By admin | October 8, 2008
By Richard Allen
Last year, Tony Stewart compared NASCAR racing to professional wrestling. He claimed that the sanctioning body’s use of debris cautions and other rulings were nothing more than a masked way of artificially keeping the competition close and ultimately determining the winners of races.
Since the end of the Amp Energy 500 on Sunday the common theme I have heard from those who have commented on this site, e-mailed and spoken to is that the call that went in favor of Stewart and gave him the win at Talladega looked remarkably similar to a WWE(World Wrestling Entertainment) result.
On the last lap of the Amp Energy 500 rookie driver Regan Smith steered his car under Stewart’s Toyota. In doing so Smith went below the yellow line, a foul on restrictor plate tracks when the driver advances his position. However, NASCAR has had leniency on such late race moves, especially when it comes on the last lap or when it appears as though the offending driver was forced below the line.
Evidence of last lap leniency can be found in the Craftsman Truck Series race held in Daytona in February of 2007. On the last lap of that race there was a three wide battle to the finish. Driver Johnny Benson drove below the yellow line at the tri-oval and advanced his position by passing Travis Kvapil for second place.
Benson’s pass was allowed to stand. NASCAR explained their decision by basically saying that “when drivers can see the checkered flag waving, anything goes”. Making that statement would cause any reasonable person to believe going below the yellow line is permissible in a dash to the finish.
That is exactly what Regan Smith did, but in this case NASCAR ruled against the driver of car #01.
NASCAR explained its ruling in this case by issuing the following statement:
“During the last lap of [Sunday’s] race at Talladega Superspeedway the driver of the No. 01 violated NASCAR policy by driving under the yellow line to improve his position,” NASCAR president Mike Helton said. “In NASCAR’s opinion he was not forced below the yellow line. NASCAR correctly took immediate action to enforce the policy by penalizing the No. 01 and scoring the No. 20 as the race winner.”
Stewart admitted in victory lane that he was indeed blocking Smith.
NASCAR added a verbatim copy of how the yellow line rule reads. It goes as follows:
This is your warning: race above the yellow line. If, in NASCAR’s judgment, you go below the yellow line to improve your position, you will be black-flagged. If in NASCAR’s judgment you force someone below the yellow line (in an effort to stop him from passing you), you may be black-flagged.With words like “in NASCAR’s judgment” and “you may be black flagged” combined with “when drivers see the checkered flag waving, anything goes” it is easy to see why drivers, media and fans were confused and why so many were dismayed.It is not the rule that many are upset with, it is the inconsistency of its enforcement that is maddening. If the rule absolutely says no passing below the yellow line and it is enforced the same way every time, few would have cause to argue.
Aside from the 2007 truck race in Daytona another example of inconsistent enforcement comes to mind. Late in the 2003 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth raced side by side for the lead. As the cars approached turn 3 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. drove to the inside, dipping well below the yellow line, and passed both cars.
Later, NASCAR explained that Junior was not penalized in that instance because he was already slightly ahead of Kenseth when he went below the line, thus he did not improve his position. They simply ignored the fact that Johnson, not Kenseth, was actually the leader of the race, and thus, Junior did indeed improve his position by going below the line.
Again, it is not the rule that is the problem. It is the inconsistency of enforcement that is causing competitors, media and fans to have issues.
NASCAR is not the only sport in which judgment calls are made. NFL players and officials admit that holding could be called on virtually every play. However, to do so would ruin the game. As long as there is consistency in the calling of the foul there will be little disagreement with the enforcement of the rule.
In Major League Baseball the strike zone is open to a good deal of interpretation by each umpire. Again, consistency is the key. Pitchers, hitters and managers typically do not argue ball and strike calls until they perceive inconsistency.
The ultimate irony of this most recent situation is that the man who once called NASCAR out for being too much like professional wrestling has now benefit from one of the type of calls he was criticizing.
*I am providing a link to video of the 2003 Aaron’s 499 which was mentioned in the article:
*And, here is a link to video of the 2007 Daytona truck race mentioned in the article:
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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