Effective immediately, NASCAR’s “overtime line,” which dictates the end of a race should the race go over the race’s scheduled distance, will move from an arbitrary point on the race track to the start-finish line. This is a very, very good thing, and will hopefully result in slightly less screaming at the television nationwide.
The overtime line was part of NASCAR’s efforts to become more like the ball sports of the world in recent years. These types of rules come into play when a race goes over its scheduled distance because of a late caution or stoppage, but the overtime rule was far different—and a downgrade.
NASCAR used to have what was called a green-white-checkered rule to finish races that went long. The green-white-checkered finish, when used, went like this: After a late-race caution, cars would get one green-flag lap before the white flag, which signals the last lap of the race, came out. The time at which the flag person waved the white flag made the race official, meaning any flag afterward—yellow, red or the classic checkered flag—would end the race.
If a caution or a race-halting red flag came out before the white, the race would resume with another attempt at the green-white-checkered. The field got three attempts at that before a red or yellow flag, on either lap, ended the race.
Then, in 2016, the overtime line came around. It seemed like a fine, though not really useful, rule—not one that would wreck race results week in and week out. It felt more like a name change than anything else. Little did we know.
Rather than the race being official at the white flag, the overtime line made it official at some random spot on the track that NASCAR marked off with a line. The overtime line has no limits on number of attempts, but its old spot on the track gave so little room to race that a second attempt would have been rare.
It not only made the caution-safe distance, which used to last for an entire lap, shorter, but it also made the race-ending deciding factor a definite line on the track rather than the subjective waving of a flag. It continues to make cautions thrown near the overtime line look suspicious, since officials making the call know exactly when the field will cross it. When there’s the human factor of the flag involved, it’s less easy to predict when it’ll wave.
That’s not to say the green-white-checkered rule was perfect. There were debates about when the flag waved in relation to the caution, and not everyone was happy with the decision every time. But the bottom line was, officials threw the cautions and the timing was debated later. With overtime, viewers can start debating timing—and motive—live while watching the field approach the line.
Cautions have been thrown shortly after the overtime line several times this year while the field was well into a wreck, sparking those very concerns. It got to the point that those races felt almost like a cheat—like you’d spent however many hours to watch a delayed caution end the thing.
Here, watch one for yourself:
This one is particularly terrible. The race would have ended anyway because of nightfall and the lack of lights at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but that’s beside the point and the caution should have been thrown long before the line:
Moving the overtime line wasn’t the best solution NASCAR could have come up with, which would have been to get rid of the line altogether and go back to the green-white-checkered format. It takes out the steady, predictable line factor and goes back to the old way of doing things.
It isn’t easy to admit when you’re wrong, but at least NASCAR’s moving in the right direction here. Giving the field a longer rope before hitting the overtime line will hopefully make some of the issues with earlier wrecks go away, but it’d be a stupid bet to say we’ll never have this type of controversy happen again.
Either way, this is a rules change for the better. Chin up! It’s a good day!