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Columns
Second Place
Jim Utter, Charlotte Observer

NASCAR Wants It Every Which Way It Can
            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 a group of defenders was 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."
            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.
   Huh?
            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 used in 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.

It’s Not Always So Simple
            In many respects, advances in technology bring positive, beneficial changes.
            That is true in NASCAR, particularly in the area of driver safety. The use of the HANS device and extensive work done on car chassis to make them more durable and help prevent serious injury and death – has been seen in countless examples over the last 10 years.
            Simplicity has always been at the heart of NASCAR racing.
            Build cars and engines that are durable, run fast and beat the competition. Try to find advantages others haven't, or even try to slip something creative past the inspectors.
            Hopefully, make enough in the race to pick up your stuff and take it to the next one.
            That’s worked for more than 60 years.
            But these days, NASCAR has been battling technology as much as benefiting from it, at least in terms of competition.
            With changes in competition, technology and even society, rules have been changed or adopted that affect how races are run, even how drivers behave.
            The influx of millions of dollars in corporate sponsorship brought greater demands on drivers and teams and greater responsibility – sometimes to the detriment of a rough-and-tumble heritage.
            Technology has made race cars far more durable, all but eliminating the attrition factor from 500-mile races, but it has also created unexpected problems in such areas as aerodynamics.
            There are more big tracks than short ones, a trend that only multiplies the aero problems – and the cost of overcoming those issues.
            Officials have tried to keep engines in line with NASCAR's origins, but next year carburetors will yield to fuel injection. Is there anyone who doesn’t think a whole new array of problems will develop as a result?
            Yes, technology has done wonders for NASCAR competitors and fans, many of who now have access to more information than ever.
            Yet technology has also changed the once-simple sport forever. I do not doubt that in some ways that’s occurred in every sport, but in stock car racing – where many argue equipment has more influence than the competitor – it’s far greater.
            The question remains: In the long term, will that be for the better?
            The answer is likely yes, but only if NASCAR fans are willing to accept the ever-changing landscape.

What Exactly Gets You Suspended in NASCAR?
            So, team owner Richard Childress assaults driver Kyle Busch in the garage area, repeatedly striking him with his fist, and doesn't get suspended. He received a $150,000 fine and was placed on probation through the end of the year.
            What exactly does get you suspended in NASCAR?
            Here's a list of some recent suspensions and another list of things for which NASCAR participants did not receive a suspension.
            NASCAR suspends people for:
            • Violation of its substance abuse policy (numerous examples).
            • Using an engine which is too big (Carl Long)
            • Rigging a fuel tank to appear full when it wasn't during qualifying (Crew chief Todd Berrier)
            • Using a racial slur (crew chief Bryan Berry)
            • Using an unapproved additive in fuel (Crew chief David Hyder)
            • Having a car chassis that does not meet specifications (Crew chief Shane Wilson)
            • Having air improperly ducted into the car for qualifying at Daytona (Crew chiefs Kenny Francis and Robbie Reiser)
            NASCAR will not suspend you for:
            • Physically assaulting a driver (Team owner Richard Childress)
            • Convictions for driving while intoxicated (drivers AJ Allmendinger, Scott Wimmer)
            • Reckless driving; speeding (128 mph in 45 mph zone) (driver Kyle Busch)
            • Repairing a wrecked car to return to the track to intentionally wreck another competitor (driver Carl Edwards)
            • Physically assaulting another competitor in the presence of NASCAR officials (Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman)
            • Physically assaulting a member of the media (driver Tony Stewart)
            Make sense?

