NASCAR drivers are seeing red over the yellow-line rule
If Saturday night's race had been the Daytona 500 instead of the Bud Shootout, the last-lap crash was coming. And the yellow line would have caused it, just as it has in so many restrictor-plate races since the boundary rule was implemented.
So why have it if the rule causes as many accidents as (or more than) it prevents?
This is the "have at it, boys" era, right? Go for it, even at 206 mph in the Shootout.
All that tough talk doesn't apply when it comes to the yellow line at Daytona and Talladega. It's the line you can't cross. A driver can't have at anything if he passes someone below the line. All he gets is a black flag. The yellow line and "have at it, boys" don't mix. Call it a conflict of interest. Going for it only goes so far in the plate races if you break the yellow boundary.
Denny Hamlin went below the line at the end of the Shootout to pass Ryan Newman and cross the finish line first. But NASCAR officials said no-no to Hamlin. Kurt Busch, who crossed the line second, was declared the winner.
"You don't want a controversial finish in these deals," said Kyle Busch, Hamlin's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing. "That's not what our sport is all about. You don't want NASCAR deciding the winner.
"It would be nice if we could at least race to the checkered. But I'm trying to figure out what's wrong with not having a yellow line. As it is now, if a guy blocks you [on the line] all the way to the grass, you can wreck bigger or wreck more."
Hamlin, Busch and Brian Vickers have seen enough. They all want to eliminate the yellow-line rule heading to the checkered flag. Vickers wants NASCAR to swallow the whistle, so to speak.
"If you really want to resolve the issue, just say anything goes after Turn 4," Vickers said. "Then it's irrelevant. I really don't mind NASCAR making judgment calls for the first 499 miles. That's fine.
"But if I were them, I wouldn't want to be in the position to have to make that call in the Daytona 500. If we want to go down to the apron or the grass, so be it. Let 'em go. If you have the balls to go below the line after that, have at it."
The yellow line is the ultimate irony. Having the boundary rule may be more dangerous than eliminating it and letting the drivers have at it.
We've seen terrifying wrecks on the final lap in recent years because drivers were blocking at the yellow line to try to protect a lead, using the line as a boundary.
Carl Edwards ended up on his roof and flying into the catch fence at Talladega in 2009. Brad Keselowski bumped him because Keselowski couldn't go below the yellow line to pass, so he held the steering wheel straight and floored it while Edwards was blocking to stay in front.
That brought up the obvious question: Does the yellow-line boundary cause more accidents than it prevents, especially at the end of a race?
The answer depends on whom you ask. Rusty Wallace remembers what it was like without the yellow line.
"I lived through that whole turmoil," Wallace said. "Everybody got their tails busted by being upside down and crashing."
That still happens with drivers using the line to block.
"Maybe so, but you've gotta have a line," Wallace said. "There are far less problems with the line than we had without it. Guys were wrecking in the middle of the backstretch 30 feet below the line."
For the record, NASCAR has no intention of eliminating the yellow-line rule. Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, said "a rule is a rule." But the end of the plate races is a continuing problem with the boundary.
Let's review what took place in the Shootout. Without the boundary rule, Hamlin wins the race with no controversy. With it, fans saw tons of controversy over when Hamlin actually passed Newman.
"My understanding was the rule doesn't say you can't go below the yellow line," Vickers said. "I didn't think Denny advanced his position [below the line]. He was ahead of the 39 [Newman] with [Hamlin's] left-side tires above the line. Then Hamlin went below the line to get extra speed. I thought that was legal?"
Hamlin said he went below the line to prevent an accident, knowing he would get black-flagged.
"It wasn't worth wrecking four cars," Hamlin said.
Not in the Shootout. But the Daytona 500? All bets are off. More at ESPN.com