When a multi-car wreck erupted on the next-to-last lap of the Coca-Cola 600 and NASCAR decided not to throw a caution, there was an outcry from many fans and media.
But there were a group of defenders who were quick to point out, “NASCAR has done this before.”
Indeed it had.
Unfortunately, NASCAR’s track record with precedent isn’t something to tout.
Rewind to October 2008. Regan Smith dove below the yellow line to complete a pass of Tony Stewart at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway to win his first Sprint Cup race.
Why would he do that? Because in February 2007, when media questioned how a three-wide finish in a Truck race could stand with one truck below the yellow line, NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said, “When the drivers can see the checkered flag, you can get all you can get.”
But NASCAR disallowed Smith’s pass anyway.
Soon afterward, NASCAR President Mike Helton issued this edict: “To be clear, as we go forward, there will be no passing under the yellow line at any time during NASCAR races at Daytona or Talladega, period. This includes any passing below the yellow line near the start/finish line on the final lap.”
One wonders why Helton needed to be “clear” if as NASCAR officials claimed at the time of the Talladega race the rule was common knowledge to all. But I digress.
Now fast forward to February 2010. NASCAR announces a new policy of using up to three green-white-checkered overtime periods in a race if necessary. Why would they do this?
“We want to do all we can to finish our races under green-flag conditions. The fans want to see that, and so do the competitors,” Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, said at the time.
The accident Sunday night occurred on the first lap of the first two-lap overtime. Had NASCAR thrown a caution, it still – under its own rules – would have two more attempts to finish the race under green.
Instead, it held the caution flag. Why? To ensure a green-flag finish.
Rule changes are announced but not written down. Some rules – the yellow line rule for instance – aren’t written down anywhere. Rules are added then not utilized for the circumstances for which they were designed.
The problem isn’t with NASCAR trying to have it both ways.
It’s NASCAR trying to have it every way.