It's hard to come to NASCAR's defense when it makes the right call on something because it's like somebody throwing darts at a board. Eventually some of them have to wind up sticking.
NASCAR got the call right Sunday at Talladega by penalizing Regan Smith for passing under the yellow line. It might not be popular to say that, but that's how I see it.
Here's why. If you're going to have a rule that says you cannot improve your position by going under the yellow line, then a battle between the first- and second-place cars on the final lap of a race should be the time when that rule in MOST in effect, not when it's suspended. A pass for the lead on the final lap would be the single most important pass of a race. If there's a rule, why would that NOT be covered by the rule? That doesn't make any sense.
Now this is where NASCAR shoots itself in the foot -- and the ankle, the shin, the knee and the thigh.
In February 2007 you had Ramsey Poston saying that when a driver can see the checkered flag he can "get all he can get. Sunday night, Jim Hunter said that's not the rule. Later Sunday night, Robin Pemberton apparently told an Associated Press reporter that you CAN pass under the line on the last lap but only if you can see the flagstand -- not the flag.
Now Poston, Hunter and Pemberton all work for and, when they are dealing with the meida, speak for NASCAR.
Wow, glad they cleared that up.
It's ridiculous to have a rule that's the same except for the lap it matters most. But with all the confusion I can't tell you what the proper call, by rule, would have been.
(UPDATE -- NASCAR president Mike Helton issued at statement Monday saying that, going forward, passing under the yellow line will not be allowed at any point during races at Talladega and Daytona -- even on the last lap. It's a day late, but at least NASCAR's on the record about what the rule actually IS now.)
But I can say it's my opinion that Smith gained an advantage by going out of bounds to make his pass Sunday at Tallaadega, so NASCAR did the right thing by penalizing.
I don't blame Smith for trying -- in fact, I applaud him for it. He could have setteled for second, which would have bettered his best career Cup finish by 12 spots. He made NASCAR make a call and the sacntioning body has been known to swallow its whistle in cases like this one before.
But I don't want to hear that Smith didn't "improve his posistion" until after he'd come back above the yellow line. Some are saying that Smith was still in second place when the got back above the line, but that's nuts. He was behind Stewart's car when he went out of bounds and beside it when he came back up. He'd improved his position and his chance to pass Stewart by going out of bounds.
Was Smith forced below the line? I don't think so. Stewart blocked him, absolutely. But some fans are saying Smith had only two choices -- go below the line or wreck Stewart and maybe himself. Well, there was a third choice and that was to do neither. He had to know that Stewart would make a counter-move to the low side trying to protect his line. So if he makes a move where his only "out" is to go below the line, that was his mistake.
Did you expect Stewart to simply give way, to not go back to the inside and try to use the line to his advantage? Of course not. That's not how it's done in today's restrictor plate racing. If Smith had been beside Stewart when Stewart moved left, that would be one thing. At best -- at best -- Smith had the first few inches of the nose of his car beside the Stewart's rear bumper. But Stewart closed the door, doing exactly what the leader has to do in plate races these days.
NASCAR needs to get its story straight and -- for the 97,458,457th time -- it needs to apply its rules the same way everytime the same issue comes up. But, as hard as it is for the people who don't like how things turned out Sunday, this is how the call SHOULD be made every time.
Monday, October 06, 2008
Posted by Observer Sports at 4:34 PM