NASCAR has implemented a rule prohibiting drivers from exiting their cars after on-track incidents unless "extenuating circumstances exist," NASCAR vice president Robin Pemberton announced Friday.
The new rule states that if cars involved in an on-track incident are unable to make forward progress, drivers must shut off electrical power, lower the window net and then wait, without removing any personal safety equipment, until safety personnel or a NASCAR official arrives on the scene.
The rule states that, "at no time should a driver or crew member approach any portion of the racing surface or apron" or "approach another moving vehicle."
Extenuating circumstances include "fire, smoke in cockpit, etc."
The rules change comes in the wake of this past Saturday's incident in which Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart's car struck and killed driver Kevin Ward Jr. during a dirt track race in upstate New York.
After Stewart clipped Ward's car, sending it spinning, Ward got out of the car during the caution period, walked down the track and was hit by Stewart's car. The rules change "is on the heels of that," Pemberton said.
"Throughout the history of our sport, NASCAR has reviewed and analyzed situations and occurrences that take place not just in NASCAR racing but also throughout all motorsports and other sports," Pemberton said. "When we believe we can do something to make our sport safer and better for the competitors and others involved in the competition environment, we react quickly. Safety always has been priority No. 1 at NASCAR."
The rule takes effect immediately and applies to all of NASCAR's series. As with other behavioral infractions, NASCAR will handle each instance separately when assessing potential penalties.
"I think that NASCAR has made the right move in redefining or better explaining, even making consequences for, letting emotions getting the best of you as a race car driver," six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said. "Will that stop a driver that's really upset? I don't know. It's hard to say."
Johnson also suggested that dirt tracks should also adopt NASCAR's philosophy of having radios in cars and spotters to relay information.
"I don't know if it will change a driver's mind as they get out of the race car, but it would be nice for the rest of the field to know what has happened and if there is a hot-tempered driver on foot," Johnson said.
Jeff Burton, who will fill in for Stewart in the No. 14 car this week at Michigan International Speedway, also thinks that NASCAR has taken the correct steps in the wake of Saturday's tragedy.
"I think NASCAR does a really good job of looking at all the information and making the best decision they can make," Burton said. "I support the decision that they feel like it's what they need to do. I'm proud they want safety to be on the forefront, and that's what this rule is all about."
"This decision was Tony's," said Brett Frood, the team's executive vice president. "[It's been] an emotional week for him. He's grieving. Made the decision he's not ready to get in the racecar and will take it week by week. It will be up to Tony when he's ready to get back in the car."
Frood said Stewart was surrounded by friends and family at an undisclosed location.
"Through time you have to recognize when you get a reminder or tap on the shoulder, something that may need to be addressed," Pemberton said. "This is one of those times where we look outside our sport and we look at other things, and we feel like it was time to address this.
"Really, we're formalizing rules that have been there. It's reminders that take place during meetings with drivers about on-track accidents. We're just formalizing this, and it's something that we worked on this week."