NASCAR decided it couldn’t wait until 2018 to get rid of the Overtime Line.
The sanctioning body said Wednesday afternoon that as of Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen, the Overtime Line was gone. The OT line was implemented before the 2016 season after ridiculousness as NASCAR tried to finish the fall 2015 race at Talladega.
In the OT line’s place is NASCAR’s old green-white-checker finish rules. If a caution comes out at any point with the leader still on the penultimate lap, the race will be restarted. If the leader is on the last lap of the race, the race is over. So the start/finish line is essentially the new “Overtime Line.” Though we thankfully can stop talking about the “Overtime Line” from now on.
At Talladega in 2015, the old green-white-checker finish rules were in place with a one-attempt maximum, down from three earlier in the season. That new maximum, combined with Kevin Harvick’s spin of Trevor Bayne, caused a complicated finish that saw Joey Logano beat Dale Earnhardt Jr. by inches before a caution came out.
The Overtime Line rule was supposed to be simple. NASCAR had a line on the backstretch at every track. If a race went past its scheduled distance and the leader was past the line on the backstretch on the penultimate lap of the race when a caution was called, the race was over and the leader was the winner.
It wasn’t nearly as simple as it should have been because of the delay between when a caution-causing accident would happen and when NASCAR would call a caution. And moving the race-deciding line to the start/finish line doesn’t solve the problem of the delay between a crash and when a caution is called.
At Indianapolis on July 23, race winner Kasey Kahne was nearly five seconds from the OT line when Denny Hamlin’s car slammed into the wall on the backstretch. But NASCAR waited until Kahne was past the line to throw a caution flag.
The sanctioning body said it wanted to see if the accident had cleared and the race could continue before calling for the caution. But by waiting to do so, it meant a caution call would end the race. If NASCAR really wanted to end the race under green, it could have immediately thrown the caution flag and attempted to restart the race again.
Complicating matters at Indianapolis was a six-hour race that stretched into dusk at a track with no lights. NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell said after the race that NASCAR would have been unable to start the race again because of darkness after the cleanup for the caution. But it’s hard to imagine NASCAR officials would have known a long cleanup was coming as soon as the wreck happened.
A similar scenario could happen later this season with the start/finish line serving as the point of no return at the end of a race. A crash could happen on the next-to-last lap of the race in turns 3 and 4 and NASCAR could wait to throw a caution until after the leader crosses the start/finish line under the pretense of pragmatism.
The midseason rule change is also a departure from what O’Donnell said after Indianapolis about the timing of when the Overtime Line could be scrapped.
“I think we’ve talked about the potential to move it to the start/finish line in 2018,” O’Donnell said at Indy. “But we’ve been very clear on the rules: once the leader crosses the over time line, a caution comes out, the race is over.”
He also said earlier in July on a NASCAR on NBC podcast that NASCAR was looking to change the rules for 2018.
Make no mistake, the Overtime Line needed to go. We made that clear in multiple columns on this website. But it’s a tad frustrating to hear NASCAR officials talk about how a rule change won’t happen until 2018 and then the change comes out of nowhere in the middle of the season.
If changing the rule in the middle of the season was really a possibility, NASCAR shouldn’t have thrown out 2018 as the timeline for the change. Once again, one of the few things consistent in NASCAR is its ability to be inconsistent.
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