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Craig Murto: Racing fortunes constantly change

Racing fortunes constantly change. One moment you’re leading a race, the next moment you’re in the wall.

Ask Justin Haley. One moment he thought he’d won the Xfinity race at Daytona in spectacular fashion in only his second start. The next moment he realizes he’s been put in 18th, the final car on the lead lap, for crossing the double yellow line at the bottom of the track.

It’s evident that he crossed the line. But the rule says that you cannot cross the line to improve your position. He was a nose out in front when he crossed the line, so the argument can be made that he didn’t cross the line to improve his position.

Adding strength to that argument is the way NASCAR boasted about the lead changes at the all-star race in Charlotte. Every time a car got a bumper ahead of the car it was racing, NASCAR logged it as a pass.

And there’s the 2003 race at Talladega that Dale Earnhardt Jr. won. Not crossing the yellow line at Daytona and Talladega has been a rule since the April 2001 Talladega race. But in 2003 there is that race Earnhardt Jr. won, in which he crossed the yellow line through the tri-oval.

The drivers he beat filed a complaint with NASCAR. The sanction determined that since Earnhardt had a nose out in front when he started to drift across the yellow line, he technically wasn’t doing it to improve his position since he already had the position. NASCAR’s own words.

Photographic evidence proves Haley was in front before he drifted below the line. This may be a judgment call, like a ball or strike, but it’s a shame NASCAR can’t use the same judgment for Haley as they did for Earnhardt Jr.

In fact, they really demonstrated poor judgment. Because of their decision, half the fan base was put off by what they rightfully saw as a bad call. And instead of celebrating a young driver’s bold move to win in only his second series start, they hand yet another Xfinity win to a visiting Cup driver, Kyle Larson. After the strong showing NASCAR had in Chicago, it would have been much better to celebrate Haley’s incredible win. Instead, for many fans, NASCAR suffered a self-inflicted shot in the foot.

Haley didn’t cross the line to improve his position as he was already in the lead when he drifted below. But I guess that only works if you’re Earnhardt Jr. Maybe Haley should have won with an illegal car; NASCAR never takes wins away for illegal cars.

And talk about fortunes that change. In the 400-mile Cup race at Daytona on Saturday night, Ricky Stenhouse demonstrated he had the strongest car and won the first two stages. But he was also the catalyst for accidents that damaged 33 of the 40 cars in the field. He received a police escort back to the motorhome lot after the race.

But Erik Jones had good fortune. He only led one lap at Daytona, but it was the one that counted. And it wasn’t easy to get that first Cup win, as he out-raced Martin Truex Jr., one of the stout cars in the field.

James Hinchcliffe knows about changing fortunes. In May he had the most gut-wrenching moment of his life when he failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. His absence from the race sparked conversations that perhaps IndyCar should have provisional starting spots for its regular drivers.

But on Sunday Hinchcliffe won the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway. That’s the kind of change of fortune racers enjoy.

Racing is dangerous, let us not forget. Some racers pay the ultimate price. World of Outlaws Sprint Car regular Jason Johnson was killed recently while battling for the lead in a race in Wisconsin. He was 41.

And news came across the pond that Irish motorcycle racer William Dunlop was killed in a practice session. That only leaves his brother, Michael, to carry on the Dunlop name. There’s an excellent movie available on Netflix about the Dunlop racing family, called “Road.”

In the blink of an eye, fortunes on a racetrack can change. But isn’t that what keeps us interested?

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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