NASCAR's Restrictor Plate's Biggest Enemy: The Yellow Line Rule Controversy

Ashley McCubbinAnalyst INovember 2, 2010

TALLADEGA, AL - OCTOBER 31:  (***EDITORS NOTE*** - THIS DIGITAL IMAGE WAS CREATED WITH THE USE OF VARIABLE FOCAL PLANE LENS) Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, leads the field during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AMP Energy Juice 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 31, 2010 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Ever since its inception, there have been debates surrounding the double yellow line rule at Talladega and Daytona. Most agree that it does serve a purpose, however in its later years, it has actually hindered the racing, as debates have sprung following actions taken place on track.

So what is the yellow line rule?

In short, the yellow line rule is set as an out of bounds on the restrictor plate tracks (Daytona and Talladega). Any driver who goes below the yellow line to advance their position is subject to being penalized.

It was then adjusted down its life in NASCAR that any driver who forces another driver below the yellow line can also be subjected to a penalty.

The rule was brought forth to stop the big wrecks that were being caused by drivers going below the line on the straight-aways and then causing wrecks when they tried to blend back in line in the corners.

2001, Daytona: Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte

Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte are officially known as the first offenders of the rule as the 2001 Pepsi 400 was the first race that it was enforced. During the final seven-lap dash to the checkers, both of them dipped below the line, advancing their positions as they tried to get to the front to win.

Stewart argued later that he was forced below, therefore bringing forth the second part to the rule.

2003, Talladega: Dale Earnhardt Jr. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was known as the first driver to bring the yellow line into a controversial context in trying to decide the winner of the race. Earnhardt had driven from the back of the pack to the front after being involved in the big wreck on the fourth lap.

When making a pass below Kevin Harvick for the win, he dipped below the line.

Both Harvick and Matt Kenseth contended that Earnhardt was illegal with his pass. However, upon further review, it was determined that Earnhardt's move was legal because before dipping below, he was a nose ahead and therefore had the position.

2008, Talladega, Regan Smith and Tony Stewart

In the fall race at Talladega, the win came down to a battle at the finish line between Regan Smith and Tony Stewart.

When they crossed the finish, Smith was in the first position with Stewart second.

However, upon further review, it was determined that Smith made the pass on Stewart below the yellow line, therefore being illegal, and was disqualified. Instead of being given the win, Smith was scored as the last car on the lead lap.

Smith said in his defense that Stewart pushed him below the line, though NASCAR heard none of it.

2009, Talladega: Brad Keselowski vs. Carl Edwards 

The yellow line hits its peak of debates when a final run to the finish sparked one of the most dangerous wrecks seen in NASCAR history.

In a battle to the line, Edwards came down to place a block on Keselowski’s bumper, Keselowski held his ground, hitting Edwards. The result was Edwards flipping right in front of Ryan Newman’s path and then into the safety catch fence.

Keselowski said later afterwards that he held his ground as with the rules, you’re not supposed to go below the yellow line.

2010, Talladega: Kyle Busch and Aric Almirola 

This year’s Camping World Truck Series race at Talladega seemed to be a repeat of what we’ve seen in the past. In a sense, if you break Kyle Busch’s move into two parts, he borrowed his competitors’ playbooks.

The move he put on Almirola heading to the finish line is out of Kevin Harvick’s book (recall Talladega Spring 2010) that Harvick placed on McMurray.

The resulting debate afterwards is the same of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s from 2003.

Some would say that Aric Almirola pushed Busch below the yellow line; however if you freeze the tape, as soon as Busch has a nose on Almirola, you’ll notice that Busch is above the yellow line.

In most cases, the yellow line rule does play a good role in its influence on the race. However, is it something that’s warranted on the last lap? In the past three years, there have been now four separate debates surrounding one line. Would it be safer just to completely open the floor? 

“They should eliminate the Yellow Line rule on the last straight going to the checkers,” Bleacher Report user Craig commented on the Kyle Busch win article. “At that point the rule causes more problems than it prevents. Drivers making that last run will hold their line and if leader tries to block, the result is that the leader takes a ride. The result of the Fall 2008 race led directly to the Brad K.-Edwards crash next Spring. It happened again that year at the July Daytona race.”

“The yellow line rule should stay,” one fan commented. “They need to stop messing with the rules. Do you see any other professional sports series changing the rules as often as NASCAR does? Its part of what’s making them lose some credibility. You can’t tell them they can go bellow the line on the last lap. If something’s illegal the first 199 laps, why make it legal on the last one? Start taking the win from guys who throw bonzai moves on the last lap. That will cause some entertainment right there.”

“They should modify the rule so this issue doesn't happen anymore,” Bleacher Report user Left Turn commented on the Kyle Busch win article. “Make a line coming out of Turn four - somewhere between the middle and middle off the corner. Then on the last lap after that mark, there no yellow line rule in effect period. That'd serve the purpose the rule was created for: keeping dummies from going onto the apron in the corners, losing it on the flat and taking out half the field.

“Coming out of turn four, it should be no holds barred and then the person who crosses the finish line first will ALWAYS be the winner (poor Regan Smith) and there won't be any controversy. It'll also help keep the big wrecks from happenings at the line when the lead car tries to force the car behind him below the yellow so he can't pass.”

Some have suggested removing it for the entire last lap. However that, according to some, opens up the opportunity of people making bad moves and causing wrecks before the finish.

“I'm not for them dumping it for the entire last lap,” Left Turn said. “Cause someone will then go down on the apron going into the corner, lose it and take out the field, which is why they have the rule in the first place. If they made a clear line on the track after the middle of turn 4, then it'd be clear as day to the fans and drivers where the "free for all line" started and then we'd have a real winner at plate races instead of having the win taken away from the guy who crosses the finish line first like what happened to Regan. It's do a lot to stop the Carlowski type wrecks at the finish line too.”

A suggestion then would be to make the restart line, which drivers know where it is marked to therefore know where to restart from, should be the start from where the yellow line rule is deleted on the last lap.

It’d certainly delete the controversy we have seen and make the racing more interesting down to the checkers.


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