided, knocking Gordon out of the race, during the NASCAR Sylvania 300 in Loudon, N.H. NASCAR added a rule Friday, Aug. 15, 2014, ordering drivers to not approach the track or moving cars after accidents. (AP Photo/Tim Boyd, File)

  • FILE - In this Feb. 18, 1979 file photo, Bobby Allison holds race driver Cale Yarborough's foot after Yarborough kicked him following an incident on the final lap final lap of the Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Fla. NASCAR added a rule Friday, Aug. 15, 2014, ordering drivers to not approach the track or moving cars after accidents. "Really, we're formalizing rules that have been there," Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition and racing development, said at Michigan International Speedway. "It's reminders that take place during drivers meetings with drivers about on-track accidents. (AP Photo/Ric Feld, File)

    FILE - In this Feb. 18, 1979 file photo, Bobby Allison holds race driver Cale Yarborough's foot after Yarborough kicked him following an incident on the final lap final lap of the Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Fla. NASCAR added a rule Friday, Aug. 15, 2014, ordering drivers to not approach the track or moving cars after accidents. "Really, we're formalizing rules that have been there," Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition and racing development, said at Michigan International Speedway. "It's reminders that take place during drivers meetings with drivers about on-track accidents. (AP Photo/Ric Feld, File)

  • AJ Allmendinger waves the checkered flag as he celebrates in Victory Lane after winning a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Watkins Glen International, Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, in Watkins Glen, N.Y. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

    AJ Allmendinger waves the checkered flag as he celebrates in Victory Lane after winning a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Watkins Glen International, Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, in Watkins Glen, N.Y. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

  • FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2005, file photo, Robby Gordon walks onto the track during a caution and gets ready to throw his helmet at the car of Michael Waltrip after the two collided, knocking Gordon out of the race, during the NASCAR Sylvania 300 in Loudon, N.H.  NASCAR added a rule Friday, Aug. 15, 2014,  ordering drivers to not approach the track or moving cars after accidents. (AP Photo/Tim Boyd, File)
  • FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2005, file photo, Robby Gordon walks onto the track during a caution and gets ready to throw his helmet at the car of Michael Waltrip after the two collided, knocking Gordon out of the race, during the NASCAR Sylvania 300 in Loudon, N.H.  NASCAR added a rule Friday, Aug. 15, 2014,  ordering drivers to not approach the track or moving cars after accidents. (AP Photo/Tim Boyd, File)
  • FILE - In this Feb. 18, 1979 file photo, Bobby Allison holds race driver Cale Yarborough's foot after Yarborough kicked him following an incident on the final lap final lap of the Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Fla. NASCAR added a rule Friday, Aug. 15, 2014, ordering drivers to not approach the track or moving cars after accidents. "Really, we're formalizing rules that have been there," Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition and racing development, said at Michigan International Speedway. "It's reminders that take place during drivers meetings with drivers about on-track accidents. (AP Photo/Ric Feld, File)
  • AJ Allmendinger waves the checkered flag as he celebrates in Victory Lane after winning a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Watkins Glen International, Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, in Watkins Glen, N.Y. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

The tragedy involving Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward Jr. was less than a week old when NASCAR made the obvious move. No leaving the car during cautions, the auto racing body ruled Friday. If there’s smoke or a fire in the vehicle, that’s one thing. If the only impetus to leave is a raging temper, however, stay put.

Pretty straightforward, right? Not exactly, according to some of the best in the business.

“I don’t know how you can enforce a rule like that unless you had a robot on the track to grab the person and put them back in the car,” Brad Keselowski said in a conference call. “The only way you can enforce it is with a penalty system afterwards. Really, at that point it’s not effective. It’s a difficult rule to try to make work.”

Keselowski is right about one thing. NASCAR does need help in enforcing the rule. And a little common sense should suffice.

No matter how drivers spin it, there shouldn’t be a reason for this rule not to work. Yes, cars are hot, uncomfortable and a poor place to idle after a wreck, and true, drivers are rarely calm and collected when they’ve been taken out of a race. Still, it shouldn’t be asking too much for the driver’s first reaction to not be to welcome bodily harm by walking across lanes of traffic.

