Recognizing that complicated rules changes have led to new problems, NASCAR President Mike Helton said yesterday the series will return to its old way of scoring cars on pit road under a caution.
The positions of the cars on the track will be "frozen" once the yellow flag waves, but Helton said the pit lane will now be active. The change is effective immediately, and will affect all three of NASCAR's top series.
"That's how we used to do it, and it's pretty black-and-white," Helton said.
Unlike many racing bodies, NASCAR does not revert to the order of the last completed green-flag lap when there is a caution. Drivers used to race to the finish line when a yellow flag came out, but NASCAR scrapped that practice last fall for safety considerations.
Instead, NASCAR decided to "freeze the field" under caution. The change has caused much debate -- and confusion -- over how to freeze the drivers' positions, and Helton was forced to apologize after drivers at the MBNA 400 in Dover ran 24 laps under caution while officials struggled to figure out the correct order of cars.
Under the change announced yesterday, a car pitting behind the start-finish line when the caution comes out must reach that line before the lead car gets to the same point on the track. If it doesn't, it loses a lap to the leader.
Cars pitting in front of the start-finish line have to reach the pit road exit line before the lead car reaches the same point on the track to stay on the lead lap. Antennas and cameras will be used to ensure proper scoring.
And speeding during a caution period, whether on the track or on pit road, won't be tolerated, Helton said.
"If the leader on the racetrack does not reasonably slow down, then he'll be penalized by starting at the tail end of the longest line," Helton said. "If you speed to beat the leader . . . you'll lose that opportunity to get back ahead of him and you'll also be at the tail end of the longest line.
"We're not penalizing anybody a lap for speeding. The speeding penalty is the same. The question becomes whether or not you get to maintain that lap ahead of the leader or if you have to go behind him."
Helton also said NASCAR has been looking "very, very hard" at going to some version of what is called a green-white-checkered finish. When the white flag signifying one lap to go is waved, following a late caution flag, drivers would be assured a certain number of racing laps to the finish.
"The compromise of the pros and cons of green-white-checkereds is a balance we've had to look at and decide which is better," Helton said. "Certainly there's a willingness to change if something's not right. But I think NASCAR's typical style of doing things is to try to get it such that in just two or three weeks we're not going to change it again."
Four of the last nine NASCAR Nextel Cup races have ended under caution, meaning the drivers did not get to race to the finish but ended the day driving slowly behind the pace truck. That didn't make the drivers or the fans happy.
* BUSCH SERIES: Justin Labonte extended his family's winning tradition to another generation, earning his first NASCAR Busch series victory at the Tropicana Twister 300 in Joliet, Ill., as his father Terry looked on.
"To me, personally, it was bigger than any win I've ever had," said Terry Labonte, a two-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion. "I couldn't even talk after the race. It's pretty special, it really is. I don't know what else to say."
Running on Mike Wallace's bumper for the last three laps, Justin Labonte said he didn't think he could catch Wallace. But Wallace ran out of gas after they took the white flag for the final lap, and Justin Labonte -- whose uncle is Bobby Labonte -- flew by him and cruised to the win.
He beat Jason Keller by 0.419 seconds. Jeff Burton was third.
* FORMULA ONE: Kimi Raikkonen claimed his third career pole, and six-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher turned in the fourth-fastest time in qualifying for the British Grand Prix.
Raikkonen, of the resurgent McLaren Mercedes team, turned a fast lap of 1 minute 18.233 seconds on the 3.195-mile Silverstone circuit.
Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello, the defending champion who started from the pole last year, was second in 1:18.305.