Commentary

NASCAR typically gets it right ... but not this time

So how do you win but finish in 18th place? No obscure details or opaque views can justify what NASCAR did to Regan Smith.

Originally Published: October 8, 2008
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

My intention was to leave the Talladega outcome alone. It has been beaten like the Cincinnati Bengals. But when you receive feedback from drivers in the aftermath with the unanimous opinion that Regan Smith won the race, it's hard to ignore.

And that doesn't include the fan feedback. So forgive me. I know I'm late on this.

Marty,

Only two words come to mind on Sunday's 'Dega finish. First word is Bull and the second can't be printed. As I watched the truck race on Saturday the SPEED crew pointed out many times during the race that the yellow line is there for a reason, but on the last lap anything goes.

That statement stuck out as I watched Regan Smith win the race Sunday. Stewart did a great job blocking and forced Smith to pass him the only place he could. The only announcer on Sunday who disagreed with the "anything goes" statement was Dale Jarrett.

[+] EnlargeRegan Smith
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesThe controversial yellow-line rule might have cost Regan Smith a rare opportunity to win a Cup race.
Reading other articles quotes from NASCAR Reps Owen Kearns, "If you can see the checkered flag on the last lap, anything goes," and Ramsey Poston "finish below the line was permissible if a driver racing to the finish can actually see the checkered flag." (Both comments were in reference to a truck race at Daytona 07).

Marty, I'm 25 and still have my Bill Elliott gear from 1985. I've been a fan forever but I'm losing faith. This looks like a case of NASCAR rewriting the rules as they go along. How can NASCAR justify its double talk?

-- Chris Hall, Boise, Idaho

They can't, Chris. All due respect to my man DJ -- he has forgotten more about racing than I'll ever know -- but NASCAR got this one wrong.

In fairness, NASCAR, despite incessant criticism regarding rules enforcement, generally gets it right when it comes to competition -- even if it appears so obviously wrong in the moment. Complain all you want about NASCAR's contrived scripts, but that's the truth. They usually get it right.

Many times when I question them, Sprint Cup director John Darby takes the time to offer me an alternate perspective that invariably helps explain a decision. Oftentimes there are obscure details and opaque points of view that are crucial to the whole, yet difficult to see -- much less understand -- until explained.

But at Talladega they were dead wrong, based on the precedent Chris mentioned.

And in turn they probably cost Regan Smith the only opportunity he'll ever have to win a Cup race. Not that NASCAR cares much, but this is a kid facing unemployment. Who knows what "Sprint Cup Series winner" might mean to his résumé and future employment?

Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. It's a heck of a lot easier for a team to sell sponsors on a guy who's a proven winner.

All I can tell you is it was plumb pitiful watching that poor kid, on the brink of tears with a quivering bottom lip, attempt to explain his historic effort.

Historic? Well, yeah. He won the race and finished 18th. I don't know how many times that has happened.

If only he'd raised his hand.

During the drivers' meeting Sunday morning, Smith wanted clarification on the very rule that decided the AMP Energy 500. But he's a rookie. He didn't feel like he had the clout to be asking questions. I imagine it went something like this inside his head: "If Jeff Gordon knows the rules, I should know the rules. And if I raise my hand and waste these guys' time for something so trivial, they'll be annoyed."

NASCAR pounds it into drivers' heads: Do not advance position beneath the yellow line or you will be penalized. It is a good rule based on safety. They do not consider it negotiable. They did last year, apparently. But no more. Last year officials stated following a Truck race at Daytona that when the checkers are in sight, anything goes. Monday they stated that is no longer the case.

They also stated Monday that drivers who force other drivers below the yellow line are subject to penalty. NASCAR said they didn't feel Stewart forced Smith below the yellow line. Interesting, then, that Stewart admitted to doing it.

Smith set Stewart up with an outside move, then dove to the bottom. It was Days of Thunder 101. Stewart did his job well; he read Smith's move and blocked him -- admittedly.

That's what he's supposed to do. Kudos to him. This argument isn't about him.

Smith had two choices: (1) Do what he did (i.e., make the right choice), or (2) Maintain his racing line, thereby dumping Stewart and taking half the field with him.

No one who must make judgment calls is immune to mistakes. Look at the NFL. Referee Ed Hochuli very well may have cost the San Diego Chargers a victory last month. Deep in Chargers territory, Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler rolled out to his right, and as he cocked to throw, the ball came out. The Chargers recovered it, but Hochuli ruled it an incomplete pass. Denver scored soon thereafter, then added a two-point conversion to win the game. Folks are still talking about it.

