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Woody: New Rule Will Revitalize NASCAR

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 16 2010
Kevin Harvick led the 2010 Daytona 500 after the first green-white-checkered restart and would have won the race without the new rule.(Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Kevin Harvick led the 2010 Daytona 500 after the first green-white-checkered restart and would have won the race without the new rule.(Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

It’s the most significant rule change in NASCAR history.

It will alter outcomes, it will assure last-lap drama and toe-curling excitement.

It will change racing forever.

It’s the new three green-white-checkered rule that NASCAR slipped into the rule book last week at Daytona almost at the last second.

After RacinToday first reported the change at mid-week, I was surprised that it didn’t generate a bigger response. Maybe it was lost amid the swirl of Danicamania and the general circus hubbub of Daytona. Or maybe its impact didn’t immediately sink in to drivers and the rest of the media.

After the frantic finish in Sunday’s Daytona 500, I think they get it.

The rule came into play in the very first race and probably altered the outcome of NASCAR’s biggest event. Jamie McMurray likely wouldn’t have won if he hadn’t got a second shot.

Under the old rule officials would add two green-flag laps to the race to avoid finishing under yellow after a late-race caution. Starting with Daytona there now will be not one, not two, but three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish.

I don’t know why NASCAR stopped at three; maybe it figures there’ll be only one car standing after three such wild, breath-taking scrambles.

But I don’t think fans can complain if the race ends under caution after three attempts. They’ll have gotten their money’s worth.

Some of us remember the old days when, if a late-race caution came out, the race finished that way: with the field of cars creeping around the track under yellow, the running order frozen. How boring was that?

Fans traveled hundreds or thousands of miles, spent a fortune on tickets and motel rooms, sat in the grandstands for hours in all sorts of weather, then were cheated out of a finish.

Football fans used to be similarly gypped when games ended in ties. Finally the colleges wised up and put in an overtime rule, staying on the field until there’s a winner. The NFL got semi-smart with its sudden-death overtime rule that calls for one extra period. However, the NFL’s is an absurd formula; the team that loses the coin toss may not even get the ball, and even after an extra period it’s still possible for the game to end in a tie with nothing decided.

The same could happen in NASCAR, of course – after three “overtimes” a race could still finish under caution. But what a race we’d have seen by then, with three frantic restarts. If that happens I don’t think anyone will ask for their money back.

I suggest one more tweak: Instead of freezing the running order when a caution flag flies, let the drivers race back to the line as they did in the old days. Forget “scoring loops” – whoever gets back to the start/finish line first is the winner. It doesn’t get any more simple – and dramatic – than that.

Last year NASCAR shook things up with double-file restarts that put the lead-lap cars up front instead of stringing them out single-file. That was big, but the latest rule is even bigger.

There have been some predictable complaints; TV commentator Rusty Wallace doesn’t like the new rule. He thinks three restarts will create havoc.

Apparently Rusty is working in a sound-proof booth and hasn’t heard the snores from the grandstands. Havoc is exactly what NASCAR needs right now.

For years fans have complained about how boring the races had become. NASCAR listened. It has done its best to guarantee exciting starts and at least three shots at an exciting finish.

Now the only thing fans have to complain about is the post-race traffic jam because – trust me – with the new rule nobody will leave early.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 16 2010
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