Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is… Welfare, Sarcasm & Barber

In the column last week, Happiness Is railed against the concept of safety within NASCAR by questioning the rule change that allows teams to forego hitting all give lugnuts when slapping four fresh Goodyears on a car. Sure, allowing the teams to, in essence, police themselves has worked out so far in theory, which can be noted by how many drivers suffered from a loose wheel at Bristol. The move still isn’t one that promotes safety because though a wheel, or two, or 10, have been loose on the track there’s still the chance that one breaks free from the car and then… well, who knows, that’s for someone involved in Chaos Theory.

NASCAR shined once again with the race at Bristol when again looking at the notion of safety. First, there was the ill-fated attempt to get the race going during the originally scheduled broadcast time. While such a thing should be applauded in some respect, that the track seemed damp didn’t do any favors to Brad Keselowski and his teammate Joey Logano. Obviously the hope from NASCAR was that the circling cars would help to dry the surface – something that has been done previously. This time it looked like not such a great idea.

Then there is the idea of the replacement driver. The Cup drivers are frequently labeled as being some of the best drivers in the world by the pundits-that-be and the case can be made that they are. However, having a driver who has never driven in the Cup Series jump into a car that he has never even practiced seems like folly. How can the sport claim to be acknowledging safety by allowing Erik Jones to grab the uncomfortably large wheel of Denny Hamlin’s car and letting him race? Sure, Jones had competed the previous day in the Xfinity Series at the same track, but that was HIS car, and one that he had used for both practice and qualifying.

It’s these little things that make it difficult to understand just what NASCAR is doing sometimes. Or maybe that’s the fun of the sport at this point – expect one thing, get the other. Hope for change, get the status quo (looking at you, schedule maker).

Happiness Is… Welfare. One of the aspects of NASCAR racing that has earned its share of scrutiny over the past few years has been the Lucky Dog rule and the wave-around. The Lucky Dog, free pass or beneficiary rule allows the first car one lap down to be placed back on the lead lap. The other monikers for the rule are the Jimmie Johnson rule, Dale Earnhardt Jr. rule, Jeff Gordon rule and, of course, the Princess Sparkle Pony Danica Patrick rule brought to you by Big Red. The wave-around allows cars that are a lap down to drive back onto the lead lap – with the distinction being that the Lucky Dog driver gets to pit while the wave-arounds do not.

OK, everyone who follows the sport has a pretty good idea of how the rules work and have seem them in action. What makes these rules interesting is that they are frequently labeled as if they are some sort of welfare system for drivers and that without them many drivers wouldn’t have the stats that they do.

Understandable argument. But isn’t it better to have more cars on the lead lap going for the win than to have, say, nine cars as being the only ones in contention? The goal is to make things interesting and the combination of these rules can often do that – even to the chagrin of everyone except Johnson, who nearly stole last week’s race at Bristol after seemingly being out to lunch and two laps down at one point and then gaming the system for a second-place finish. Be mad at Jimmie Johnson, sure, but be mad at all the other drivers and teams that haven’t figured out how to find the same success in the same system. (Insert NASCAR does everything to favor HMS comment here.)

Happiness Is… Sarcasm. For a while, Kasey Kahne was marketed as the dreamy, blue-eyed, model-esque driver of NASCAR. You know you miss those Allstate commercials with the women who found themselves starstruck whenever they saw him. Since that time, Kahne has become a standard NASCAR pitchman, with his commercial presence dwindling.  He tends to be decent in interviews but doesn’t say much in the way that’s controversial.

That’s what makes Kahne’s comments at Bristol, where he was taken out by Tony Stewart and finished 37th, so enjoyable.  Kahne took a wonderful sideswipe at the Stewart by basically saying that Kahne got taken out by an excited Stewart because Stewart wasn’t used to running so well. Ka-zing. Those words aren’t anything that is going to develop any substantial rivalry between the two, especially after Stewart already took the blame and apologized. The remark does show what a remarkably bad season the three-time champion Stewart is enduring, and that Kahne might just be good for a laugh every so often.

Happiness Is… Barber. That’s not a note that you need to go to the barber, unless you’re Happiness Is’ brother. This note is to point out that IndyCar will be on track again this weekend – and at no conflict to NASCAR. The Cup race this weekend at Richmond is Saturday night and though the weather may be slightly chilly the forecast is for cloudy skies, not rain. That means the race should get finished allowing for the opportunity to watch Indy on Sunday.

