Rule gives Stewart the win, but that doesn’t mean the rule is fair
Associated Press photo
Regan Smith leads Tony Stewart Sunday at the finish of the AMP Energy 500 at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala. Smith passed Stewart below the yellow line and was penalized by NASCAR.
It was another classic Talladega finish ... Tony Stewart and Regan Smith (that’s not a typo) battling side-by-side for the win on the last lap in the last corner. And the winner was ... Smith, with his first career NASCAR victory, proof that anyone can win at a plate track, no matter how horrible they usually run.
But wait a second. The drama thickens.
Looks like Smith passed Stewart below the yellow line, which is illegal. Or is it? The announcers and even some drivers seemed convinced that the rule was suspended if the pass took place during the final lap of the race. Apparently, they were misinformed, as the win was quickly given to Tony Stewart, who had yet to reach Victory Lane in his final year with Joe Gibbs’ team.
Are you confused? So am I.
And while I’m very happy for Smoke that he got his first win in more than a year, the victory party should have belonged to Smith, who had the run of his career and did what any red-blooded racer would have done by going for the gold on the last lap. Further complicating matters is that Stewart basically forced Smith down below the line. According to NASCAR’s rule, if that happens the driver forced under the line is not allowed to pass and must get back on track behind the driver who forced him below the line.
Does that sound fair to you?
Call me overly logical, but if the race is ending in the next turn, there’s no way NASCAR should be able to tell a driver who has been forced below the yellow line to get back in line. It’s now or never, and that gives an unfair advantage to the leader. All the leader has to do is force the second-place driver down below the line and the race win is guaranteed to go to him.
Simple solution for the future: Leave this rule in place, EXCEPT for the last lap. When that time comes, anything goes.
Smith is a driver who has no sponsor for 2008 and is likely out of a ride after Homestead. A win at Talladega would have been a nice resume booster and could have helped attract sponsorship, but because of these nonsensical rules that will be denied and he gets pushed back to 18th in the finishing order because of the penalty he received.
In other news from this weekend, Goodyear is on the hot seat again after a lot of guys were blowing tires this weekend. It started Friday with Dale Jr.’s spectacular blowout, and continued Sunday with a long line of cars having unexpected failures, including one that sent Denny Hamlin to the hospital. It’s been a tough year for Goodyear so far, so it will be interesting to see how they respond to these newest concerns. Until I hear a report on what the problem was, I’ll reserve judgment.
Lots of leaders
In case you weren’t aware how much parity Talladega brings about, a record 28 different drivers led a lap Sunday. That’s 65 percent of the drivers who started the race. This is why you should believe it when you hear people say anyone can win at a plate track. It’s true.
Johnson lucky to avoid wrecks, extends points lead
While a lot of the Chase guys got caught up in the big wreck late in the race, Jimmie Johnson just got by and as a result has solidified himself as the favorite for the title. Others who were not so lucky include Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who would have been up front at the end fighting for the win if he hadn’t gotten caught in the big wreck. Carl Edwards took the blame for the wreck, and Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth did not appear to be too happy with Edwards.
So how did it affect the points lead? Oddly enough, 1-2-3 are the same, but 2 and 3 are a lot farther behind now. Edwards is 72 points back, Biffle 77. Jeff Burton sneaks into the championship picture, 99 points back after a solid run. Stewart jumped several spots to 7th in the standings, but is still 203 points back, a hill he’s unlikely to climb.
At this point it’s looking like a four-man race, though I won’t consider Burton a serious threat unless he stays solid for another week or two. And with the wild card of Talladega done, the other drivers are just going to have to beat Johnson each week as the Chase winds down ... and history has shown that’s not a very easy thing to do.
DEI shows up big
Considering their performance so far this year and their uncertain future, the DEI team must be ecstatic about how their weekend went. All four of its drivers qualified in the top 10, and Smith, Menard and Almirola were running in positions 2, 3 and 4 toward the end of the race. Menard will get credit for a 2nd-place finish, and Almirola fell back to 13th. Smith should have won, but history will say he finished 18th. The good news is is one of the best weekends DEI has seen all year. The bad news is the plate tracks are done for the year, and you need to have strong cars to win at Charlotte next week.
Great show from the Trucks
The Truck Series race Saturday was also a great watch, with a great bump-and-run pulled off by Todd Bodine on leader Kyle Busch, allowing him to take the victory. When you take an exciting series like Trucks, and bring it to a track like Talladega, it’s pretty much a guarantee that fans will see some edge-of-their-seat action.