Race Weekend Central

NL COMMENTARY Is It Time To Race Back To The Yellow Again?

Is it time to race back to the yellow flag again? Dale Earnhardt Jr’s comments after Sunday’s race at Dover that called for yet another change to the overtime rule got me thinking if racing back to the yellow flag is possible again.

Personally, I like the overtime line, and three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish is gimmicky. It was too much, just like I think an unlimited number of attempts would hurt the sport. That’s why I think racing back to the yellow could be what this sport is missing.

Racing back to the yellow was commonplace until the middle of the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season. When there was an accident on the track, the caution wouldn’t officially come out until the leader took the yellow flag. Back before NASCAR had electronic scoring, that was the only way things made sense. Racing back to the line was an easy way for NASCAR to keep track of where everyone was running at the time of the caution. If you came across the line in eighth, you were eighth. Plain and simple.

However, several incidents happened in 2003 that led NASCAR to change the rule, including a scary situation with Dale Jarrett at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Racing back to the yellow was changed after the Jarrett wreck to what it is currently, freezing the field as soon as the yellow comes out. Today NASCAR uses several timing lines and video cameras to help determine the running order when the caution comes out.

It’s a safer way to go about business, there’s no doubt about that. It also takes away a lot of exciting finishes. Just think of how NASCAR history would have changed if not for racing back to the yellow.

Remember the 1979 Daytona 500? Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison crashed while racing for the lead on the backstretch at Daytona International Speedway. Both drivers’ cars came to a rest right before the entrance of Turn 3. When both of those drivers were out of the race, the attention turned to the third-place driver, who just happened to be Richard Petty. Petty was leading Darrell Waltrip and A.J Foyt in Turn 1. It was an intense few moments as the drivers raced to the start-finish line. Was Waltrip going to attempt to pass Petty for the lead? Where would he attempt to make the pass? If he moved up would Foyt go with him or stay with The King? All that was running through the fans heads as the drivers dashed to the start-finish line.

What happened was that Petty stayed in front with Waltrip unable to do anything. Still the intensity of the end would have never happened today. The caution would have come out and Petty would have won the race at a measly 65 mph. There would have been no suspense at the end and it would have made for a real lackluster finish.

Same deal in the 1998 Daytona 500. On lap 198 of the 200-lap event, Lake Speed and John Andretti spun together on the backstretch bringing out the caution flag. Dale Earnhardt, trying for his first Daytona 500 was in the lead. Behind Earnhardt was a hard charging Bobby Labonte, who in five laps had come from eighth to the runner-up spot. Was Labonte going to make a move on Dale Earnhardt? In third was youngster Jeremy Mayfield who had the second-best car that afternoon, if things got dicey, could he win the 500? All that was in the minds of race fans as the teams raced back to the stripe.

The yellow and the white flag flew together and despite the potential for a great finish, Earnhardt won his first Daytona 500. However, if that was today a restart would have occurred since Earnhardt may not have reached the overtime line. Who knows how that restart might have changed history.

Those are just two of countless examples of how racing back to the yellow flag made the race a little more exciting at the end.

Today’s drivers are as smart as they’ve ever been and would use their heads to avoid an accident. I also think racing back to the yellow would cure a lot of discontent with the fans, who hate the fact that NASCAR finishes races under caution. At least there would be a race back to the yellow to determine the winner. We have a lot of technology including spotters that can help drivers maneuver their way past an accident.

Drivers who wait to set up their moves at the crucial time now pay the price because as soon as the caution flag flies, the race is over. Racing back to the yellow would give drivers a chance to make that move, even if it’s only for a short time.

What do you think? Is it time to race back to the yellow again?

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