Talladega Super Speedway produces some of the most intense and action-packed racing in all of NASCAR. Unfortunately, however, the longest oval in the sport does have a tendency to produce finishes that can be somewhat controversial and perhaps even disappointing. All three races held at the Alabama track this weekend among the sanctioning body’s top-three divisions could very well fall into both of those categories.
Most notably, the NASCAR Cup Series YellaWood 500 ended with multiple penalties being handed out with some believing that at least one more infraction went unpunished. Denny Hamlin just barely beat Matt DiBenedetto to the finish line after multiple attempts at completing a green-white-checkered ending. However, the problem regarding the end of the race actually came about one mile from the checkered flag.
A pack of multiple cars were racing through turn four with some either choosing to or being forced below the yellow line that separates the banking from the track apron. A longstanding rule states that drivers are not permitted to gain positions while on the wrong side of that line. Also, drivers can be penalized for forcing another competitor below the line.
During Sunday’s race, Joey Logano was hit twice by NASCAR for committing the foul of pushing others below the yellow stripe.
On the final lap, Hamlin was among several to go below the line and it certainly appeared as if he passed other cars. However, no penalty was issued to the No. 11 car. On the other hand, DiBenedetto was dropped, along with Chris Buescher, to the end of the lead lap finishers for violation of yellow line regulations.
The problem, as this writer saw it, was that the race wasn’t decided until a decision was made in the scoring tower after NASCAR officials reviewed the video of the final lap. Yes, Hamlin won the race to the finish line, and that should be what determines the winner of any race. But also consider that a precedent has been set for taking a winner’s number off the board. If such a call was made once, pundits may question why it was not made on this occasion.
Regan Smith beat Tony Stewart to the finish line at Talladega in 2008 but was penalized for advancing his position below the yellow line. Stewart was then named as the winner.
For my part, I agree with what broadcaster Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said at the end of the race. The yellow line rule needs to go away, particularly in the final few laps of a race. Having that rule certainly didn’t reduced the amount of carnage on Sunday.
Anytime a sporting league puts itself in a position that it may have to make a judgement call to determine a winner, it opens the door for criticism. A call from the booth in a situation such as this is always going to be seen by some as biased or incorrect. Of course, those types of calls can sometimes not be avoided whether it be in football, baseball or basketball. But it seems as if NASCAR’s two biggest tracks(Talladega & Daytona) lend themselves to those scenarios all too often. As a matter of fact, all three of NASCAR’s top divisions had calls made on the final lap that ultimately caused the winners to be determined in a replay booth.
In the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race a crash that occurred after the white flag had been displayed caused officials to call for a caution. As a result, a replay had to be used to determine whether Raphael Lessard or Trevor Bayne was actually ahead at the time the yellow lights around the track came on.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series featured a somewhat similar ending when a crash following the white flag froze the field before the finish line. In that case, Justin Haley was more clearly out front at the time of the yellow than was Lessard in the Truck Series race.
But the point remains. Something just doesn’t seem right about the winner of an auto race being decided in a replay booth when a perfectly good finish line is awaiting an opportunity to serve its only purpose.
This past weekend, I attended two World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series races, and in both pre-race drivers meetings, the official conducting the affair stated that “our races end at the finish line and if a caution comes out, no matter where the leader is on the last lap, we go to a green-white-checkered finish”.
If a caution has to be called due to need for fire trucks or an ambulance, then call it. But why the need for limitations on the number of G/W/C attempts? What’s the hurry?
I understand that television networks don’t like delays, but they need to understand that determining the winner in the proper way is more important. If they have other things to get to they need to stop demanding later start times.
As soon as the Cup Series race concluded on Sunday and Hamlin was named as the winner, several people came on my Twitter timeline saying that he was shown favoritism for one reason or another. Ending races at the finish line rather than in the replay booth helps to eliminate those kinds of criticisms.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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