Though the Penske drivers have shown the speed to be the dominant team, they haven’t dominated the sport as would be expected. Befell by the rain at NOLA and Scott Dixon’s charge at Long Beach, the Penske drivers will be looking to make a solid statement as they visit Alabama.  Though the crew at Ganassi looks like they might have the potential to keep up the better question is whether the cars at Andretti will show any kind of significant improvement.

Whatever the case, give some eyes to the American open-wheel series if you have a chance.

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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Ron Schwalbe

SO – – having the Wizard of OZ decide that ELIMINATING cars from competition and chances of winning during the “musical chairs” portion of the farce that the “Chase” is,–is perfectly FINE — but– having cars eliminate themSELVES, due to performance etc during each individual race is unacceptable — because ??????




I think you’ve got it!

Only when the Wiz says it is OK, is it OK until it’s not again? Alice thru the looking glass rules these days.


One quibble. Actually NO ONE that follows the sport has any idea how the rules work. NASCAR rules are more like passing whims subject to change at any time for any reason.


Some of the newer fans may not remember the lap down cars lining up beside the cars on the lead lap for restarts. Sometimes a lap down car was able to get back onto the lead lap that way. But, it did it at the expense of having all lead lap cars line up single file. Today’s use of the Lucky Dog and wave around lets the lead lap cars lineup beside each other and put on a much better show for restarts.

Tim S.

I don’t think watching two laps of sorting it out before follow-the-leader kicks in is a better show than watching the fast guy who got caught a lap down duel with the leader to get in front of him on the restart.


Sorry, I enjoyed races a lot more BEFORE NASCAR started their new double file restart rules. As Tim S pointed out, watching a fast car working to get his lap back was a lot more fun to watch than the current restart craziness.

Bill B

“But isn’t it better to have more cars on the lead lap going for the win than to have, say, nine cars as being the only ones in contention?”
NO IT ISN’T if you have to manipulate the competition to make it happen. Damn that approach pisses me off.

Would it be better for a football game to have both teams within 3 points going into the last quarter. Sure it would be but if you have to spot one team 3 touchdowns to make that happen then it’s a farce and most fans would be saying the same thing we NASCAR fans are saying.

Wake up. This is supposed to be a sport, not Survivor or Dancing With The Stars or the WWE. There is only so much manipulation that should be tolerated in the name of entertainment.

There. I’m finished. I wish I could say I feel better.

Tim S.

Bill is right on this one. Don’t know if we should be surprised that they want a better “show” because TV has been driving the bus for a long time. Why even run the full length of any race if what happens during the first half has little bearing on the second?

And if they need these things to keep so many cars on the lead lap (lucky dog, wave around, debris cautions) is it really as competitive as they’re trying to make us believe? You can’t tell me that without those aids it would be impossible for the a team like the 4 or 48 to hook up and lap the field on a Dull D.


Amen, Bill B and Tim S! Well said.


The lucky-dog and the waive around were both introduced because NASCAR got rid of racing back to the yellow (safety issue) and started double file restarts (no more lap down cars on the inside). They don’t feel like welfare to me. They were adaptions needed because NASCAR eliminated the old ways of getting back on the lead lap in an effort to improve safety and competition. Without either, it would almost impossible to get your lap back by passing the leader on the track. Even a fast car would get stuck in traffic over the course of a run.

Bill B

It was almost impossible under the old system too. Most of the people that got their lap back in the pre-lucky dog days got it back as a result of the old “gentlemen’s agreement” where the leader would let a few cars back on the lead lap before he got back to the line when a caution flew.
If you don’t show up with a car capable of running with the best, then suffer the consequences.


I know why the rule was instituted, but so what if 9 cars are on the lead lap..that s how the race played out organically (..one would assume). This is another manipulation tool used by Nascar.

Mr. Hand

What are you people on dope?


The logical end to all this manipulation is just reset the entire field on the lead lap with 1 lap to go, and have a G-W-C finish. While that is absurd, because it makes the rest of the “race” a waste, isn’t that whats being done to a lesser degree now?


well, it seems to me that we’ve seen exactly that done at quite a few races since the “double file restart rule” was put in place.


I’m fine with the wave around rule as there is some risk involved with staying out and not pitting to get your lap back. The lucky dog is a different animal altogether. If the race was able to run organically, I would be fine with it, but Nascar uses it every week for certain drivers to get their laps back and to keep the “show” exciting.

I’m on the side that the drivers of today do not compare to those of the past and you will never get me to believe that Jimmie Johnson is the best driver ever. Too many freebees helped him win those championships and that’s not even counting the whole Chase deal. I know if the race he ran Sunday was back in the day, he would have finished at least 2 laps down without the free pass and a finish probably in the 20’s and people wouldn’t be fawning all over him about almost winning on Sunday.

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