NASCAR needs to better define its 'out-of-bounds' rule

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Sunday's wild but confusing finish in the Amp Energy 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway has sparked debate about NASCAR's rule that makes it illegal for a driver to advance his position below the yellow-line, or "out-of-bounds" line, at restrictor-plate tracks (Daytona and Talladega).

During the green-white-checkered finish, Tony Stewart held off Dale Earnhardt Inc. drivers Regan Smith and Paul Menard until Smith dipped below the yellow line and passed Stewart just before the finish line.

Smith crossed the line first, but NASCAR ruled his move illegal and awarded Stewart with his first Sprint Cup Series victory of the season.

Shortly after the race, NASCAR defended its decision.

"You cannot improve your position anytime you go below the yellow line," Jim Hunter, NASCAR's vice president of corporate communications, said. "In our judgment, (Smith) improved his position and the penalty for that is a pass thru, so he was moved back to the tail end of the longest line or 18th position. At the driver's meeting, we clearly state that you cannot improve your position by going below the yellow line. We do not feel he was forced below the yellow line."

Regan Smith claimed he was forced below the yellow line.
The rookie driver was disappointed with NASCAR's judgment, claiming he was forced below the line and therefore robbed of his first Cup victory.

"I knew where I was going to make my move and was always told that the rule is if you get forced down there, then you are the winner of the race and on the last lap, anything goes," Smith said.

And Smith was right in saying, "anything goes on the last lap," following the 2007 season-opening Craftsman Truck Series race at Daytona.

Coming out of the final turn of the last lap at Daytona, Jack Sprague moved to the outside of Travis Kvapil to take the lead, and then Johnny Benson drove below the yellow line to grab the second position from Kvapil. Sprague took the checkered flag, while Benson finished about a foot behind in second and Kvapil another four feet back in third.

NASCAR did not penalize Benson because "If you see the checkered flag on the last lap, anything goes," noted NASCAR spokesman Owen Kearns after the race.

However, in the Sprint Cup drivers' meeting at Talladega, NASCAR reiterated the rule and provided the same information to all drivers and crew chiefs in a hand out, as they have done in previous Daytona and Talladega events.

The verbatim language states:

"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."

But some drivers remain unclear about the rule.

"If it's anything goes, when you can see the flagman coming to the checkered, maybe that's just one of those little rules that they don't say you can do but you can, David Ragan said after finishing third at Talladega. I don't know. If I would have known that, I might have run down pit road and seen if I could have beat them that way."

The rule even has two-time defending series champion and current points leader Jimmie Johnson somewhat confused.

"I didn't know or think you could go below the yellow line at any point in time," Johnson said. "The rumor was circulating you can before the start- finish line if you can see the (checkered) flag. I didn't know what to really think about it or understood it or had seen it. It's ironic how it played out (at Talladega)."

As a result of Talladega, NASCAR needs to explain its rule thoroughly so as to avoid any confusion in future restrictor-plate racing.

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