The Frontstretch: From Yellow Lines to Yellow Flags by Jeff Meyer -- Thursday May 7, 2009

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From Yellow Lines to Yellow Flags

Voices From the Heartland · Jeff Meyer · Thursday May 7, 2009

 

Last week’s Voices From The Heartland dealt with NASCAR’s proclivity for allowing drivers to qualify below the (double) yellow, out of bounds line at Talladega. Some readers understood where I was coming from … and some did not. Well, let’s hope you all understand this week’s yellow colored rant. Even if I have briefly touched on it in past columns, the problem still remains, and unless the fans keep – well – bitching about it, nothing will be done.

This week, I want to take a look at the “Lucky Dog” rule, as well as NASCAR’s insane insistence on allowing lapped cars to restart up front with lead lap cars after a yellow flag.

Back in the old days (that will get some readers riled up right there!) when the yellow flag flew, there was a gentleman’s agreement. That agreement could be basically summed up as follows: When the lead cars were racing back to the start/finish line, they occasionally — and often did — found it in their heart to slow down in order to let a lapped car (or two) actually pass them to get back on the lead lap. Whether that was fair or not is a whole other debate — that was just the way it was done.

Now, we all know how the old saying goes… “Cautions breed cautions.” It was this gentleman’s agreement that lapped drivers counted on in order to get their one lap — or more if needed — back during the race. On restarts, cars a lap down were allowed to start (and still are) up front on the inside of lead lap cars in hopes that the whole process would repeat itself… as it often did. This system, while not perfect, was just the accepted way of doing things until… the year 2003.

The “Lucky Dog” rule is designed to help a struggling team safely get back on the lead lap; but by allowing slower cars to restart up front with the leaders, is NASCAR endangering the safety of the whole field?

That season, a pattern started to emerge during races whenever the caution came out. In the upcoming surge of what came to be known as the new “Young Guns” of NASCAR, it seems the younguns didn’t know what a gentleman’s agreement was — or didn’t care. Either way, the action that ensued once the yellow flag flew with some of these new guys out front resulted in some really close calls as they raced back to the line. This aggression all culminated in a near miss of Dale Jarrett narrowly getting T-Boned in New Hampshire, sitting helplessly in the middle of the track while the lead cars fought their way to the line during a caution at full speed.

NASCAR, still stinging from the loss of Dale Sr. barely two years before, finally decided that it could not possibly suffer the death of another beloved star, taking action after stern warnings didn’t seem to do the trick. As a result, they implemented what is now known as the “Lucky Dog” rule to solve the problem — an adjustment that still stands to this day.

For those of you that may be new to all this NASCAR stuff, I will now provide you a link to the latest Digger cartoon to keep you interested! (Just kidding!) Anyway, as I was about to say, for those newbies out there, the Lucky Dog rule basically states that once the yellow flag flies, the racing field is essentially frozen, thus eliminating the dangerous racing back to the line. The “Lucky” part comes in the form of awarding whichever car/driver that is the first car a lap down his lap back — a gift given out to compensate for the “loss” of the old gentleman’s agreement.

Now, although I am from the “old school” of thought when it comes to racing, I will admit that the “Lucky Dog” is probably a good thing. Eventually, under the old system, someone was going to get hurt, and NASCAR did the right thing when it came to implementing the new rule. However, as usual, the sport only did it half right. At this point, they need to take it a step further and eliminate lapped cars starting up front on restarts.

Under the new rule, only one car per caution (unless the race is under 10 laps to go) may get their lap back. But since it now does not matter where that car is in the field once the yellow flag flies, there is no reason to have lapped cars start up front during the next restart! Remember, the reason they were up there in the old days was to give them the slim chance they may get ahead of the leaders on the restart and race their way back on the lead lap — something they no longer need to do with the “Lucky Dog.” Now, I know that many out there will disagree… but let’s take a minute to think about it.

First of all, if your car is so bad that you got lapped to begin with, chances are very good that you have no business being up front in the first place. Why should you be rewarded with a chance to run up front when you haven’t been able to do it all race long? Not to mention the fact that the guy that is now starting beside the leaders was not the first guy a lap down before the caution! Remember, the first guy that was a lap down got the “Lucky Dog” and is now at the back of all the other cars still on the lead lap!

Let’s say there were 15 cars on the lead lap when the caution flew. P16, the first car down on the restart, is now 16 cars deep in the field, while P17 is starting next to the leaders! How lucky is that?!

Again, I assert that the new rule IS a good thing, but it needs to be taken a step further and remove lapped cars from racing up front with the leaders. Look, if a one, two, three, four, etc., ROW start among lead lap cars is good enough to START a race, why is it not good enough to REstart a race? You still get good side-by-side racing, but it is between the guys who should be up front in the first place. If there is another caution (remember the old saying!) the guy who is P17 (i.e. — first lapped car) is STILL going to get his lap back even if he is restarting in row 9! There simply is no reason anymore for lapped cars to restart up front.

