In The Tracks...
Talladega, Who Dropped the Ball at the Finish
October 6, 2008

Where did the controversy come from at the finish of the Amp Energy 500 at Talladega? Well, in a green white checkered finish at a superspeedway, it leaves very little time to setup a pass and react successfully to complete that pass and take the lead away from the leader. Throw into the mix a rookie versus a veteran and put the veteran in the lead and the odds favor the veteran.

In this instance, it was two-time champion, Tony Stewart, leading with rookie, Regan Smith, in a two lap shootout for the win. Regan did almost everything right as he stuck with Tony so as not to hang himself out until the last possible moment. If the pass didn't work he could lose a spot or two, but it would be worth it to take the chance to capture his first career Cup Series victory.

Well, off turn four, Smith held back just enough to open up enough space to get a run on Stewart as they headed into the trioval. Smith looked high and Stewart blocked and so he ducked back toward the inside. The frozen frame of ABC video above is the point where Smith is still behind Stewart as Stewart blocked the low lane. Notice where Smith is in relation to the yellow line. It is right next to his left side tires. Smith's momentum may have slightly sent him into the back of Stewart, but definitely down below the yellow line.

Stewart's block to the inside was good and Stewart's right to do as the leader. The frame of video above shows that he got that block in and did not force Smith below the yellow line. To force Smith below the line, Smith would have needed to get along side Stewart and have all four tires above the line and have Stewart move down and push him to the left and below the line. This didn't happen at Talladega, Smith's drove below the line in order to get along side Stewart.

In conclusion, Smith drove below the line and can not advance his position by doing so. The penalty would be to black flag him for doing so. The black flag would have dropped him back in the pack with a pit stop and so he was positioned in 18th as the final car on the lead lap as his penalty for passing Stewart below the yellow line.

NASCAR released a statement including the text of the instructions at the drivers' meeting before the race. Those instructions said:

"This is your warning: race above the yellow line. If, in NASCAR's judgment, you go below the yellow line to improve your position, you will be black-flagged. If in NASCAR's judgment you force someone below the yellow line (in an effort to stop him from passing you), you may be black-flagged."

NASCAR president Mike Helton released the following statement Monday after the race. "During the last lap of the race at Talladega Superspeedway the driver of the No. 01 violated NASCAR policy by driving under the yellow line to improve his position. In NASCAR's opinion he was not forced below the yellow line. NASCAR correctly took immediate action to enforce the policy by penalizing the No. 01 and scoring the No. 20 as the race winner. Since the end of the race there has been some confusion as to what is allowable during the last lap at Daytona and Talladega. To be clear, as we go forward, there will be no passing under the yellow line at any time during NASCAR races at Daytona or Talladega, period. This includes any passing below the yellow line near the start/finish line on the final lap."

So, who dropped the ball? NASCAR dropped it first as Smith was going off of something that was previously said during a Craftsman Truck Series event. So, NASCAR needs to get all of their ducks in a row first. What was said at the truck race was that anything goes when the checkered flag is within sight. Having not said this in the Cup Series drivers' meeting before the Amp Energy 500, NASCAR didn't consider this in their decision for the Cup Series event.

Since NASCAR didn't have all their ducks in a row and past precedent in the truck race in 2007 was thought as having some influence with the drivers it kind of leaves the television crews to not know what the official word is either. So, when Andy Petree gives the win to Smith and Dale Jarrett asking about Smith going below the line and if it is not legal for laps 1 through 187, why would it be legal for lap 188? A valid point by Jarrett and what NASCAR was going by in this race. But, it showed that the ABC crew didn't know what the official rule was either. So, if television doesn't know what to tell the fans then how are the fans supposed to know after the race why NASCAR made the call they did. In every other sport, if the call is fair or foul, safe or out, ball or strike the fans might not agree, but they know why the call was made.

Therefore, the blame goes on NASCAR for not making the rules clear to the fans and the television crews need to be more aggressive as the contact point between NASCAR and the fans to understand the rules themselves to correctly convey the rules to the fans to avoid confusion.
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