NASCAR faced a no-win situation at the end of Saturday night’s Xfinity race at Daytona.
Justin Haley made a fantastic and daring three-wide move off turn four on the final lap to pass Kyle Larson and Elliott Sadler for the win.
There was only one problem. Haley dipped his car below the double yellow line, which is considered out of bounds at Daytona and Talladega. Consequently, Haley was penalized and Larson was named the winner.
NASCAR did not enjoy making this decision. It was immediately put in a box the moment Haley went below the yellow line. There were two options: 1) ignore the rule that’s been in place for nearly 20 years for the sake of a thrilling finish or 2) stand by its own rule and erase a great piece of driving.
Obviously, NASCAR took option two. And it was the right call.
Haley blatantly went below the yellow line when he did not have to. There was plenty of room underneath Elliott Sadler to make that pass and not cross the yellow line. Ultimately, that’s on Justin Haley. Don’t want to get penalized? Don’t put yourself in a position to get penalized, especially when you don’t have to.
I understand the frustration, I really do. Watching it live, I barely noticed Haley drove below the line. I was more enthralled by an incredible move made by a rising star. It is unfortunate that such a great moment was tarnished by a rule that you may or may not agree with. But ultimately, rules are in place for a reason.
In my mind, what happened on Saturday night is very similar to a wide receiver making an incredible catch down the sideline to win a game in the closing seconds, only for instant replay to reverse the call because the tip of his toe went out of bounds at the five-yard line. Should the referee yet the touchdown stand because it was a dramatic play? The NFL would be ripped to shreds.
I also understand complaints that NASCAR is inconsistent with its rulings. Remember Talladega 2003? Dale Earnhardt Jr. won that race when he could have easily been penalized for going out of bounds. NASCAR deemed the move legal and fans went home happy. Imagine if that was Kyle Busch…
Here’s a perfect example of why the out of bounds rule was instituted. Talladega 1999. Tony Stewart goes low to pass Mike Skinner. Skinner blocks the move, loses control, and spin across the track causing The Big One.
You give these drivers even an inch and they’re going to take it regardless of whether or not they should. If NASCAR eliminates out of bounds, it’s only a matter of time before we witness a frightening crash caused by someone driving below the yellow line, which would then lead to fans clamoring for NASCAR to put the rule back in place for the sake of driver safety.
NASCAR knew its decision would be unpopular. It’s taking a beating, but NASCAR takes a beating on a daily basis so really, this is nothing new for them. It took a win away from a young up and comer who drove his butt off on the final lap. The optics are poor, but this time NASCAR got it right.