That’s how I see it, anyway. Your opinion, of course, may differ!

Stay off the wall,

Jeff Meyer

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Kevin in SoCal
05/07/2009 02:37 AM
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I agree Jeff, and I think that’s how they do it during the All-Star race. We should have double file restarts with off-lap cars in the back.

MJR in Springfield VA
05/07/2009 06:54 AM
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Me too Jeff! It makes more sense to have the leaders in the front row(s) and those a lap or more down behind them…….but oops there’s that pesky ole saying again…”it makes sense….” And you know as well as all of us old school fans do, when that irritating little phase works it’s way into anything NA$CAR, well you can forget about anybody in the Beach Hut in Daytona taking any notice of the value of making a change for the better.

Robyn
05/07/2009 09:08 AM
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There are at least 2 problems with the Lucky Dog rule. The first is what was mentioned here. An extension of the problem of the lap down cars starting on the inside, is that it may not be the 1st car 1 lap down in the front of the line. The cars line up based on how they exit pit road. So the 1st car in line can be more than 1 lap down, thereby preventing a car who has a slim possibility of racing to get their lap back. Sometimes a car more than 1 lap down will allow a car 1 lap down to pass, but not usually.

The second is, being multiple laps down and getting all or most of the laps back due to the LD rule. This has happened a Talladega with Burton getting 2 of 3 laps back, and last year at Daytona in July where Reutimann was awarded with at least 5 Lucky Dogs to get back on the lead lap. My thought is is that if your car is that bad and find yourself that many laps down, especially at a RP track, you should not be allowed back on the lead lap, unless you earn it by passing the leader.

L Taylor
05/07/2009 10:12 AM
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If nothing else, put the lapped cars on the outside.

Michael
05/07/2009 11:39 AM
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I agree – the Lucky Dog rule is a good rule from a safety stand point, but let’s move the lapped cars to the rear of the field and have double file restarts, with all the lead lap cars up front racing each other.

Christopher
05/07/2009 03:33 PM
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Side question RE: Robyn’s comment…

How can a driver get 5 laps back in a race?

If he’s 5 laps down, he’d never see one Lucky Dog, because there’s bound to be a driver only one lap down?

J. Meyer
05/07/2009 04:36 PM
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Christopher,
If you will notice in both of Robyn’s examples, they are plate tracks! Often on restrictor plate tracks, you will find cars that are multiple laps downs, while no one else is only 1 lap down. Both tracks are so big, it is rare that you will lose a lap on a pit stop unless something is majorly wrong, at which point you fix it and get back out there which can take a few laps. If you are the first lapped car, even by a few laps instead of one, bingo! you get the LD. Repeat, repeat….you are on the lead lap again! Just as Jeff Burton did a week and a half ago.

Walt B
05/07/2009 05:04 PM
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I think that if you are going to make these changes that you should increase pit road speeds while under green so a good car with a flat tire does not automatically go a lap down

John Trussell
05/07/2009 11:23 PM
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Two comments:

1. You blame the demise of the gentlemen’s agreement on the attitudes of the younger drivers… and, yes, that played a part. But I think just as importantly (if not more so), we started seeing even the veteran drivers selectively allow people back on the lead lap, based on whether or not they were teammates. Even without the “young guns” involvement, I think the gentleman’s agreement would have ended.

2. I’m not sure if it’s enough of a reason to keep restarts the way they are, but I can think of one reason to allow lap-down cars to start on the inside. If a car nearly as fast as the leaders loses a lap, starting up front gives them a significantly better chance of remaining in Lucky Dog position if there’s a long green flag run and the leader starts lapping slower cars.

Bob
05/08/2009 10:51 PM
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Jeff,

Keep on “bitchin’”. I haven’t thought the lappers up front on the restart through enough to agree or disagree, but I do believe Christopher had a good point about cars being several laps down.

I don’t remember the race, and it might have happened to other drivers, but I follow Kasey Kahne. In one race he had a flat a got down 2 or 3 laps to fix under green. The runs would be just long enough that either all cars came in on a cycle, or one or two cars would get “1” lap down and, even though his speeds were in the top 5 on the track, he was never able to get even one lap back.

I think the “Lucky Dog award” would be to allow the first car behind the leader any amount of laps down (say less than 5) would be a better way of allocating it. Also, no car should be “given” any more than 3-5 laps back in any one race.

I’m tryin’ to stay off the wall, but I’m definitely above the yellow line.

 

Contact Jeff Meyer

Recent articles from Jeff Meyer:

Voices From The Cheap Seats: The Tale Of Two Tires
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