What is the NASCAR Free Pass Rule and Why Was it Introduced?

Published 07/19/2021, 6:05 AM EDT
23 Nov 1996: NASCAR driver Dale Jarrett leads in his Quality Care/Ford Credit Ford Thunderbird during the Thunder Special 100 at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka City, Japan. Mandatory Credit: Yukio Yoshimi /Allsport


In 2003, the NASCAR sporting body came up with a rule called the Free Pass Rule. This primarily applies to cars that are a lap down on the race leaders. The rule was enforced in 2003 after a particularly messy restart at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Around that time, Dale Jarrett spun and crashed at Turn 4, prompting another caution.

ADVERTISEMENT

Article continues below this ad

What made things worse was the fact that Jarrett’s car came to a rest in the middle of the track. On closer inspection, the #7 car got loose and tagging Jarrett’s #88. To make matters worse, the impact knocked an oil line and caused a fire. There were also a few spots of drama with some cars going four-wide.

ADVERTISEMENT

Article continues below this ad

Miraculously, there were no more casualties, but many were furious about the situation. In the drivers’ meeting, everyone decided that the race leader should dictate the restart pace and which drivers should be a lap down. In that 2003 race, the duty fell on Bill Elliott’s shoulders; however, Ryan Newman and Michael Waltrip had other ideas.

How did NASCAR respond to this incident?

Previously, drivers used to “race back to the caution” as soon as the green flag waved. However, the drivers established a gentlemen’s agreement to slow down and allow slower cars to get their laps back. Owing to the Jarrett incident, NASCAR chose to create the rule to continue the practice of yielding to the slower cars without sacrificing safety.

ADVERTISEMENT

Article continues below this ad

Jun 20, 2021; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Daniel Suarez (99) leads NASCAR Cup Series driver Kurt Busch (1) and NASCAR Cup Series driver Tyler Reddick (8) into turn three during the Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It is also worth mentioning that the rule applies to slower drivers no matter how many times they are lapped. Additionally, there are a few restrictions for drivers, where the one who brought out a caution cannot be a beneficiary. Furthermore, if drivers have picked up one or more penalty laps, they are not entitled to the beneficiary lap.

It is also worth mentioning that NASCAR was among the first to implement the rule. Later on, IndyCar and Formula One followed and adopted a similar policy.

ADVERTISEMENT

Article continues below this ad

DIVE DEEPER

Throwback: Dale Jarrett Talks About His Life Changing Decision to Join Joe Gibbs Racing with Dale Earnhardt Jr

8 months ago

SHARE THIS ARTICLE :

Dhruv George

11742 articles

Dhruv George is a senior Formula One and NASCAR analyst for EssentiallySports, having authored nearly 12000 articles spanning different sports like F1, NASCAR, Tennis, NFL, and eSports. He graduated with a PG Diploma in Journalism from the Xavier Institute of Communications. Dhruv has also conducted interviews with F1 driver Pierre Gasly and Moto2 rider Tony Arbolino.

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

essentiallysports's Stories