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Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Updated: February 19, 8:32 AM ET
What is the purpose of that double yellow line?


Daytona Yellow Line

Is the yellow line at Daytona making the races safer?

That was the intent when the line was added eight years ago, but the out-of-bounds line was a factor in the biggest wreck of the event Sunday.

It wasn't the only factor. NASCAR's restart rules, weather and bad judgment by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brian Vickers also played a part in the multicar accident late in the race.

Drivers can't pass below the yellow lines. (It was made a double-yellow line this year.) The idea is to keep guys from getting too brave and trying to make a pass on the apron or in the grass.

That was happening a lot before the rule was added, and sometimes it caused accidents.

Without question, the yellow line at the bottom of the track has stopped some of those accidents at the two restrictor-plate tracks -- Daytona and Talladega. But it also causes others because drivers use the line as a blocking technique.

That's what Vickers did to Earnhardt on Sunday when the two drivers were fighting to be the first car a lap down, and thus the first car in line to get that lap back should a caution occur.

Earnhardt was pushed below the line. Knowing he couldn't pass anyone there, Earnhardt wanted to get back above the line as fast as possible. He moved back up the track too quickly, clipping Vickers and starting a huge wreck.

What if there hadn't been a yellow-line rule at that moment? Vickers still might have tried to block, even though the incentive to do so wouldn't have been as great because the line wouldn't be a weapon.

Earnhardt might have passed him anyway, then moved back up the track after getting past Vickers.

The way it is now, when a driver makes a block down low, the field often gets bunched up behind him because no one wants to go below the yellow line. That chain reaction often causes an accident instead of preventing one.

But other things were involved in what happened Sunday. The wreck might have been avoided if NASCAR didn't start lapped cars up front on the inside line.

NASCAR took a step in the right direction last week by announcing lapped cars would start in the back for the last 20 laps, which had been the last 10 laps in the past.

But lapped cars should always start in the back now with the lucky-dog rule. The first driver a lap down gets his lap back on a caution, unless he causes the caution.

Maybe Vickers and Earnhardt would have wrecked anyway, but it wouldn't have taken out the best car in the field (the No. 18 Toyota of Kyle Busch) in the process if they had restarted in the back.

And while we're at it, quit allowing cars on the tail end of the lead lap to restart in front of the leaders. It's dangerous and unfair to the driver leading the race.

Have the tail-end cars go around and restart in the back. Yes, it gives them almost an entire lap back. But it's safer and a fairer thing to do for the leader.

The final factor in Sunday's Big One was the weather. All the teams knew rain was coming. That led to urgency on everyone's part to get to the front. It's why Vickers and Earnhardt were battling aggressively to be the first car a lap down.

No one to blame there, except restarting those cars at the back is better than adding to the likelihood of wrecking up front.

But the yellow-line rule was the biggest reason this accident came to pass (no pun intended).

Last year at Talladega, the rule caused a controversial call at the finish when Tony Stewart was awarded the victory after Regan Smith dipped below the line to pass him at the checkered flag.

Clearly, the rule is changing the outcome of races. Maybe that's something fans and drivers have to live with for overall safety.

But the question remains: Is it making things safer?

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Terry can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.