To its credit, NASCAR looks poised to help point these drivers toward sensible decisions. It will issue a penalty to drivers who choose to leave their car, with the punishment depending on the situation and nature of the infraction. Drivers like Jimmie Johnson approve the effort. They just don’t know if it’s going to work.

“I think that NASCAR has made the right move in redefining or better explaining, even making consequences for, letting emotions getting the best of you as a race car driver,” Johnson said, according to ESPN. “Will that stop a driver that’s really upset? I don’t know. It’s hard to say.”

Out-of-car theatrics have long had a place in NASCAR. The sport traces the spike in its popularity back to the 1979 Daytona 500, when Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison left their cars and got into a fistfight following a late wreck, and there have been plenty of on-track and on-course tantrums since. Robby Gordon, after getting wrecked by Michael Waltrip in Loudon in 2005, wandered into the oncoming cars and threw his helmet at Waltrip when he drove by. Johnson, mild-mannered as they get in Sprint Cup, couldn’t resist from approaching Gordon and flipping him his middle finger after a crash in Bristol in 2002. And Stewart, himself, was at the center of one of the more memorable recent events when he went up to Matt Kenseth’s car and threw his helmet at his hood after another Bristol crash in 2012.

Some of the on-track incidents have been more reckless than others. But they’ve drawn fans and generated interest, which even the drivers involved admit.

“I would say it has become that way, there’s no doubt about that,” Keselowski said. “I think if you look at the highlight reels that are shown, you think of Bristol, you think of Tony, other drivers at Bristol that have been known for it, Danica, whatnot.

“It certainly has become common, accepted practice.”

That last part will have to change. There are other ways – and places– to let the emotions out, and no one is asking these people to be choirboys. But high speeds and hot tempers are too dangerous a mix, and last weekend showed how bad it can get.

NASCAR will do what it can with rules and penalties. Maybe stiff suspensions will hammer the point home. It can only react once the altercations are done, however. It’s up to the drivers to prevent them, and there’s no excuse for that to be a challenge.

Coming full circle

When A.J. Allmendinger stood in Victory Lane last weekend, brimming with joy after his Chase-sealing win at Watkins Glen, it was only natural to think back to July 2012.

That was when Allmendinger was suspended for a positive test for amphetamines, a blow to his career and reputation that cast his NASCAR future in doubt. Most drivers tiptoed around the sensitive subject during media availability the following week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway – save for Brad Keselowski, who spoke seriously and almost fearfully of the devastation a positive test was capable of.

“Going in that room to have a drug test, and I’ve never taken drugs in my life, I’m scared s---less of it,” Keselowski said then. “It’s honestly a phobia of mine. I go in that room and I’m still scared because you know if something goes wrong, it’s a death sentence for your career. It’s over.”

The nature of Keselowski’s comments made it an even better story when Allmendinger grabbed the checkered flag at the Cheez-It 355, adding a Chase berth as another chapter to his comeback tale, and Keselowski was happy to see the maligned driver back in form.

“He’s clawed his way to where he’s at now to be able to get that first win. That’s something I think anyone can respect, and certainly I do, as well,” he said. “They’ve paid their dues, probably more so than anyone else in their situation. They deserved it. I’m just excited for them and happy for them.”

Biffle’s shot?

Much was made last weekend of Watkins Glen being road course guru Marcos Ambrose’s best shot at a win that would put him into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Now, those stakes could be the ones facing Greg Biffle.

The Roush Fenway driver is winless and eight points out of a Chase spot, but he’s at the right track to punch his ticket. He’s got four wins at Michigan, more than at any other track, and his 11.6 average finish there is his second-best at any venue (behind only his 10.7 at Kansas, where the Cup has already been). He’s also been successful recently, winning races in both 2012 and ’13.

Biffle could still make the Chase on points. But a win makes the bid easier, and he might not have a better chance at one than today.

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at abonifant@cmonitor.com or via Twitter @dbonifant.)

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