NASCAR is relaxing some of its rules this season, and encouraging drivers to show more aggression and emotion, in large part to answer a growing fan sentiment that the sport had gone stale.
"There's an age old saying that NASCAR, 'If you ain't rubbing, you ain't racing,' " NASCAR president Mike Helton said Thursday. "I think that's what the NASCAR fan, the NASCAR stakeholders all bought into, and all expect."
The first change will be evident when the season opens next month at Daytona International Speedway, where restrictions on bump-drafting will be lifted and horsepower will be increased by the use of the largest restrictor plate since 1989.
NASCAR had been slowly tightening its tolerance on bumping at Daytona and Talladega - the two biggest and fastest tracks in the series, where the horsepower-sapping restrictor plates are used to control speeds - and it graduated into an outright ban issued the morning of the October race at Talladega. The edict sucked the drama out of what's typically one of the most exciting races of the year, and was the final straw for many race fans who had grown tired of the watered -down racing.
"We will put it back in the hands of drivers, and we will say 'Boys, have at it and have a good time,' " said vice-president of competition Robin Pemberton.
The yellow out-of-bounds line that circles the bottom of those two tracks will remain, and Pemberton said the majority of drivers did not want that removed.
Other changes coming this year will be an eventual switch from the rear wing to a spoiler, a design to the car that should both positively affect downforce and the esthetic look that race fans prefer.