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Christie: NASCAR’s Yellow Line Rule is Garbage and Today is Trash Day

Denny Hamlin passes cars below the yellow line on the final lap of the NASCAR Cup Series YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Worldwide Copyright ©2020 Daylon Barr Photography

Have you ever mistakenly forgotten to get your trash out to the curb on trash day?

It’s happened to us all, in fact it happened to me this morning.  It’s an embarrassing feeling as you literally have stuff you no longer need cluttering up your house or garage. Fortunately, there is always another trash day around the corner where you can atone for your mistake.

Well, the yellow line rule at Daytona and Talladega is NASCAR’s trash, and on the next trash day they desperately need to make sure that this steaming heap gets placed at the curb.

Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway was the latest example of the inconsistency in enforcing an unnecessary rule. On the final lap of the race, one driver (Denny Hamlin) swooped below the yellow line in the final set of turns and ended up passing four cars and went on to win the race.

He wasn’t penalized.

In fact, NASCAR’s reasoning for why Hamlin wasn’t penalized was interesting. NASCAR said the decision to not penalize Hamlin was due to the driver of the No. 11 slicing below the yellow line to avoid an accident. That would make sense, IF THERE WAS AN ACCIDENT to avoid.

There was no accident, and Hamlin had plenty of time to merge back above the yellow line, but chose not to do so.

You can argue all of the other yellow line rulings throughout the race until you’re blue in the face. Some of those calls I agreed with, in the spirit of the rule, others not so much. But this one, which turns out to be the most important one as it determined the winner of the race, was a totally botched call. The latest in a long line of botched yellow line calls with the win on the line late in a NASCAR race.

How is it a botched call?

Following the 2018 Clash at Daytona, where Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was penalized for going below the yellow line — despite being forced to do so on lap 41 — NASCAR penalized him. This spurned Dale Earnhardt Jr. to get into a debate with NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell on Twitter about why drivers, who are forced below the yellow line, were being penalized.

O’Donnell responded, that it didn’t matter the reasoning for going below the yellow line, whether forced or on purpose, a driver is not allowed to advance their position below the yellow line.

Fast forward to Sunday’s race and we get a totally different interpretation of the rule. But it’s not the first time that NASCAR’s rulings in reference to the yellow line have been flip-flopped.

  • In July 2001 at Daytona, in the closing laps of the race Tony Stewart was forced below the yellow line by Johnny Benson. Stewart advanced his position and NASCAR penalized Stewart, despite being forced below the line. Benson did not receive a penalty for forcing Stewart below the line.
  • In 2003, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was allowed to keep the win at Talladega after dipping below the yellow line in a pass on Matt Kenseth late in the event. NASCAR’s Jim Hunter explained that Earnhardt, “Had advanced his position, he had already passed the No. 17 car before he went below the yellow line.” Unless NASCAR officials are totally blind, it was clear that they didn’t want a riot on their hands for penalizing Earnhardt at Talladega.

From this day forward, it was seemingly determined that if a driver was in the act of passing someone, it was okay to finish the pass below the yellow line. However, that interpretation was quickly gone and we haven’t seen it since.

  • In the fall of 2008 at Talladega Regan Smith was stripped of the win after he passed Tony Stewart for the win on the final lap. NASCAR determined that Smith advanced his position to take the lead, but if you watch the tape, you could argue that Stewart, when seeing that Smith had a run to the inside, blocked and forced Smith below the line. Smith, who was in the act of passing, should have been the winner based on NASCAR’s 2003 ruling, but instead, he left empty handed.

This ruling set a dangerous precedent, which led to many cars being sent into the catch fence and hard into the wall on the final lap of plate races. Drivers who were in second knew once they got their nose to the inside of a car, that if they moved below the out of bounds line to prevent crashing the other driver who was attempting to block them, they themselves would be penalized.

This led to Edwards going through the catchfence at Talladega in 2009, Kyle Busch slamming the wall hard in the July Daytona race that same season and several other similar incidents.

  • In the 2018 Clash at Daytona, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was forced below the yellow line by Kyle Busch on lap 41. Stenhouse was black flagged, yet again, the driver who forced the other person below the yellow line was not penalized.
  • In the July 2019 Xfinity race at Daytona, Justin Haley barely clipped the yellow line with his right side tires while making a pass for the win on the front stretch. Haley was stripped of the win in favor of Kyle Larson.
  • At the Truck race at Talladega in the fall of 2019, Johnny Sauter went below the yellow line to block Riley Herbst, which forced Herbst below the line, in an effort to win the race. He did not advance his position, as he was the race leader. However, he was penalized and Spencer Boyd was awarded the win.
  • At the Cup race Talladega in the fall of 2019, Ryan Blaney was shoved below the yellow line off the final turn by Ryan Newman in a battle for the win. Blaney advanced his position to win the race. Under O’Donnell’s explanation from 2018, both Newman and Blaney should have been penalized, but neither were.

