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« That’s not exactly what Robby Gordon had in mind | Main | Busch and Reutimann see Chase chances take a hit in Pocono »

Should there be a ‘Lucky Dog’ limit?

By admin | August 3, 2009

By Richard Allen

I do not have an answer for the question I am asking in the headline of this column. I am simply asking the question. The question came to mind during Monday’s race in Pocono.

During the Pennsylvania 500 Jimmie Johnson and his #48 team experienced some sort of problem with the engine. Johnson at first speculated it was a carburetor problem. When changing that piece did not work other attempts were made until a change of the spark plugs apparently resolved the issue.

Here is where my concern came. In the process of solving the problem the #48 team lost three laps. However, as a result of NASCAR’s ‘Lucky Dog’ rule, which allows the highest running lapped driver to get a free pass and make up one of his laps, Johnson was eventually able to get back on the lead lap.

In other words, he was essentially given three laps on the track as three separate cautions came out when he was the highest running lapped driver. On most tracks a driver three laps in arrears would never have that opportunity as there would almost always be someone else eligible for the gift.

But because of the Pocono track’s length and odd shape, not many cars actually fall one lap down during the course of a race. Since there were so few cars to lose a lap on the track Johnson found himself making up lap after lap as a result of the rule.

Something just seems wrong about a team being handed three laps. If the double file restart procedure is going to remain in place, and it is, then I see nothing wrong with giving a driver one lap back, possibly even two, but three or more seems excessive.

Often in dirt track racing, the field will take a couple of courtesy caution laps to allow a driver to change a flat tire and get back in the race. But, if his problems go beyond that, it is just the way racing goes. Cars can’t circle around all night waiting on a major problem to be repaired.

Allowing a driver a receive one, or even two, free passes seems equivalent to courtesy laps in dirt racing. However, once a team has exceeded two laps down, then their troubles probably ought to be chalked up to racing luck.

The problem with that line of thinking comes when it is considered that with the double file restart a driver would never have a chance to get a lap back without the free pass. Using the old system in which lapped cars lined up on the inside for restarts, Johnson might well have made up his laps legitimately. In which case, not giving him the free pass, however many times he needed it, would seem unfair.

This column is not meant to pick on Jimmie Johnson. There have been others to get multiple uses of the ‘Lucky Dog’ during a particular race. He just happened to be the one to provide the example this time.

Johnson and his crew cannot be faulted for taking advantage of the rule either. The question is, should the rule be limited?

Had Johnson only be allowed to use one free pass he would have finished no better than 31st. The same would have been true had he been allowed two free passes, as there were no cars only one lap down at the finish.

Instead, he worked his way up to 13th after being allowed back on the lead lap. That made for a difference of 54 championship points. Being that he is essentially assured of making the chase for the Championship, it makes little difference now. However, what if the same scenario takes place within the Chase?

Should the ‘Lucky Dog’ be limited? I really don’t know. I can see the validity of both sides of the argument.

My solution would be to go back to the old way of racing back to the line but that will never happen because it has been deemed unsafe, even though it was considered safe enough for 50 years of NASCAR racing.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.

Topics: Articles |

15 Responses to “Should there be a ‘Lucky Dog’ limit?”

  1. Charles Says:
    August 4th, 2009 at 6:05 am


    I have no problem with the lucky dog limit!

    I have a problem and think they should limit “debris cautions”

  2. Sal Says:
    August 4th, 2009 at 6:47 am

    ABsolutely. I don’t care who is driving, getting 3 laps back by charity just isn’t what racing is about. This isn’t the only time this has happened, and, as much as I admire the #48 team for figuring out what their problems were, being given that many laps certainly takes the glamour out of finishing in the top 20. But, I guess, with the COT and so many flat tracks, Nascar has to find some way to manyufacture ‘excitement’, don’t they?

  3. Melissa Says:
    August 4th, 2009 at 7:04 am

    There are 2 issues here. The first is being multiple laps down. The second is receiving more than one free pass because you keep falling off the lead lap. If you are more than 1 lap down, you should not be allowed back on the lead lap through the “lucky dog” rule. I agree that there is probably a reason you are that far back. Last year at the July race at Daytona, Reutimann was 5 laps down due to engine issues. Thanks to many late race cautions he finished on the lead lap. That’s just not right. You probably would only have these situations at tracks like Daytona, Talladega, Pocono, and the road courses.

    I don’t buy that they double-file restarts prevent any lap down cars from getting their lap back. They can get it back, it just takes work and a fast race car.

    The second issue of getting multiple free passes because you keep falling off the lead lap. Menard had 3 of those yesterday. Obviously the tire damage affected the car and he couldn’t keep up. If it were almost any other track, he would have been lapped multiple times.

  4. The Old Guy Says:
    August 4th, 2009 at 7:47 am

    Oh Yes, I have a problem with the Lucky Dog system.

    No car during the course of a race should receive more than one free pass.

    A couple of years ago at Infineon, Kyle Busch was down five laps and, as a result of multiple free passes, ended the race in the top five.

