Sunday, May 05, 2013

Regan Smith And NASCAR's Comeuppance

NASCAR's 2013 Aarons Talladega weekend got off to a nasty start with rain galore and delay of the Alabama 500k race - aka The Aarons 312 - by some three hours. The wait turned out to be worth it as far as mind-blowing racing goes. It was also worth it for NASCAR getting some much-deserved comeuppance. The race was cut short by seven laps because of impending darkness, and it turned into an amazing thirteen car shootout and a three-abreast finish that should have been a photo finish - except the initial ruling of Kasey Kahne as the winner was reversed by NASCAR based on freezing the field when the caution comes out instead of racing to the flag. NASCAR ruled Regan Smith was ahead of Kahne based on a scoring loop as the yellow flew, so Smith was declared the winner.

Regan Smith being involved in controversy over a win at Talladega - the irony is delicious, because this time Smith is the one benefitting from a NASCAR rule that objectively speaking has no business existing. NASCAR stopped allowing cars to race to the line after the 2003 New Hampshire 300 because of foolish driving by Michael Waltrip amid a crash involving Dale Jarret. NASCAR had had similar incidents before - such as involving Geoff Bodine at the 1989 Summer 500 at Pocono amid a crash involving Bobby Hillin Jr. - and dealt with them sensibly without changing the rule. The objective reality is the finish ought to be determined at the start-finish line, not by a scoring loop when the yellow comes out. Several races have seen the wrong winner declared because of not allowing racing to the stripe when the yellow comes out - the infamous 2004 Winston 500 won by Jeff Gordon, the 2005 Diehard 500 won by Dale Jarrett, the 2006 Diehard 500 won by Brian Vickers, and the 2008 Firecracker 400 won by Kyle Busch come immediately to mind - and then there are the races where a crash happened and the yellow DIDN'T fly, in effect allowing the field to race to the line - the 2004 Firecracker 250 won by Mike Wallace and the 2007 Daytona 500 won by Kevin Harvick come to mind.

What NASCAR thinks it is preventing by not allowing racing to the stripe, especially in situations such as listed above, does not come across as valid. Freezing the field is not preventing any crash; all it is doing is creating controversy that should not even exist. That Regan Smith is the beneficiary here is the comeuppance for NASCAR for the 2008 Diehard 500 - Regan Smith drafted past Tony Stewart to the stripe, but NASCAR disqualified the pass because Smith went below the yellow line - a rule dating to Jimmy Spencer's petulant bitch-fest at the 2001 Alabama 500k. To that point passing below the yellow line had never been an issue to the racers; suddenly NASCAR now had controversies based on giving the officiating tower more element of control over the racing - it blew up with Dale Earnhardt Jr's 2003 Talladega win where he passed on the apron of Turn Three; there have been other incidents of passing below the yellow line - some like Tony Stewart at the end of the 2003 Diehard 500 went unnoticed; others have resulted in NASCAR penalties - none bigger than Regan Smith in 2008.

The fact is NASCAR was wrong in 2008 - there is no objective legitimacy to the rule against passing below the yellow line; making it more devastating was a quote attributed to Ramsey Poston of NASCAR claiming that the yellow line rule did not apply to last-lap passes. So five years later another rule that has no place in the sport - freezing the field instead of racing to the line when the yellow flies - winds up in effect making up for the wrong rule (and ruling) of 2008.


The rain and the controvery merely added to the exhilaration of another amazing Talladega Busch/Nationwide race.   Because NASCAR's rules czars have largely left the N'wide cars alone for the plate tracks, the tandem draft is extremely effective and it showed in 47 lead changes among 16 drivers, not a record for NASCAR's second-tier stock car tour (2011's 56 lead changes is the record) but darned close and an awesome number even for a 500 MILE race.    

The race showcased not only superb competition from Smith and Kahne, it also showed strong efforts by cars wiped out in the plethora of wrecks - notably Reed Sorenson and Travis Pastrana after a tag from Brian Scott while racing with the leaders. And there was also another Danica crash.

It's regrettable rain plagued the weekend this way, but when the sport produces racing this ferocious and this competitive, it's all worth it.  

It also proves that sometimes what goes around does come around. 

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