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(Photo: Bruce Nuttelman)

2-Headed Monster: Is It Time To Say Goodbye To The Yellow Line Rule?

NO NEED FOR THE LINE

In 2001, NASCAR implemented it’s now notorious “yellow line” rule at its two restrictor plate tracks, Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. Simply put, any driver who gains an advantage by putting their tires below the yellow line separating the racing surface from the apron gets black-flagged. Since its implementation, the rule has continuously been tweaked as various situations arose.

First, the verbiage “advancing your position” was added. Then, if you were forced below the line, you would be spared a penalty. Now, if you force another driver below the line, you could be the one penalized.

But what constitutes being forced? Does there need to be contact? If you give the spot back, it’s OK. So how quickly do you have to relinquish the position?

It’s all getting to be a little much.

There are so many variables that infractions involving the yellow line always end up as a judgement call by NASCAR, and we know how that can go. Like many rules, it sounded simple enough at first. But now, it seems to make things harder rather than easier.

It’s time to highlight this one in the rulebook and press “delete.”

There’s no way to tell how many accidents have been prevented, but it’s certainly caused a few. For instance, a driver is hugging the inside line and another driver starts crowding them; rather than dropping to the apron to give adequate space, the driver holds their line. After all, one simply cannot risk a penalty late in the race. By steadfastly refusing to yield, all too often the scenario ends with somebody getting turned around.

Things have changed since the regulation was introduced. First, the tracks are different. It used to be that cars would get off the racing surface into large patches of grass. The complete lack of traction was basically akin to driving on ice, turning the car into an unguided missile. There was no saving it.

Now, both Daytona and Talladega have paved huge areas that were once grass. Dipping off of the track no longer guarantees a ride back to the garage on a wrecker.

Additionally, the uneven terrain usually removes a large portion of the car’s front end every time a car gets into the grass. Avoiding what grass remains is still a high priority. To remedy this, the tracks could do away with grassy areas that are accessible from the track entirely.

The opportunity to regain control of their car and rejoin the field on-track would help eliminate the disastrous consequences of ending up on the turf.

Moreover, NASCAR has made the determination that anytime a car ends up advancing their position after going beneath the line, there’s going to be a penalty. If they were deemed forced below the line, the penalty falls on the car that put on the squeeze. A winning car can fail post-race inspection and still take home the trophy. But if that same car dips below the hallowed line to make the winning move, the driver is promptly banished to the tail end of the lead lap.

This is as backwards a concept as they come.

Even if there’s absolutely no competitive advantage gained or grinding crash created by the move, it makes no difference. The penalty is issued just the same. In 2008, Regan Smith made a move to the inside of Tony Stewart coming to the finish line. It was determined by NASCAR that he went below the yellow line.

Rather than earning his first career victory, Smith was knocked back to 18th, the last car on the lead lap. The win was awarded to Stewart. No crash occurred, no cars were damaged and no driver’s safety was jeopardized.

NASCAR racing has plenty of rules and regulations that govern competition and ensure fair play. But the yellow line rule seems to cause more harm than it prevents. It’s time to give drivers the latitude to make decisions based on what is appropriate for the situation, not based on what will result in a penalty.

It’s time to black flag the yellow line rule. – Frank Velat

KEEPING THE DAREDEVILS ON TRACK

The yellow line rule is a good one to have on the restrictor plate tracks — the homes of the most dangerous races on the circuit.

I don’t intend to sound like the fun police. I enjoy watching cars beat and bang on each other for the race win as much as the next fan. It is absolutely thrilling to watch a driver make a daring move and race hard for the trophy.

Part of the lure of NASCAR is seeing which of the 40 drivers has the most nerve. Who can look danger in the face and laugh while getting doused with champagne?

As NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee and legendary commentator Ken Squier said, NASCAR is a sport of “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” Watching someone else drive over 200 miles per hour, make three-wide passes and give the “chrome horn” to a competitor is a cathartic experience for the average fan.

However, allowing drivers to make moves below the racing surface on plate tracks should not be allowed because it is too dangerous and it is not racing.

When the cars were not confined by the double yellow lines at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, passing below them was not racing. Instead, it was a game of chicken.

The perilous games of chicken that were played during the plate races during the 1999 Winston Cup season is what brought the rule to life.

In the Daytona 500 that year, Jeff Gordon drove below the line to pass Rusty Wallace for the race lead with 12 laps to go. Gordon decided that he was either going to win the race or take out half the field in the process.

Gordon held the super-low line into Turn 1, and the veteran Wallace eventually moved up the track to allow the No. 24 back onto the racing surface. Wallace chose to bring his car home in one piece rather than continue to battle for his first Daytona 500 win.

Imagine the carnage that would’ve happened had Wallace been just as much of a daredevil as Gordon.

