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Hot/Not: It’s time for NASCAR to add the “Sadler Rule”

If the stands are half empty at Indianapolis, did they really have a race there? Also, how fair is it that rules dictate restart position — not actually-earned track position? Jump in to that and more in this week's NASCAR temperature gauge. Mind you, it might be broke from that dag-blasted hot weekend in Indianapolis.

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NOT: Elliott Sadler wrecked in qualifying for Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series finale at Lucas Oil Raceway and had to start in the back for the 200-lap race. Being the shortest race on the Nationwide calendar, his odds of contending looked slim.

Incredibly, Sadler managed to advance and spend 164 of 204 laps inside the top 15, making a race-high 36 green-flag passes. By Lap 120, Sadler was in the top 5.

A caution that came out on Lap 190 for Trevor Bayne's blown engine seemed to put Sadler, with a car capable of fast laps in traffic, in good position to complete his storybook run to the front. Only Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier were ahead.

Then, Allgaier's car caught fire during the caution laps and the No. 31 pulled off track after the field had moved into double-file restart order. Instead of then moving Sadler (in third) to take over Allgaier's vacated second spot, NASCAR rules mandated that Brad Keselowski (in fourth, originally next to Sadler) pull ahead to take the outside front row, while Sadler remained third behind Stenhouse. The moved proved fortuitous for Keselowski, as he wrestled the lead from Stenhouse and held on for the win. Sadler, irritated on the radio about the rule, was later collected in an accident. He finished 16th.

The reason why Keselowski was given the second spot over Sadler is a clear one on paper: NASCAR would have quite a time trying to get each and every row to swap grooves and position when a car pulls off after the double-file restart ordering had taken place. It would be a mess that would create longer caution periods and less green-flag racing, and would additionally create opportunities for teams to prolong those caution periods in their interest.

The rule, if you're wondering, was simply adopted from how NASCAR starts races in the case of a car that has to drop to the back. Theoretically (and for example) if the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th-place cars all had issues that forced them to the rear for the start of a race, the 9th-place car would start on the front row. The rule is in place across all three NASCAR national divisions, including Sprint Cup.

What, then, can be done to make things a bit more fair for folks like Elliott Sadler? It's clear as day that his chance for a win was hurt by Keselowski's advance.

To me, it's simple. Establish an addition to the current rule that says in the final 10-percent of a race's distance, the first four rows of the double-file restart must match the correct running order. NASCAR could also warn teams that any shenanigans that try to prolong a caution by teammates on track could lead to big penalties.

We're big in the U.S. about making laws named after people, so let's just call this the "Sadler Rule."{ysp:more}

Such a rule allows for races to end in a fairer manner to competitors, but also keeps NASCAR from 1) reshuffling the entire field late in the race and 2) reshuffling any part of the running order earlier in the race when one position isn't as important.

I think it would work just fine for the rare instances in which these occasions arise. Of course, it wouldn't be great for the controversy-loving Twitterverse.

Now that I've written just over million words on one topic, how about we shorten it up a bit for the rest of the day?

HOT: I gave Paul Menard (Paul Freaking Menard!) credit where credit was due in my post-race column, and he deserves it. Say what you will, but he won the Brickyard 400 fair and square. I won't be predicting a championship for the Wisconsin driver any time soon, though.

NEUTRAL: I'm hearing more and more that a return of NASCAR to Lucas Oil Raceway in 2012 is a very dim possibility. A return in 2013 seems slightly more likely at this point. If that doesn't happen, "NEUTRAL" changes to "NOT".

HOT: Give Regan Smith some serious credit. Driver No. 78 has four top-10s this season, all in NASCAR's biggest races. He was seventh in the Daytona 500, won at Darlington, eighth in the Coca-Cola 600 and finished third on Sunday at Indianapolis. While an otherwise lack of consistency has Smith 25th in the Cup standings, his big-race finishes have his season earnings at $2,790,088 — 15th best in the series.

NOT: Lots of drivers didn't really get a finish where they raced most of the day at Indianapolis, and you could make an argument Dale Earnhardt Jr. was one of them. Pit strategy helped him lead seven laps, but he finished 16th to continue his slide to the very edge of the top 10 in the standings.

HOT: It's hard to think Jeff Gordon won't be the car to beat this weekend at Pocono. He likely had the strongest car at Indianapolis — a race similar to Pocono in many regards — and walked away with the Pocono race in June. Don't discount how good he's been on flat tracks either (New Hampshire and Phoenix), as Pocono's third turn is very similar.

NOT: Jeff Burton's crew chief change before Indianapolis didn't instantly improve the No. 31, and an engine expiration with eight laps left placed him 35th.

HOT: The Brickyard was, for start-and-park teams. I'm pretty sure Robby Gordon was planning to race the whole event (blew an engine, 43rd), but T.J. Bell dropped out blaming "brakes" after 10 laps to finish 42nd. He collected $132,975. Two weeks prior at New Hampshire, the 42nd-place finisher Mike Skinner earned $69,400.

HOT: Darian Grubb's call to bring Tony Stewart down pit road with just a few laps left was incredibly smart for Smoke's Chase chances. Grubb knew they were playing a very low-percentage gamble if he kept Stewart on track to converse fuel for the win. Sure, Stewart came up empty in the win column, but his sixth-place finish could play huge down the stretch — unlike Denny Hamlin's 27th-place finish.

NOT: I wrote in length about the problems plaguing attendance at Indianapolis, and I feel like I have fewer solutions. Regardless, it's disappointing that the gem that is Indianapolis Motor Speedway is having such a tough go with an on-track product that isn't nearly as bad as some like to think. Mind you, 138,000 people at a race still far outclasses any NFL game played last year. My unhashed thoughts for improving Indy? Make it completely different from the rest of the NASCAR calendar. Change the qualifying format so it resembles time trials for the Indianapolis 500, with multiple attempts and no guaranteed starting spots. Make the pole worth a ton of coin. Make winning the race worth $1 million or more.

Make Indianapolis different, and maybe the fans will see it that way and come back. Until then, Indianapolis truly is just another stop on the nine-month, never-ending tour that is NASCAR racing. Adding more minor league races at the track only reinforces that.

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