Bump Drafting: Will Softer Fenders Stop the Practice?

Bump drafting has been around almost as long as NASCAR, if not longer. The practice of bumping a slower car from behind to push them along has been used by nearly every driver that's had a car fast enough to do it. Besides pushing the slower car ahead, it can also be used to make that car "wiggle" just enough to get them loose, so you can pass by them.

But the practice has been reaching a more and more dangerous threshold over the past few years. Bump drafting on straight-aways seemed acceptable to most drivers and fans, and even to NASCAR, judging by their lack of rulings to stop the practice. But when cars begin bump drafting in corners, it can easily cause spins that can result in horrendous crashes. And at the high speeds that today's cars are capable of, it makes the crashes all the more dangerous.

At tracks where restrictor plates are mandatory, bump drafting increases exponentially. The horsepower choking plates cause the bulk of the cars on the track to drive around in packs where bumping and grinding are almost unavoidable. At these tracks, the practice of bump drafting has gotten the most attention.

Earlier this year, Tony Stewart complained that NASCAR needed to do something about the bump drafting ³before someone gets killed². NASCAR listened, and stationed watchers at the corners during the Daytona 500 to watch for aggressive driving, and possibly hand out penalties to drivers who bump drafted unnecessarily in those corners. It slowed the bump drafting somewhat, but did not stop it.

With the race at Talladega, another restrictor plate track, fast approaching, NASCAR has gone a step further.

Knowing that bump drafting is common at these tracks, crews have strengthened their front bumpers, so that when they bump the car ahead of them, they don't suffer any damage to their front end. Front-end damage at a high-speed track is tantamount to putting a small wall in front of the car and asking the driver to push it around the track. The aerodynamics of the car are severely effected, and makes for a long day for the drivers and their crew.

But at Talladega this year, those strengthening measures are being taken away. NASCAR is adding a ruling eliminating the steel plates that have been used in the past and limiting the size of the tubing used for supports. The idea is that regular bump drafting will now cause unwanted damage, therefore making the driver think first, before bumping the car in front of them.

But will it be enough to stop the bump drafting?

"It might just help out the first three quarters of the race and maybe make guys think a little bit more about things," said Jeff Gordon. "It's not going to do anything for the last lap. On the last lap, guys are going to say, 'Hey, I don't need water in the engine anymore. I don't care if it overheats.'"

Greg Zipadelli, Crew Chief for the #20 Home Depot car, said "I think it's not going to solve the problem, but hopefully it will help the situation."

Another question is how much NASCAR can police the steel plates and tubing gauges.

"I think if NASCAR inspects them like they do everything else,² Zipadelli said, "you know what I mean? I think it's a fairly cut-and-dry, black-and-white area.

Gordon wasn't as sure about that. "I'm curious to see how they're going to govern that. There's a lot going on behind that front bumper that's easy to hide for the teams, with all the ducting and things for the radiator and the oil coolers and everything else. I don't know how they're going to know what one guy has in there and what another guy doesn't."

So will the new rulings put an end to the practice of bump drafting? Probably not. But it should certainly be a step in the right direction. On April 30, we¹ll find out for sure.

Published on April 20, 2006 in