By admin | April 17, 2011
By Richard Allen
It has become an all too often occurrence. It seems as though at least one of the four restrictor plate races each year ends with some sort of a controversy about NASCAR’s out of bounds rule.
At the restrictor plate tracks of Talladega and Daytona, NASCAR has decreed that the yellow line painted around the inside of those tracks is out of bounds. A driver may not advance his position by going below the yellow line.
On occasion, that rule has been enforced. In particular, in 2008 when Regan Smith went below the line to pass Tony Stewart on the last lap at Talladega his move was disallowed and Stewart was declared the winner.
In Sunday’s Aarons 499 at the Talladega Super Speedway, Jimmie Johnson won one of the closest races in NASCAR history with a last lap pass that resulted in a four-wide finish. However, coming into the tri-oval section of the 2.66 mile track, Johnson went low to move around Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon. In so doing, his left side tires clearly went onto the yellow line.
In football or basketball, being on the line is out of bounds. In baseball, on the line is fair while completely over the line is foul. Trouble with NASCAR is, they have never clearly defined where out of bounds is. Is it on the line? Is it over the line? Are two wheels out of bounds or does it take all four? They leave enough ambiguity in the rule so as to make it a judgment call rather than a black and white ruling.
In my opinion, the best thing to do with the yellow line rule would be to get rid of it all together in the final laps of a plate race. But since NASCAR probably won’t do that, they need to at least clearly define what they mean by out of bounds. And most importantly, they need to enforce it consistently.
Almost immediately after the race on Sunday there were cries on social network sites that, “NASCAR would never take a win away from Johnson or Rick Hendrick by ruling the 48 car out of bounds.” If NASCAR wants to avoid such criticisms they need to be clear and open about their rules.
I am not saying that Johnson’s pass was legal or not. Nor am I saying his win should be taken away. I can’t say either of those things because the rule is not clearly defined enough for me or anyone else to know the answer.
The sanctioning body’s less than open rulebook has been called into question in other instances this season. The previously mentioned Johnson disagreed with a ruling that he was too fast on pit road earlier this year and NASCAR seemed to do its best to keep its pit road speed gauges a closely guarded secret rather than make the telemetry available for all to see.
NASCAR has somewhat of a history of less than open judgments being handed down. Either they actually are doing these things so that they can favor certain teams and drivers or they are completely oblivious to the fact that such secrecy gives the appearance of favoritism whether it exists or not.
Any sport that wishes to be taken seriously must have clearly defined rules that are consistently enforced. Otherwise, the sport in question falls into the same category as professional wrestling.
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