TALLADEGA, AL - There's a tag line in championship ice-skating that competitors have to accustom themselves to, "judges have their favorites". Many teams were wondering after Sunday's controversial yellow line pass by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. if NASCAR...
TALLADEGA, AL - There's a tag line in championship ice-skating that competitors have to accustom themselves to, "judges have their favorites". Many teams were wondering after Sunday's controversial yellow line pass by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. if NASCAR has its favorites as well.
Earnhardt, Jr. drove his No. 8 DEI Chevy below what NASCAR deems as the "out of bounds" line at restrictor plate tracks on his way to his fourth consecutive Talladega win. NASCAR states that you cannot dip below the yellow line 'to improve your position', after reviewing the video replay, NASCAR felt that Earnhardt, Jr. had made a legal pass.
"This was a judgment call, very obviously," said NASCAR Vice President of Corporate Communications Jim Hunter. "In our opinion, there is no question he went below the yellow line. Where the judgment call comes into effect [was that he] did not go below the yellow line to improve his position.
"He had already passed the 17 car when he went below the yellow line. We based our opinion on reviews of the tapes both in the tower at the time and after the race."
Many team members disagreed with the call and voiced their discontent post race.
"He was clearly below the yellow line, in my opinion," said 15th place finisher Jimmie Johnson. "His pass got me shuffled out and that's when I started falling back. He was clearly below the yellow line.
"I watched him drive across the flat [apron area] up onto the track. Anybody else who ever dances down there gets in trouble. From my vantage point, I didn't think it was a legal pass under the current rules."
To make matters more bizarre, earlier in the day Earnhardt, Jr.'s teammate Steve Park was black-flagged when it was determined that he had taken the No. 1 DEI Chevy 'out of bounds' to make a pass.
Johnson wasn't the only one vocal about the inconsistency.
"I guarantee if Kevin [Harvick] was an inch below the yellow line they would park him," Todd Berrier, Harvick's crew chief commented. "The rule is you can't go below the yellow line period. It's that simple."
Harvick's No. 29 team, who finished second, requested clarification on the ruling twice, once on pit road during the race and again afterwards.
"I'll just say we agree to disagree," said RCR team manager Gil Martin. "We've got to go state what we think is right and wrong on it. It's a tough rule. We're just in there addressing that we want to make sure the rule is the same for everybody, because I can promise you, if Kevin Harvick went under that line one half-inch, he was done."
Harvick was a bit more reflective about the whole matter stating, "I don't think you can ever have a full grasp on the rules, their differences and the different situations.
"I wouldn't want to be in the middle of it."
Kenseth, a major player in the story and a good friend of Earnhardt, Jr., took the high road.
"I don't want to say anything, because it will just cause me trouble," Kenseth stated. "Obviously there was no penalty, so it must have been legal in their eyes. So I'm going to mind my own business and go home and be happy with ninth place."
This is the second week in a row that NASCAR has had to defend its oft-changing rulebook.
A questionable call in last weekend's Busch race cost Brian Vickers his first win, and they admitted to making a bad call in the Winston Cup event when Jeff Gordon violated the unwritten "gentleman's agreement" and passed a slowing Kenseth (who was trying to let teammates gain a lap back) coming to a caution flag. NASCAR disallowed Gordon's pass and let Kenseth remain in the lead.
"The biggest reason I'm here today is to tell you that after the fact, if we had to do that call over again, we would do it different," said NASCAR President Mike Helton after the Texas race.
"In other words, we made a mistake Sunday making a call in a scenario of something we had never seen before when someone took the lead of the race and then gave it back."
Earnhardt, Jr., whose win moves him into second in the points for the Winston Cup, seemed unruffled by all the controversy.
"I'm sure it's going to get a lot of publicity. It's unfortunate that that's going to get the publicity and not the four in a row."