When you’re driving along the interstate and you see a double yellow line, you know exactly what it means: Do not pass. In NASCAR, it’s the same thing. The double yellow line that rides all the way around racetracks like Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway are a very clear and vivid reminder t o the drivers that under no circumstances are you allowed to pass below the yellow line.
A rule that was first used in the 2001 July Daytona race, the rule has caused numerous controversies at the end of several races with some drivers crossing the start/finish line first only to lose the victory because of what NASCAR determined to be an illegal pass.
The latest victim of the rule is Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. In Saturday night’s Budweiser Shootout, Hamlin was pushing Ryan Newman on the final lap with Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray right in tow. As the four of them came out of turn four, Busch pulled out of line to make a move above Newman while Hamlin went low to try and beat both drivers to the start/finish line.
Hamlin ultimately crossed the start/finish line first, but NASCAR determined he had illegally passed below the yellow line to get by Newman and Busch was given the victory. Hamlin was moved to the tail end of the lead lap and scored 12th in the final running order.
"I went to the inside of Ryan Newman and I saw quickly to dart down to the bottom so I moved my car down to the bottom to try to avoid contact,” said Hamlin. “I thought it was a great three-wide finish, but obviously I used some pavement that we shouldn't have."
Hamlin never denied that he made the illegal move, but claimed it was more defensive driving and trying to keep from wrecking Newman.
“A win in the Shootout is not worth sending the 39 (Ryan Newman) through the grandstands,” said Hamlin. “For me, as fast as we're running -- if I get into his left rear, that car will go airborne. For me, it was a tough position. I probably should have gone high just to avoid that whole thing. I was faced with a decision and obviously I didn't want to have contact with the 39."
Hamlin’s position obviously makes him somewhat biased on whether or not there should even be a yellow line rule but he still made some good points for getting rid of it.
“For me, coming to the checkered, it’s hard for us drivers mentality is not to use every bit of race track that we have to get to the line first,” said Hamlin. “For me, I think that’s what makes it so exciting. Some of the most exciting passes that we’ve had in NASCAR is guys nipping down to the grass just about to make a pass. I think there’s something to be said about that.”
However, McMurray, one of the four drivers gunning for the victory at the end of Saturday night’s race, agreed with NASCAR’s call to give the victory to Busch.
“First off, I watched the replay of that and Denny was far enough up the side of Ryan (Newman) that he really didn’t have to go below the yellow line,” said McMurray. “I think he could have held his ground. I don’t know if there would have been a wreck there. I think Ryan would have depended on whether there was going to be a wreck or not.”
McMurray said he spoke with NASCAR after the race to discuss the yellow line rule and that he felt satisfied with their answer. He also went on to say that he hopes NASCAR decides to keep the yellow line rule for safety reasons.
I look back at some of the old footage when they could go below the yellow line and they were in the grass and that just seems crazy to me that we ever did that,” said McMurray. “The yellow line rule, it is your friend. If you come off turn two you put your left front on the yellow line, you don’t have to guard that side. Just look out the right side. I think it is great. I don’t think that rule should not be in effect on the last lap because you are just going to be in the dirt. It is going to be the same thing, it is just going to be six foot lower and there is plenty of room to the right to race anyway. So, I think the rules are just fine on all that.”
While safety is important in NASCAR, it begs the question: How relevant really is the yellow line rule? After all, the drivers are all aware of the risk of strapping into a heavy stock car and driving at speeds exceeding 180mph. If these drivers are revered as some of the best drivers in the world, shouldn’t they be able to race like it?
There’s no indication that NASCAR is even considering scrapping the yellow line rule, but maybe it would be a better move. The cars are about as safe as they can be and drivers are more than capable of deciding what the right move would be.
There’s no reason for Hamlin to have been anywhere but in Victory Lane after this race. He saw what he needed to do to win, set it up, and gave it his all. There was no crash and any and all carnage was averted. Why? Because these drivers are the best in the business and they know what it takes to win races.
Remember the “Boys, have at it”? philosophy that was so popular last season? That same mentality should be used with the yellow-line rule. Let the drivers police themselves and if they end up paying for a stupid move with bent sheet metal then so be it. If they collect some innocent victims, well that’s racin’!