Published on October 7th, 2008 | by Michael J Smith2
NASCAR Rulebook: Subject To Interpretation
If this weekend’s Amp Energy 500 from Talladega Superspeedway taught us anything, it taught us that NASCAR’s rules are always subject to interpretation, depending on the star involved.
Somewhere between the words spoken in the driver’s meeting before Sunday’s race and the feeling of jubilation Regan Smith felt as he took the first checkered flag of his career was the defintion of the word “allowed.”
The rule lends itself to interpretation. It says that you cannot go below the yellow line and advance your position, unless you are forced down to avoid making contact with another car. But, what constitutes being forced below the line? Tony Stewart clearly blocked Smith. Smith’s nose was beyond Stewart’s quarter panel, yet Stewart moved down to keep him from getting to the inside. So Smith went below the yellow line, feeling like he had been “forced” down there.
This is nothing new. Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed Matt Kenseth with two tires below the yellow line in 2002. And, earlier this year, Kyle Busch did the same thing to Jimmie Johnson. NASCAR allowed those passes to stand. Why was this one different?
Some would argue that Smith couldn’t have been further to the inside without being on pit road. That’s a valid argument. All four of Smith’s tires were below the yellow line, compared to Earnhardt Jr. and Busch’s two.
But, others might argue that there was another factor: Tony Stewart. Stewart is one of NASCAR’s biggest names, and he hadn’t won a race this year, his final year with Joe Gibbs Racing. Do you think NASCAR didn’t consider that when making its “interpretation?”
Let’s say Earnhardt Jr. made the same pass on Travis Kvapil. I’m willing to bet that NASCAR would have determined that Jr. was “forced” down below the line.
I think NASCAR leaves enough flexiblity in its rulebook for situations just like this one. That way, NASCAR can, in some ways, give fans what they want.
I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it is rigged. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. But, NASCAR’s interpretations of the rules on race day certainly seem more subjective than objective.