NASCAR on Friday implemented a new rule sharply curbing drivers’ ability to walk on a race track in the aftermath of the fatal incident involving Tony Stewart.
Although the incident in which Stewart’s car struck and killed 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. was not during a NASCAR-sanctioned race, NASCAR took the step in response to the fatal event.
“This is one of those times where we look outside our sport … and we feel like it was time to address this,” Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, said at a news conference at Michigan International Speedway.
The incident “was obviously something that everybody paid attention to” and the rule “is on the heels of that,” Pemberton said.
During a sprint-car race at a dirt track in upstate New York on Saturday, Stewart — a three-time NASCAR champion — and Ward were racing side-by-side when Ward’s car hit the fence and crashed.
Ward climbed from his car, walked on the track and, while apparently gesturing at Stewart in anger, was struck by Stewart’s car as Stewart circled back around.
NASCAR drivers, too, have been known to emerge from their wrecked cars and, while standing on the race track, angrily gesture at rival drivers. Stewart himself threw his helmet at Matt Kenseth’s car on pit road at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in 2012.
Under the new rule, drivers generally are to stay in their cars until safety crews direct them to an ambulance or elsewhere unless the drivers are in an emergency situation, such as a fire or smoke inside their cars.
The rule says that otherwise, “at no time should a driver or crew member(s) approach any portion of the racing surface or apron” or approach another moving vehicle.
If a driver breaks the rule, the penalty would be on a case-by-case basis, Pemberton said. “It’s a behavioral penalty,” he said. “We’ll acknowledge it when it happens.”
The next NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race is Sunday at Michigan International, with practice and qualifying Friday.
Stewart is skipping the race, the second consecutive Cup race he’s missed since the fatal incident happened. Stewart has not said when he plans to race again.