NASCAR set an age requirement of 18 for participants in its major series, another move in its push for stronger safety measures.
"It was in the best interests of safety, competition and professional development that we institute these new age requirements," NASCAR President Mike Helton said Thursday. "Younger competitors need as much experience as they can accumulate before competing at NASCAR's professional levels."
Beginning in 2002, all drivers, crew members and other participants in the Busch Series, Craftsman Truck Series and all NASCAR Touring Series' must be 18 or older in order to compete. The age requirement matches the existing standard for the Winston Cup Series.
The age requirement will immediately affect drivers like 16-year-old Kyle Busch, younger brother of Winston Cup driver Kurt Busch.
Kyle was scheduled to run the full truck schedule next year for Roush Racing, but will not be allowed to compete under the new rule. Roush, who also owns Kurt Busch's Cup car, plans to keep Kyle under contract.
Also, drivers like 21-year-old Casey Atwood -- who began racing in the Busch series at 17 -- will be less likely to break into Winston Cup until later in their careers.
Helton said that was NASCAR's goal in setting the age requirement, as well as a concern over the welfare of minors.
"They need to hone professional driving skills, knowledge, and judgment that is best learned at the local level, as with the Weekly Racing series," Helton said. "After the age of 18, and with this experience, younger competitors should be better prepared for regional or national competition.
"We also considered the possibility of a young person's education being interfered with, by the demands of competing in our larger divisions. NASCAR values education, and would never want our racing to be a distraction in that pursuit."
Other rule changes passed this week included the requirement of helmets and fire suits to be worn by over-the-wall pit crew members and for the first time ever, the rules book will require drivers to wear a firesuit.
Elsewhere, the president of Penske Racing said he wouldn't be surprised to see a mass exodus from the CART series to rival IRL following Penske's move.
"Everyone has had their eye on where this thing is going for a long time, but we still don't have that defined right now," Cindric said Thursday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Roger Penske's two-car team was testing for the IRL season opener in March. "Hopefully the two series will become unified in some way, but our move isn't going to make it happen."
"I think we're going toward a different period where there isn't enough room for two series," said Penske driver Gil de Ferran, who won the last two CART titles. "There's not enough investment, not enough sponsorship out there to sustain everybody."
While support circuits for NASCAR would now require participants to be 18, the age limit for competing in open-wheel support circuits -- specifically USAC Sprints, Midgets and Silver Bullets -- is 16.