Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Double Yellow Line Rule: Safe or Trouble?

When NASCAR visits Daytona and Talladega -- the only two tracks on the circuit which require the use of horsepower-sapping restrictor plates -- it institutes what we refer to as the "yellow line rule." Basically, drivers cannot dip below the double-yellow line running along the bottom of the track in an effort to improve their position.

Think of it as out-of-bounds.

NASCAR implemented the rule several years ago at the plate tracks in the interest of safety, arguing that it didn't need cars going all the way into the grass trying to make passes before blending back into the traffic. On the surface, it sounds great, but in recent years events have called the yellow line rule into question.

Take Sunday's race at Talladega, for instance, where some accused winner Jimmie Johnson of dipping below the yellow line to make the winning pass on Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer. I've already made my opinion known -- but it does bring to mind other controversial instances.

There's the 2011 Budweiser Shootout, in which Denny Hamlin beat Kurt Busch to the line, but NASCAR gave Busch the victory after declaring Hamlin made the pass below the yellow line.

In the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, Brad Keselowski won after making contact with Carl Edwards in the tri-oval coming to the checkered flag, sending Edwards' car airborne and into the catchfence. Edwards went low to block Keselowski, and Keselowski held his line -- in large part because he couldn't go below the yellow line.

At Daytona in July 2009, Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch came off the final turn fighting for the win. Busch was in the lead, and he went low to block Stewart. When Stewart cut down high -- knowing he couldn't go any lower because of the line -- to try another pass, Busch followed in an attempt to block -- and got hooked right into the outside wall to trigger a massive wreck.

Perhaps the most controversial of all, though, came in Talladega in Ocotber 2008. Regan Smith, then a rookie driving for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., passed Tony Stewart coming off the tri-oval on the last lap and beat Stewart to the finish line. But Smith went below the yellow line -- believing all bets were off on the last lap -- and NASCAR declared Stewart the winner.

In the 2009 Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. triggered the Big One on the backstretch; he got a run on Brian Vickers coming off Turn 2, and when he ducked low to make the pass, Vickers blocked. Junior went below the yellow line and tried to merge back onto the track without passing Vickers. He clipped the left rear of Vickers' car, triggering a multi-car incident.

Given the above evidence -- and plenty more, if I felt like looking for it -- one could argue the yellow line has caused more problems than it solved. I believe this rule was directly responsible for Edwards' crash at Talladega and Busch's at Daytona -- if Keselowski could've gone lower to avoid Edwards without lifting, he likely would've -- while the other two resulted in controversial finishes that leave few people satisfied.

Smith thought the rule didn't apply on the last lap; so did one of the announcers in the ESPN booth. You could call that simple ignorance, or you could chalk it up to poor communication on NASCAR's part.

Does the yellow line rule save wrecks? Possibly, though now that we've lost the big packs in favor of two-car tandem drafting, that's debatable. But the rule has caused as many wrecks as it's saved -- and frankly, in the days of 35-car drafts, dozens of cars were going to get wadded up at some point anyway.

Daytona and Talladega are treacherous beasts, regardless of the rules package in place. The yellow line rule is an example of a rule designed with good intentions that wound up with unintended consequences. It's time NASCAR took a good, hard look at doing away with the rule once and for all, because it's largely become nothing more than a headache.

Restrictor-plate racing is stressful enough; why add to it with dumb rules?

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