Dazed and confused
Marlin wonders 'what the deal is' with yellow-line rulePosted: Sunday February 16, 2003 1:19 PM
Updated: Sunday February 16, 2003 10:38 PM
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- There's still a gray area around NASCAR's yellow-line rule.
Sterling Marlin was the latest driver penalized under the rule that bans cars from driving on the apron when NASCAR black-flagged him Sunday during the Daytona 500.
"I'm not sure what the deal is on the yellow line," Marlin said. "I was trying to not get in a wreck, and I got penalized for it. They need to make up their mind on what we can and can't do, then we'll follow the rule."
Drivers were given a refresher course on the rule two hours before the race in their morning meeting.
NASCAR president Mike Helton warned the rule would be stricter than ever, with drivers now being prohibited from blocking a competitor by driving down along the yellow line.
The yellow-line rule is in effect at Daytona, as well as Talladega, to keep cars from creating dangerous situations by driving on the apron.
The rule originally only prohibited drivers from using the apron to pass other cars and improve position.
That's what Marlin did, regardless of why he was under the line.
While running in the middle of the pack, he drove below the line to avoid Elliott Sadler's swerving car.
He gained position on the move and had advanced to fifth while NASCAR was calling him into the pits for the penalty. He waved his hand to signal he was coming in, dropped off the track and slowly went into the pits for his stop-and-go.
Marlin, who had a chance to win the race a year ago until suffering fender damage that he got out his car to try to fix, was in 38th when he got back out on the track, battling to stay on the lead lap.
"I guess they said we went below the yellow line," crew chief Lee McCall said. "We were forced down there. It's an unfortunate situation."
Marlin, a two-time Daytona 500 winner, ended up 17th in the rain-shortened race won by Michael Waltrip.
NASCAR, which did not penalize Sadler, said Marlin was black-flagged because drivers were clearly warned that even if forced below the line they were not to pass the car on their right.
"Even if he was forced down there, he passed a car," said NASCAR vice president Jim Hunter. "There was a car behind him that backed off to avoid Sadler. Sterling could have done the same. It was pretty cut and dry."
NASCAR tinkered with the rule Sunday morning, explaining that the yellow line could not be used to prevent being passed.
When Helton asked if there were any questions, four-time champion Jeff Gordon quickly raised his hand.
"I don't mean to open up a can of worms here, but I don't think any of us go below the yellow line on purpose," he said while asking for a clarification.
It was followed by a barrage of inquiries from Michael Waltrip, Jimmie Johnson and defending race winner Ward Burton.
"We have the yellow-line rule, and I think we all think it's a good rule," Helton said. "But we've seen that you have figured out that to protect your spot, you can move down on the yellow line and keep a car from passing you.
"If you've made him go down there yourself, you are now subject to a black-flag, too."
Helton said the decision was made after watching several drivers force other cars onto the apron in Saturday's Busch Series race.
There's been a gray area around the rule ever since NASCAR first used it in the July 2001 race at Daytona.
Tony Stewart was forced below the line in the Pepsi 400 here as the bottom car in a four-wide pack. He advanced position and was black-flagged, but he ignored the call for the stop-and-go penalty because he did not intentionally go on the apron. His finishing position was later disallowed.
In the races since, drivers have used the line to protect their position. If a car goes low to make a pass, the first car will also go low to block the move and make the apron the only place the second car can go to get by.
Last year's Daytona 500 was full of blocking, and the practice was blamed for an 18-car accident. It began when Kevin Harvick tried to block Gordon heading into Turn 1.