Fast forward to Sunday’s race and you see where the clear stupidity of the rule was in full effect.

Hamlin, who passed or started the act of passing on a total of four cars below the line for the win was not penalized (O’Donnell has previously stated that for no reason is a driver allowed to advance position below the yellow line). Meanwhile, Matt DiBenedetto, who finished second, was penalized for forcing William Byron below the yellow line.

Chris Buescher was also penalized for forcing Chase Elliott below the yellow line, after Elliott appealed his initial penalty for passing below the yellow line.

Under O’Donnell’s previous explanation, if in NASCAR’s judgement, Buescher did force Elliott below the yellow line, yes he deserved a penalty, but Elliott still advanced his position below the yellow line, which is a penalty regardless of why.

But even while forcing people below the yellow line is an infraction worthy of penalty according to the rulebook, it’s suspicious that all of a sudden, NASCAR decided to start penalizing drivers for forcing others below the yellow line. This has long and away been something they’ve basically refused to do, yet they called the infraction four times in Sunday’s race at Talladega. In addition to DiBenedetto and Buescher, Joey Logano also received two penalties earlier in Sunday’s race for forcing drivers below the yellow line.

Why is the yellow line rule enforced so differently from race to race? Why is one thing okay one time we head to Daytona or Talladega, but not okay the next time?

Simply put: It’s a garbage rule that does nothing but cause controversy for the sake of causing controversy. Yes, the rule was initially adapted as a knee-jerk overreaction in the name of safety following the death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500, but this rule simply does not create safer racing.

How many cars have we torn up at Daytona and Talladega since 2001? A ton and we tore up a ton more on Sunday even with the rule in place.

Despite this, NASCAR vice president of competition Scott Miller stated, after the race, that he believes the rule needs to stay to prevent the chaos that would ensue without it.

“I think it’s important that we continue to have a rule,” said Miller. “You get out there in the heat of battle, things happen.  It’s hard when there’s all that real estate down there, but you just can’t do it. I don’t think that we can eliminate it.  I think it would be a mess.  We kind of are where we are.”

With all due respect to Miller, you’re not going to prevent crashes at superspeedways. It just isn’t possible, so long as horsepower is restricted and drivers aren’t allowed to get away from each other. Let’s be honest, if we are going to live and die by the draft, at least put the finish in the hands of the drivers and not a guy in the booth looking at super slow-mo replays.

What a quote like that from Miller insinuates is that you don’t believe your drivers, who you commonly refer to as the best in the world, can figure out how to race each other in a manner where they can get into the corner without crashing each other every lap. It’s a slap in the face of the drivers.

It’s time that we admit that the yellow line rule sucks. It sucked on Sunday at Talladega, it sucked in 2019 and it has sucked since it was installed in 2001.

Toby Christie View All

Toby is the Founder, Editor and go-to man for TobyChristie.com. He is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed NASCAR as a fan since 1993.

5 thoughts on “Christie: NASCAR’s Yellow Line Rule is Garbage and Today is Trash Day Leave a comment

  1. I am about done with nascar. They favor their special drivers and teams all the time. It has become a joke. Watch a race at Pheonix where the cars go 40 feet inside the lane to pass. Thats alright though. Four car teams should be abolished. Sick and tired of seeing the same guys run up front for the last 10 years. And Matt, I hope the 21 car doesn’t get rid of you. Right now you are the bright spot in nascar racing.

  2. Not a horrible rule, but the inconsistency of enforcement is what makes it a joke. Definitely hasn’t prevented accidents. With Nascar essentially becoming a spec series, only difference in bodies is the front and rear fascia. Spec chassis with all the restrictions placed on them. Only one engine builder for each brand, totally limited to parts and materials they can use, and limited to 500 or 750 hp packages. Make the cars run stock body panels to help identify them.
    Having each team using the same sponsor across 3 or 4 cars so you can’t identify the cars each week doesn’t help. When a sponsor pays for a set number of races, why not stay on 1 car consistently ?
    Just more reasons why ratings continue to plummet.

  3. Apparently you have never been to a race at either Talladega or Daytona. If a driver is below the yellow line approaching turn one (or turn three) and cannot blend back up into traffic before he reaches the banking, the centrepital force of turning will force him up onto the banking where, traffic or not, he will lose control of the car because of the harsh transition between the flat apron and the banked racing surface. Since there will be traffic (which prevented him from returning to the racing surface), he loses control into that traffic and causes a monstrous wreck, which all cars behind them pile into.

    That kind of wreck is far worse than any of the “big ones” which you children are used to seeing, and it is the yellow line rule which prevents them. If you had ever seen one of these turn one wrecks, caused by a car below the yellow line entering turn one and careening up into traffic, you would not argue against the rule. I have seen such wrecks cause cars to go over the concrete wall and down the outside embankment into the parking lots. This is an extremely valuable rule, and NASCAR should have created it sooner than they did.

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