Yellow Line Rule: Here We Go Again
            It's become almost as much of a trademark of restrictor-plate racing as "the Big One."
            We can't get through a season without a controversy - or creating one - having to do with NASCAR's yellow-line rule.
            For those new to the sport - since the rule has been in place for nearly a decade now - that means drivers cannot advance their position on the track at Daytona or Talladega by passing below the yellow line (drivers can also be penalized for forcing others below the yellow line).
            So, here we are at the 2011 season's first event, the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, and on the last lap Denny Hamlin dives below the yellow line to pass Ryan Newman in hopes of winning the race. NASCAR calls him on it and black-flags him. Kurt Busch becomes the winner.
            Kurt Busch won at approximately 10:03 p.m. Saturday night. The first motorsports media member lamented about the finish and took up Hamlin's cause at 10:12 p.m. (I was shocked it took that long).
            The rule is silly when racing for the win, they say. Anything should go at the end of a race, they say. Hamlin eventually chimed in himself later, claiming he would have sent Ryan Newman's car airborne if he didn't duck under the yellow line at the last minute.
            Nice one Hamlin. Defending your actions by claiming you may have sent a competitor's car airborne - the greatest fear at tracks like Daytona and Talladega - was self-serving at its best. But I digress.
            Back to the yellow line rule.
            In the 2008 Trucks season opener at Daytona, three trucks crossed the finish line three-wide, with one below the yellow line. All were allowed to keep their respective finishing positions because "they were racing for the win on the last lap."
            Months later, Regan Smith used that same move to pass Tony Stewart for the win at the conclusion of a Cup race at Talladega, Ala., but that time NASCAR said no. To help end the confusion, NASCAR President Mike Helton issued the following statement:
            "Since the end of the race there has been some confusion as to what is allowable during the last lap at Daytona and Talladega. 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."
            Folks, that's about as clear cut as it gets. And by the way, that's how rules should be - the less ambiguity the better.
            Because some fans and media didn't like the finish of the Shootout - or perhaps who won it - NASCAR is being prompted to flip-flop its rule again.
            I don't have any problem with people who think the yellow line rule itself should be changed. The fact it is, however, it exists and existed Saturday night, so that argument in respect to what took place in the Shootout is irrelevant.
            The only question is did NASCAR follow its own rules it has laid out in this case and it certainly did.
            Case closed.

50 Years After First NASCAR Start, Wendell Scott is Still Waiting
            Wendell Scott never got the trophy he won for his lone victory in NASCAR's Cup series.
            He's not getting an easy ride toward a nomination to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, either.
            Another group of 25 nominations to the Hall were released on Tuesday night and again Scott's name was not among them. There have been 35 people nominated to the Hall since its inception and 10 inducted.
            And Scott remains in neither category. Why is Scott's omission so glaring?
            For one, he has been hailed by NASCAR officials time and again as a pioneer for African-Americans in the sport. He is the only African-American driver to win a race in NASCAR's national series. He made 495 starts at what is now the Cup level between 1961 and 1973. He had 147 top-10s and one pole. The Danville, Va., native died in 1990 at age 69.
            On Dec. 1, 1963, Scott won the Cup race at Jacksonville, Fla. He was not announced as the winner of the race at the time as the race promoter did not want to stir racial tensions at the track. Buck Baker, the second-place driver, was declared the winner until NASCAR issued a correction a few days later.
            Based on statistics alone, Scott probably isn't worthy of Hall consideration, but his imprint left on the sport was much larger than his lone victory.
            Late last year, NASCAR in conjunction with Max Siegel Inc. took the idea of a docu-drama about Scott's life to ESPN. The network agreed to run it, and it was produced by the NASCAR Media Group and aired the night of this season's Daytona 500.
            "Wendell Scott’s legacy will live on forever as the man who broke NASCAR’s color barrier and whose courage and bravery paved the way for minorities to pursue careers in the world of motorsports,” Paul Brooks, senior vice president of NASCAR and president of NASCAR Media Group, said at the announcement of airing of the special.
            Siegel was the executive producer of the film and founder of Revolution Racing, which today provides competitive race cars to further develop the skills and capabilities of minority drivers seeking to compete in NASCAR.
            In March, all Sprint Cup and Nationwide cars competing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway were adorned with a commemorative decal bearing the image of Scott in honor of the 50th anniversary of his first start.
            Obviously, NASCAR believes Scott's legacy and contribution to the sport is worthy of high honors and recognition.
            The argument here is not that Scott should already be inducted into the Hall, although I think he should. Scott can't even get nominated - named someone worthy of possible induction.
            That is wrong.
            In its news release announcing the airing of the Scott special, ESPN said: "Scott, one of the sport’s most iconic pioneers who is often referred to as the Jackie Robinson of motorsports, paved the way for minorities and women."
            It’s sadly ironic that when it comes to the Hall of Fame, Scott still can't reach the starting line.