NASCAR’s enforcement of its yellow-line rule ruined Justin Haley’s incredible pass for the win in Friday night’s Xfinity Series race.
Haley went from third to first in the final few hundred yards of the race with a daring pass of Kyle Larson and Elliott Sadler as the three took the checkered flag. But since Haley’s left-side tires were partially below the yellow line that separates the track from the apron, NASCAR ruled the pass to be illegal. Larson took the win and Haley was relegated to an 18th-place finish.
By the book, it’s the right call. Haley did go below the yellow-line. But NASCAR hasn’t always been consistent with its yellow-line enforcement throughout the years. The call is a judgement one — NASCAR doesn’t enforce the rule if it believes a driver was forced below the yellow line. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s winning pass at Talladega in 2003 was ruled legal because NASCAR deemed he was forced below the line.
Haley clearly wasn’t. That’s obvious. Here’s what NASCAR’s rules say about the yellow line.
“NASCAR defines beneath the double yellow lines as follows: when the vehicle’s left side tires are beneath the left line of the inside double yellow lines that separates the apron from the racing surface while passing another vehicle.”
It’s worth contrasting NASCAR’s strict enforcement of the yellow-line rule Friday night with lenience in calling a caution late in the race. Garrett Smithley’s car blew a tire and he spun around — but NASCAR didn’t call a caution because it wanted the race to continue. That desire is understandable, though it’s also easy to assume that Smithley’s spin would have caused a caution had it happened 50 laps earlier.
The easiest solution is for NASCAR to ban the yellow-line rule. It was instituted to prevent drivers from making passes on the apron and forcing their way back onto the track and causing a big crash. However, the consequences of the rule are starting to outweigh what the rule was designed to prevent. Because of NASCAR’s new ride-height rules cars are lower to the track than ever. Going from the banking to the apron can wreak havoc on the suspensions.
The easiest solution isn’t the most realistic. And that’s unfortunate, especially given what happened Friday night. It was the first race since an epic finish between Larson and Kyle Busch. And it had an epic finish of its own. Alas, the rules got in the way. That’s so NASCAR.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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