Later in the year at Talladega, Tony Stewart went below the line to try to pass Mike Skinner. This time, there was no give to either driver. Skinner blocked Stewart all the way down the track until he hit the grass and lost control of his car. The No. 31 shot back up the track and caused a massive pileup on the backstretch.

If someone tried to do that move now, their splitter would be destroyed and its debris would wreak even more havoc on the rest of the field.

The rule has been a blessing for the past 19 years as it has prevented the daredevils in the cars from causing a great number of pileups. With the average age of drivers in NASCAR getting younger, even more wrecks would happen today if the yellow line rule did not exist. When you’re young, you’re fearless and more likely to make dumb decisions.

The yellow line rule has caused a number of controversies since it was first enforced in 2001, but none of those are because of the rule itself.

The rule is good, but the NASCAR governing body has been extremely inconsistent in enforcing it. You wouldn’t say that laws against theft were bad if they were equally enforced on everyone; you would complain about those laws if they only applied to half the population.

The same goes for the yellow line rule — if NASCAR would penalize everyone that passes under the yellow line instead of cherry picking instances to throw the black flag, then the complaints would silence. NASCAR needs to eliminate any gray area around this rule, as that only encourages the theories that the governing body plays favorites.

If the yellow line rule was enforced consistently, then every driver would be on an equal playing field and the danger on the track would greatly reduce. -Michael Massie

About Frank Velat

Frank Velat has been an avid follower of NASCAR and other motorsports for over 20 years. He brings a blend of passionate fan and objective author to his work. Frank offers unique perspectives that everyone can relate to, remembering the sport's past all the while embracing its future. Follow along with @FrankVelat on Twitter.

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7 comments

  1. The drivers seem to understand the purpose of the yellow line but NASCAR doesn’t enforce the rule properly. They should get rid of blocking and the problem wouldn’t happen. The 17 car should have been penalized in the first segment and the drivers would think twice before blocking.

  2. The only change I would make to the yellow line rule is maybe relax it on the white flag lap when you exit turn 4. Some of the worst superspeedway crashes recently were caused by cars blocking and pushing 3, 4 and 5 wide coming to the checkered flag with drivers knowing they can’t go below it. Dillon’s crash a few years ago was a perfect example. Let the cars fan out more coming to the line. It will lessen the chance of an incident right at the end sending a car flying because they are packed so close together.

  3. Well Michael makes an entirely untrue statement when he says “the yellow line rule has caused a number of controversies since it was first enforced in 2001, but none of those are because of the rule itself.” One of the most spectacular wrecks in NASCAR history happened the very next time the series visited Talladega in the spring of 2009 (after the above video of Smith and Stewart). Carl Edwards tried to block Brad Keselowski and got turned, almost depositing his Toyota in the stands. Afterwards Brad said that he was thinking about Smith getting penalized the previous year and having the win take away because he went below the yellow line, so Brad held his ground and Carl ended up wrecked. With no yellow line rule, Brad would have maybe given him a bit of room and avoided the carnage. The cars are almost completely seal off to the track now, and drivers know that in certain places going on the apron can damage the splitter and that is detriment enough.

  4. In a way I kind of wish that Wallace had held his line and left Gordon on the apron. The wreck that followed would have provided evidence to bring the Gordon rule yellow lines into play. Now the drivers are like children trying to see what they can get away with. The problem is the lack of consistency in the calls. What a surprise!

  5. Obviously, no one here even knows why the rule exists, which is what happens in Turn One. In turn one the yellow line is the dividing line between the flat apron and the very sudden and severe bank of the racing surface.

    If a driver is below the yellow line and does not return above it before getting to turn one, he physically cannot stay below the line. There is no choice. Physics will send his car up onto the banking and if the draft is there he will hit somebody. Even if there is not another car beside him, there is a 99% chance that as his car is sent up onto the banking he will lose control and be hit by oncoming cars. None of this is possibility, it is all absolute certainty.

    With the tight drafting there is no guarantee that a driver going below the line in the tri-oval will be able to get back above the line going into turn one. After watching crashes in turn one that were far worse than anything that has happened in the tri-oval, including ones that sent cars over the top f the wall, NASCAR reasonably decided that only way to assure that cars were above the line entering the turn was to be sure they never went below it in the first place.

    This is a good rule. I applauded it when it was first instigated, and I would be horrified if it was dropped.

    • I am not a fan of RP racing or the big wrecks, but I have seen plenty of terrible wrecks originating from anywhere on the track not just when the yellow line is breached.
      Maybe they should just put a wall/safer barrier there, that would end the problem (I am being facetious not serious).

  6. There were only about 10 competitive cars left at the finish of the Daytona 500 (and that’s before Dillon wrecked Almirola). There were 3 big ones during the race. So is a wreck caused by going below the yellow line worse than a wreck caused when someone misjudges and turns someone high on the track? I don’t think so. A wreck at an RP track is the same no matter where it originates, so why single out wrecks caused by going below the yellow line?