By Jerry Jordan, Editor
TALLADEGA, Ala. – A controversial finish at Talladega Superspeedway that left many fans unhappy and resulted in two drivers being penalized for forcing competitors below the yellow line on the final turn of the final lap led NASCAR to address a number of questions after the checkered flag fell.
Matt DiBenedetto was penalized for forcing William Byron below the yellow line in Turn 4, which caused Denny Hamlin to go below the yellow line, taking evasive action to avoid crashing. But some fans felt that DiBenedetto was done wrong by the sanctioning body and should have been given the win because Hamlin stayed down too long and Elliott was already moving below the yellow line before DiBenedetto dropped down the track to block.
NASCAR only enforces a yellow line rule at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway – prohibiting drivers from racing below the line or forcing others to do so. Getting caught means you lose your position and forced to the tail of the longest line.
In the end, there were three changes to the finishing order with one of them coming almost an hour after the race. Elliott’s team filed a formal protest and won but that led NASCAR to review a move by the 17 of Chris Buescher and move him to the back of the field for – forcing a competitor below the yellow line.
“It was pretty clear‑cut,” said Scott Mille, NASCAR Senior VP of Competition. “The 21 hung a left, drove those guys down below the line. We called that twice on the 22-car during the race, so nothing different there. On the 24 and the 11 being down there, I mean, in our judgment they were down there to avoid a wreck. On the 9, I mean, he obviously just pulled out and passed underneath the yellow line. I think all of it was, from our vantage point, I think fairly clear‑cut.
“I mean, we saw sparks flying and everybody trying to avoid the mess that the 21 created. We didn’t even consider much about the 17 (Buescher).”
Miller said he doesn’t know what else NASCAR could do to keep drivers from going below the yellow line or forcing other drivers down there – aside from building a wall. During the race, Joey Logano was twice penalized for forcing another driver below the yellow line, although in one instance, which coincidentally involved Elliott, it looked like Elliott took a deliberate low approach into the turn and then got into the back of Logano and knocking him out of the lead.
Yeah, I mean, outside of putting a wall there, I don’t really know what more we can do,” Miller said. “I do sincerely believe we need the rule. You see all the real estate that’s around here. If we started having cars running 12 wide down the back straightaway, imagine what would happen when you get to turn three. I think it’s important that we continue to have a rule. You get out there in the heat of battle, things happen. It’s hard when there’s all that real estate down there, but you just can’t do it. I don’t think that we can eliminate it. I think it would be a mess. We kind of are where we are.”
On the post-race television broadcast, NBC analyst and 15-time National Motorsports Press Association Most Popular Driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., had an brilliant idea about what to do to avoid situations like the one that happened Sunday in the future.
“Let’s just get rid of the yellow line,” Earnhardt said.
Although the sentiment will, no doubt, be popular with fans, NASCAR isn’t having any of it, so don’t invest in white paint anytime soon, if at all.
During his post-race interview, Erik Jones said he believed there would be even more crashes if NASCAR did away with the yellow line rule.
“I think you’d probably see more wrecks without it, guys being able to dive down there, trying to make big moves,” Jones said. “You’d probably see more accidents than what we have now. I don’t know. I don’t honestly know what to do to make it better. I know it’s unfortunate when it comes down to the end of the race, it becomes a judgment call.”
Ty Dillon agreed, saying he sees nothing but chaos if NASCAR lets drivers race anywhere at Talladega.
“The rule doesn’t need to be changed,” Dillon said. “It’s a product of what’s going on right now. These cars are a bit easier to drive, stuck to the ground harder. The runs are happening twice as fast as they ever have. Guys going below the yellow line, you got guys going for a win, guys not trying to wreck. It’s not just you’re hitting the ball and it’s okay. It physically impacts you when you do crash. Guys have a lot of things going on in their mind. Sometimes when you go below the yellow line, it’s not totally your fault, but it is the rules. It comes down to a mental decision, am I going to lift or go below the yellow line. We know the rules before we get here. I think if you were to open it up and take the yellow line away, you’re going to have guys blocking all the way down to the grass, have twice as big of wrecks.”
Hamlin said he has been a victim of being forced below the yellow line in the past with no consequence, so he was happy NASCAR put its foot down.
What was Miller’s response to the question of eliminating the yellow line?
“Probably not,” he said.