Rules are what make sports fair, but sometimes it may seem that they make a certain sport unfair as well.
Raiders fans will probably still tell you that NFL Rule 3, Section 21, Article 2, Note 2, is among one of the rules that the National Football League should eliminate from their rule book. NFL Rule 3, Section 21, Article 2, Note 2 is known by another name and that name is the infamous “Tuck Rule.”
While there are other rules in other sports that some disagree on, there are reasons why that rule exists.
NASCAR is no exception.
Infineon Raceway proved that NASCAR has a few of these rules, as attention was called to NASCAR Rulebook Section 10-4 which states, “Cars must maintain a reasonable speed considering the conditions that exist on the track. Determination of a reasonable speed is a judgment call and will be made by NASCAR Officials.”
The reason this rule was called into question was because race leader Marcos Ambrose was attempting to save fuel for a potential Green-White-Checkered finish by turning off his engine, on a late race caution. While coasting on a flat part of the track, Ambrose tried to re-fire his car while going up a hill. His car stalled and came to a complete stop as six other cars cruised past him before the car re-fired and Ambrose could rejoin the pack.
After initially returning to the first position, NASCAR officials told Ambrose to drop back to the seventh position, because in their judgment Ambrose had given up those positions.
On the next restart, Ambrose started in seventh and would only move up one spot before the checkered flag flew. Jimmie Johnson scored his first career victory at Infineon.
Many fans were wondering why NASCAR made the No. 47 of Ambrose start seventh instead of first.
The answer is, of course, because it’s in the rules.
A few questions still remain however, including why does this rule exist? And why wasn’t Greg Biffle penalized at Kansas in 2007 when he slowed to almost a stop when the race ended under caution because of darkness?
While its hard to give exact answers to those two questions, let's explore the two questions starting with the Biffle example from 2007.
As the 2007 Sprint Cup Series Chase for the Cup started, Clint Bowyer won the first race, and then Carl Edwards took the victory in the second race. The third race was held at Kansas Speedway and Roush-Fenway racing was looking to have another strong day.
As the 2007 LifeLock 400 went green, from the start it looked like Kurt Busch would be the man to beat. However, a big wreck would cause the race to be red-flagged for cleanup. After everything was restarted it would soon stop again because a short rain shower moved over the track.
Fast forward a few hours and laps and NASCAR officials are forced to make the call that since Kansas speedway has no lights the race will have to be shortened to 210 laps. Drivers and crew chiefs started to make different strategy calls.
One of the strategy calls was for the No. 16 of Greg Biffle.
Biffle decided to stay out and after a late race caution, the race would have to finish under yellow because of the darkness. Under the caution laps, Biffle eventually ran out of fuel and was forced to slow his pace to a crawl. Biffle crossed the finish line in about the fourth or fifth position as the other cars with fuel kept the pace lap speed.
Despite not following NASCAR rules, including Rulebook section 10-4 and others that would apply under caution, Biffle was still awarded the win.
Many fans were angry and wanted NASCAR to award the win to Clint Bowyer or Jimmie Johnson because they followed pace speed and passed Biffle before the line. Despite all the complaints, Biffle was kept as the winner and has been the winner of that race in NASCAR records since 2007.
So why might Rulebook section 10-4 exist?
Well, the obvious answer is to keep competition fair.
Since the early days of NASCAR, fuel consumption has been a big part of the sport, with plenty of races being won or lost based off how much fuel a driver can save for the end of the race.
In theory this rule might exist to keep everyone using the same amount of fuel, and also to keep restarts fair. After all, if a driver didn’t have to run in the same spot all the way around those sometimes long caution laps, a driver could pull over to the side and just wait until the restart, saving precious fuel.
A driver could also keep his speed up by pulling to the back, or lag behind the pack and come full speed on the restart when everyone is just starting to gain speed.
While there can be plenty of other scenarios on why this rule might exist, the fact is that the rule exists and Ambrose is actually not the only one to be hurt by the rule. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was hurt by the same rule in 2004 at Talladega and everyone can think about Mark Martin in 1994, whom also was hurt by this rule after he pulled off the track a lap short in a nationwide series race.
So congratulations to NASCAR for following its rule.
While Greg Biffle may have snuck by the rulebook in 2007, NASCAR has made attempts to follow its rules in 2010.