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.
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