    I agree that the double file restarts do handicap lapped cars, but one pass is enough.

  5. George Says:
    August 4th, 2009 at 8:17 am

    Johnson actually received four Lucky Dogs, the first put him back on the lead lap when he was initially having problems before then falling 3 laps behind. Of course, once they fixed Johnson’s car, I knew he would finish on the lead lap…you just knew NASCAR would throw as many phantom debris cautions as needed to enure it (which they threw between the caution for Stremme/Gordon and the caution when Hamlin dumped Rueitteman (and why wasn’t Hamlin penalized 5 laps like Stremme?). If the Hamlin incident wouldn’t have occured so closely after the phantom debris caution, NA$CAR would have soon thrown another to help out their “golden owner.”

  6. Bob T Says:
    August 4th, 2009 at 8:21 am

    SA better question might be: Should there be a Lucky Dawg? I vote no. The quality of racing is not measured by the number of cars on the lead lap, contrary to NA__AR’s belief.

  7. Linda Says:
    August 4th, 2009 at 10:58 am

    I was wondering the same thing about Hamlin George. He should have gotten the same 5 lap penalty Gordon and Stremme did, cause he was rough driving just like they were. It was just unfair, that he was not treated the same as others who did the same thing. I don’t think a driver should get more then one lap back a race either! Actually I just wish I had the amazing good luck JJ has week after week. If I had just 1/100 of the amazingly good luck he always has week in and week out, I’d be a millionaire by now. LOL!

  8. Kevin Says:
    August 4th, 2009 at 10:59 am

    Let’s remember that just because a driver gets 3 lucky dog awards, he still isn’t guaranteed a good finish. Paul Menard also got 3 laps back yesterday but still finished back in 26th, only a few spots higher than he would have if he had remained 3 laps down. A car as strong as Johnson’s obviously was may well have earned all 3 of those laps back under old rules, and in that case I have no problem with him getting all 3 back.

  9. Mick Says:
    August 4th, 2009 at 11:59 am

    One free pass during race is enough. I prefer none, but more than one ruins the integrity of the sport — especially with the phony debris cautions and dust the wall cautions that NASCAR seems to call when one of the stars is a lap or more down. I like and admire the 48 team, but they did not deserved a top twenty finish the way they ran.

  10. midasmicah Says:
    August 4th, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    It’s hard to call it racin’ anymore. I dislike the lucky dog rule as much as I dislike the double file re-start rule. And if I hear the lame doctor and Larry Mac utter ” double file re-start, shootout style” one more time I’m going to run to the bathroom and hurl. The only thing that made this race even remotely exciting was the double file re-starts. That’s a sad statement. Being a long time Jeff Burton fan, it’s hard to watch him struggling. It’s doesn’t help that he’s been taken out four times in those double file re-start. Even without them he’s struggling though.

  11. NC Yankee Says:
    August 4th, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    I think the Lucky Dawg rule needs to be modified. How about NASCAR using those scoring loops and only giving the Lap Down driver a pass if he’s within 1/4 lap of the leader. That’s the way it used end up…sort of. If you were close to the leader when the yellow came out, you could race your way past him and get your lap back. This would just remove the riskiness of “racing past” cars while there may be a hazard present.

  12. Al Torney Says:
    August 4th, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    The “Lucky Dog” is just another nail in the coffin as far as I am concerned. They are doing everything they can to create the illusion that there is close competitive racing. By your comments it sort of proves that they are fooling no one. Instead of racing back to the flag when the caution came out they opted to give the first car a lap down the lap back. Auto racing is about fighting “tooth and nail” for every inch but not in NASCAR. There are now more lead changes in the pits then there are on the race track.
    NASCAR peaked in popularity in 2005 and has been on a downward dpiral since then. And by what I read in various Forums every change they have made has added another “nail” in the coffin. The “lucky dog, COT, phantom cautions, unfair penalties depending on the team, pit road speeding and the list goes on.
    So they can sit there and have their media shills espouse how great the racing is but they are fooling no one. As crowds shrink and tv ratings continue down and profits are dropping they’ll wake up one day. But it will be too late.
    I am an absolute hater of the lucky dog. You lose a lap racing you get it back racing. Pure and simple.

  13. Derek Says:
    August 4th, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    The sanctioning body should’ve laid the rule down long ago about racing back under yellow. Race back once, lose 5 laps. Race back twice, get parked. A very simple solution to racing under yellow.

    The lucky dog stinks.

  14. spencer nesbitt Says:
    August 4th, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    My ONLY problem with the Lucky Dog is awarding it during a “Competition Caution”. Tony Stewart took full advantage of it in yesterday’s race. And there was a race last year that benefitted Jeff Gordon.

    There’s something about getting a lap back on a “planned” stoppage that irks the hell out of me!

  15. bobby dee Says:
    August 5th, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    The Lucky Dog is fine just like it is. I really want to see the fastest 35 cars make the race on time. Everyone else races Saturday for the last 8 spots. The past champion must race also to get in.