NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Voices from the Heartland: From Yellow Lines to Yellow Flags

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.

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 young guns 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 Earnhardt 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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