This is a frequently asked question, and one without a really concrete answer. NASCAR’s rulebook isn’t available to anyone but the teams and there’s been different penalties handed out for intentionally causing a wreck. But intentionally causing a wreck isn’t hitting (I sound like a five-year-old trying to get out of trouble for making his brother cry), so can NASCAR drivers really hit each other?
NASCAR drivers can bump each other, even to the point of spinning out without a penalty. They cannot “intentionally” wreck another driver, during the race or during a caution, and the penalties are given out on a situational basis. There have been plenty of races won and lost by bumping the car in front.
So, NASCAR cars can bump each other while they drive, but they can’t cause an intentional wreck. Who makes the decision? How do they decide what it legal and what is not? Keep reading to discover the convoluted world of NASCAR and their unofficial slogan of “rubbing is racing”.
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Can NASCAR Cars Hit Each Other?
They sure can. They can’t bump each other to intentionally cause a wreck, but they are allowed to make contact with other cars. NASCAR cars are designed to take a large beating, and many drivers don’t consider it a real race if their car doesn’t have someone else’s paint on it.
Unwritten rules of decorum guide who gets to bump who, and how aggressively many of the drivers will be. However, when the checkered flag is the reward, sometimes unwritten rules are forgotten.
There are some passes in NASCAR that rely on bumping:
Bump And Run: A trailing car intentionally bumps the car in front of it, making the wheels lose traction for a split second. This makes the lead car need to slow down, brake slightly, or turn to regain traction.
The trailing car then “runs” around the car that has been bumped. This is most recently seen in 2018 First Data race, when driver Martin Truex Jr bumped driver Joey Logano on the last lap, causing Logano to wash up the track and giving Truex Jr the win.
Bump Drafting: This is the precursor to a bump and run. A trailing car bumps the leading car with its front bumper and drafts off the car. The lead car is pushed a little forward, but the draft caused by the lead car lessens the amount of air that trailing car has to cut through, essentially allowing the driver to ease off the accelerator but stay the same speed. Many drivers think this is a dangerous practice, and it depends on the driver if the strategy is used.
It’s a strategy to bump, and it’s not going to result in a fine or in any sort of repercussion from the NASCAR organization itself. However, many drivers hold grudges, even between races.
A driver never bumps a teammate and wrecking them is out of the question. Intentionally causing a wreck is illegal in NASCAR, however the determination of whether or not there will be a fine or disqualification is on a case-by-case basis.
Most drivers only bump when it’s needed, and it’s rare to have a fine or disqualification during a race (excluding Kyle Busch). Some unwritten rules are that beef between drivers are handled on the track, usually by bumping. No intentionally causing wrecks. Only bump a teammate if you absolutely need to, and if someone bumps you, you can bump them back.
What Happens when you Crash in NASCAR?
Unlike other racing sports, a crash in NASCAR doesn’t mean that the driver or car is out of the race. If the driver crashes during the preliminaries, then they can use a backup car, but start near the end of the field. If they crash during a race, NASCAR teams are allowed to do everything possible to get a car back into the race. Even if they are 100 laps down, they still try in case a car in front of them doesn’t finish.
Every point helps in NASCAR and the standings, so teams don’t give up on repairing a car easily. Barring putting a whole new motor into the car, NASCAR allows every other fix imaginable. Even if a car is towed off of the track, teams are allowed to repair the car and send it back out to race IF it meets a minimum speed requirement. One point versus a disqualification is a big difference in NASCAR and teams work hard to get their car back on the track and racing.
Do Intentional Crashes Happen In NASCAR?
Yes, they do, but they are rare. Bump and runs are one thing, and they are a common strategy to get ahead of a race. Intentionally wrecking an opponent only occurs in rare circumstances.
The most famous is Kyle Busch intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday under caution in 2011. Busch was parked for the rest of the weekend, forcing someone else from his team to drive the other races. He was fined $50,000 and put on probation by NASCAR for the rest of the season.
This heavy of a punishment is due to the fact that the drivers were under caution at the time of the wreck, and it’s obvious that Busch tried to crash into Hornaday.
Most recently, driver Bubba Wallace accused Michael McDowell of intentionally wrecking him at the NASCAR All-Star Open on July 16, 2020. No punishment was handed out by NASCAR for McDowell pushing Wallace’s rear-quarter panel and crashing him into the wall.
Wallace was unable to finish the race and voiced his displeasure on Twitter. He also left the bumper of his car at McDowell’s hauler’s door. The feud will likely continue, keeping the fans on their toes. NASCAR tends to allow driver feuds, and unless it’s a blatant intentional wreck, they won’t give a punishment or a fine. Wallace wanted it reviewed for reckless driving, but nothing came of his Twitter rant.
Do NASCAR Drivers ever Die During Crashes?
Yes, they do. The most recent was Dale Ernhardt who was killed in the Daytona 500 in 2001. He was 49 years old and crashed on the last lap of the race. Ernhardt was slammed into the wall and took out two other cars. Driver Michael Waltrip won the race, with Ernhardt’s teammate and son, Dale Erhnhardt Jr winning second. This event led to an increase of safety precautions in NASCAR, which has led to no deaths on the circuit in the last nineteen years.
In total, 28 drivers have lost their lives in NASCAR crashes. The first was Larry Mann in 1952 at the 250 Mile Race at Langhorne Speedway. The second was Frank Arford in 1953, also at the Langhorne Speedway. Langhorne Speedway has 3 fatalities total in the last 60 years and hasn’t had a death since 1956.
Daytona International Speedway has 8 total fatalities, with two taking place within 4 days in 1994 (Neil Bonnett, February 11, and Rodney Orr, February 14).
The most recent fatal crash in a practice run was Kenny Irwin Jr in 2000 at the New Hampshire International Speedway. Irwin slammed headfirst into a wall during the practice run, causing the car to flip onto it side. Irwin was killed instantly by a basilar skull fracture (the same type of injury that killed Dale Ernhardt).