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Change to damaged vehicle policy could make an impact at Darlington

Relive all the best action from the NASCAR Cup Series qualifying session at Darlington Raceway for the Cook Out Southern 500.

DARLINGTON, S.C. — NASCAR’s decision to extend the amount of time that teams can work on their car under the Cup Damaged Vehicle Policy from six minutes to 10 could make an impact as soon as Sunday at Darlington Raceway.

With the points as close as they are among the playoff contenders — nine points separates fifth to 16th entering Sunday’s Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET on USA Network) — any position that can be gained by being able to return to the race instead of being eliminated can be key for teams.

“It’s not the difference between competing for a win and not competing for a win, but (it’s the difference of) getting parked with something that could easily be remedied,” Adam Stevens, crew chief for Christopher Bell, told NBC Sports.

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Drew Blickensderfer, crew chief for Aric Almirola, said the extra time will be valuable in making repairs to damaged toe links.

“A lot of times when you bend a toe link, it’s hard to get the bolt out to replace it,” Blickensderfer told NBC Sports. “So you spend three minutes getting the old bolts out and you don’t have any time to put a new one on.

“I think they want to give you an opportunity to replace a toe link on pit road. We’ve seen issues of teams getting thrown out (by) the DVP because it just took too long to change a toe link, and I think the 10 minutes will allow you basically to change your toe link.”

Chase Elliott was eliminated because of the Damaged Vehicle Policy in this year’s Coca-Cola 600 and placed 33rd. Crew chief Alan Gustafson said the extra four minutes will be helpful in a situation like his team had in that race.

“I think Charlotte would be the best example,” Gustafson said. “We had minor damage. We had a tie rod that was bent. The bolt was twisted in the mount, and we didn’t get it out in time. I think in those situations, you’ll have an opportunity to make those repairs at least and be back in the race.

“I don’t know that, in extreme situations, it’s going to make a big difference, but I do think in some situations (it will help). That’s the best example that I have. You have a car that basically has no damage be out of the race probably isn’t the best thing in the world. That was their point to rectify that. It’s not going to encompass all cases, but it certainly opens up some opportunity.”

The Damaged Vehicle Policy debuted before the 2017 season as a safety precaution to limit cars that had been significantly damaged from returning to the track. Teams originally were given five minutes for repairs. NASCAR extended the time to six minutes before the 2018 season with the reduction in over-the-wall pit crew members.

NASCAR announced this week that teams will now have a maximum of 10 minutes to make repairs on pit road after contact on the track. The time starts once the car enters pit road and the clock does not stop until the car crosses the pit exit line. The car has three laps to make minimum speed or is retired from the event.