Talladega and controversy. Those words go together all too often, and it can be said again after Sunday’s (Oct. 4) YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. It was a race marred in controversy as Denny Hamlin won his seventh race of the season, edging Matt DiBenedetto at the line for victory.
But it wasn’t that simple. Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota went below the double yellow line coming out of turn four and charging to the checkered flag. The double yellow line is out of bounds on the superspeedway tracks, and if you advance your position below the line, you can be penalized.
Hamlin did just that, but NASCAR deemed his car went below the line to avoid an accident. No penalty was given, and Hamlin kept his victory. DiBenedetto wasn’t so lucky. He got his runner-up finishing position taken away from him after it was deemed he blocked William Byron below the line on the final segment of the race. After a penalty, DiBenedetto was credited with a 21st-place finish.
To add to the confusion was Chase Elliott, whose No. 9 Chevrolet went below the line when he made a move on Chris Buescher coming to the start/finish line. Elliott was originally penalized by NASCAR for his maneuver, only for his Hendrick Motorsports team to appeal the penalty. About an hour after the checkered flag fell, NASCAR rescinded the penalty, saying that Elliott was forced below the line by Buescher, who blocked him. Buescher, who originally finished eighth, was penalized and finished as the last car on the lead lap in 22nd.
All this led to a flurry of conversation in the NASCAR world about the relevance of the double yellow line rule. For years the rule has caused controversy because of the penalties that are and aren’t handed out. Sunday’s race proved that that is not going away anytime soon.
With all the drama from this past weekend, we thought it would be a good idea to discuss the possibility of abolishing the double yellow line rule. Is it time for NASCAR to abolish the rule? Our writers Mike Neff and Vito Pugliese give their thoughts on this hotly debated topic.
This Is The Safest Way
For those of you who are newer to watching auto racing, here is a simple truth. If there is asphalt or concrete inside the walls of a racetrack and a driver thinks there is any chance they can gain an advantage by driving on it, they are going to drive on it. The yellow-line rule came into existence because of this mindset. Drivers at Daytona and especially Talladega, were driving on the apron of the track on the straightaways. At the end of the straights, they would force their way back onto the banking in order to make the corner. As a result, enormous wrecks would occur. While the rule has recently caused some heartburn for racers, it has undoubtedly saved many wrecks from happening and it needs to continue. It just has to be enforced consistently.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. got on national television after the finish of the Talladega race and proclaimed the rule needs to go away. Please don’t forget, Earnhardt is first and foremost a race car driver. He actually was involved in an early decision with the yellow-line rule at Talladega, although it came out in his favor. It is easy to make the statement that the rule needs to go away but, unfortunately, sometimes drivers have to be saved from themselves. If this rule doesn’t remain, drivers will be injured and potentially killed.
To give some perspective, watch a race at Phoenix from the last couple of years. Since the reconfiguration, drivers are cutting the dogleg on what is now the frontstretch and sometimes diving more than 50 feet from the actual racing surface. Why? Because it lets you cut the straight and allows the driver doing it to gain ground. The problem? They have to merge back onto the track. There haven’t been too many incidents at Phoenix yet, but they are also traveling at a slower rate of speed. If they turn up into a pack at 210 mph, the ramifications could easily be catastrophic.
The yellow-line rule is a necessary evil to protect drivers from themselves. Before it was put in place, there were some tremendous wrecks on superspeedways. It will happen again if drivers are allowed to make moves on the apron. Could it be tweaked? Sure. Do away with it on the final lap after turn four. Other than that, it is simply too dangerous to have cars running 210 mph on a flat apron trying to merge into a pack of 30 cars three-wide on a high banked track. – Mike Neff
Mark It Zero, Dude: Over The Line Has Had Its Time
This past weekend’s activities at Talladega were further validation for why it’s still the most anticipated weekend on the racing calendar. It was also another item to be entered as evidence as why the yellow line at Daytona and Talladega should be disbanded as an irrelevant safety measure. We’ve removed the horn from our stockcars – it’s time to ditch the yellow line on the track.
The yellow-line rule appears to be a measure that NASCAR instituted in the interest of safety, but in the process, only ended up causing additional confusion, or a catalyst for even more graphic accidents. What’s more dangerous: dipping onto the apron or wiggling the rear wheels of the car in front OFF OF THE GROUND AT 200 MILES PER HOUR, to “get ‘em loose!” and go by him? As inconsistent as the calls have been throwing the caution flag at superspeedway races as of late, it’s no surprise that we’re having this discussion again about out-of-bounds lines causing issues at tracks that have been causing even more dangerous crashes over the past decade. The big one used to result in a pile of cars on the apron and a 20-minute clean up period. In the last seven years, we’ve had three near-death experiences for both driver and fans – dumb luck and the Grace of God to thank as much as safety initiatives.
This weekend wasn’t a wreck thankfully, but another botched call. The leader is forced to block, and that would appear to have been the consistent direction for the driver to follow given the precedent set in the Cup Series in recent years. Denny Hamlin didn’t just get a couple tires below the yellow line, he apexed at least 100 yards out of the final turn, significantly shortening the distance of the track he was supposed to remain on.
With the intended chaos that is Talladega, Matt DiBenedetto was not only unfairly cited for a commonplace defensive move coming to the checkered flag, but Hamlin was awarded a fender-length victory after taking a good bit of the final corner out of the last lap. NASCAR cannot continue to create situations where the car attempting to pass has carte blanche to execute whatever maneuver they want, while the leader is just supposed to apparently gently glide down the banking approaching the yellow line and pray they don’t get plowed into and impaled into the fence support by the flag stand.
This isn’t to impugn Denny Hamlin. He was actually reacting and avoiding the Nos. 17 and 20 cars that made contact and were coming down the track and to the sparks shooting over his hood from the No. 24 of William Byron bottoming out. The out-of-bounds line has been the source of too many wrecks and near misses with mortality. It’s an arbitrary out-of-bounds that isn’t enforced at other tracks, but is here – and apparently now only applies to the backstretch and frontstretch.
Much like racing at Kentucky and Chicagoland, it’s an idea that had its time, and it’s time to move on. – Vito Pugliese
About the author
Clayton has been writing NASCAR for the last seven years and has followed the sport for as long as he can remember. He's a Jersey boy with dreams of hoping one day to take his style south and adding a different kind of perspective to auto racing.