Fair or not, if it were Gordon or Jimmie Johnson who was stripped of victory I wouldn't care so much.

But it's Regan Smith. And with all he's facing, he needed this terribly.

Plus, he earned it.

On to the Six:

Marty,

Door-To-Door
with Marty Smith
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Ask Marty
It seems as though my man Scott Riggs is getting passed over by a lot of guys who aren't as proven. I say this with some regression, because I know Scott hasn't won in Cup, but he proved to be a winner in Truck and NNS.

Is this just because he's getting to be 40 years old or is it because of his problems with bad performing teams? Can you clear that up for us Scott Riggs Fans!

-- Nate, Minden, Neb.

I'm a big believer in Riggs' talent, Nate, and he told me at Talladega he has a driving contract from a Sprint Cup team on his desk, ready to sign. (At least he did last Friday.)

And you're right. Riggs has been passed over by teams in favor of less-experienced drivers. The reason is three-fold: part age, part marketability, part success.

The problem for Riggs is he has never had an opportunity in really good Cup equipment with really good people working on it to prove his mettle. Some people would dispute that, given Riggs drove Hendrick equipment for MB2 and drove Ray Evernham's No. 10 Dodge.

But when Riggs drove for Evernham, Evernham Motorsports was abysmal. Kasey Kahne was an afterthought during that time, too. It's not like Kahne and Elliott Sadler were running 10th every weekend and Riggs was failing to qualify for races. They were all terrible. And for the record, the No. 10 team isn't any better these days.

Riggs deserves a decent shot. He's a talented driver and won Busch Series races back when it meant something -- and with a non-Cup affiliated team, no less.

Hey Marty,

I was watching the ARCA race on Friday. Ricky Stenhouse's wreck was wild. But my question: Why was Tony Stewart helping Stenhouse's crew work on his car in the garage? I mean, Smoke drives a Toyota and is moving to Chevy next year, and Stenhouse drives a Ford for Roush. What kind of ties does Tony have to that team?

-- Jordan, Pikeville N.C.

Stenhouse drove sprint cars for Stewart, and Smoke considers him a little brother. It's pretty darn cool if you ask me, Jordan. Stewart doesn't have to do that, especially now that Stenhouse is at Roush Fenway.

Marty,

No wonder people still stereotype NASCAR as a southern, redneck, hick sport! Have you ever taken a speech class, and if so, you need to look at your articles! Why not finish with a saying like, "Ya'll come back now!"?

-- Jay, Kansas City

Don't hold your breath, Jay. I don't plan to change much anytime soon.

We say grace, and we say ma'am. If ya ain't into that we don't give a damn.

Marty,

Hendrick Motorsports is fielding a car for Keselowski in the Cup Series. How are they getting around the four-team per owner rule? What is NASCAR's position on this?

-- Eric from Downs, Ill.

Other than Roush Fenway Racing, which was grandfathered into the five-team rule through the 2009 season since it already had five fully sponsored programs, the four-car limit is already in effect, Eric.

However, NASCAR allows teams to run a fifth car in up to seven races for rookie development.

Song of the week: "Simple Man." Lynyrd Skynyrd. The message is perfect: Be cool with what you have -- it's a blessing in itself.

Forget your lust for the rich man's gold
All that you need is in your soul,
And you can do this if you try.
All that I want for you, my son, is to be satisfied.

Very few people are satisfied in life. I'm not, and often wish I was. Those that are sleep better at night.

Hi, Marty,

I know Juan Pablo Montoya was disqualified from the Kansas pole for a violation. I want to know, if they go through inspection before they qualify, why do you have to go through after you qualify? If there was no violation before how can there be one after?

Believe me I'm not a Montoya fan, but it seems a little fishy that they found something that would put him to the back and it's amazing that Jimmie Johnson was in the second position. I just wonder if a non-chaser was in that position if they would get the pole.

-- Ro Santora, Plains, Pa.

I can't help but laugh at the conspiracy theory, Ro. Think about it for a moment, man: Would NASCAR really do something to benefit Chad Knaus? They watch him like a hawk -- a rep he earned with some tricky rules circumvention. If he sneezes, he gets penalized.

NASCAR takes the top five qualifiers and every go-or-go-home car through post-qualifying inspection every week. Teams can finagle any number of things to react during qualifying in the effort to gain an advantage -- the tricked-up shocks that were on the 42 car at Kansas, for example.

That's my time this week. Y'all come back now, ya hear?

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.