The National Football League instituted instant replay as hedge against botched officiating calls. College football followed, and this summer, so did Major League Baseball, a bastion of tradition that was slow to allow turn-of-this-century technology to interlope on a game born before the turn of the last. The National Hockey League reviews controversial goals at its nerve center in Toronto. They all get it right -- within a reasonable doubt -- and in the NHL's case, from up to thousands of miles away.
And there was NASCAR, with all of its collective reason and consciousness, getting it wrong, at first glance, on Sunday in the case of Tony Stewart's disputed victory over Regan Smith at Talladega. But upon further review, NASCAR got it right, and it did so in about a third of the time it takes NFL officials to mark a football.
Drivers were issued this typical warning before a race at Daytona and Talladega, restrictor-plate super speedways where NASCAR mandates horse-power limited restrictor plates to control speeds. "This is your warning: race above the yellow line. If, in NASCAR'S judgment, you go below the yellow line to improve your position, you will be black-flagged. If in NASCAR's judgment you force someone below the yellow line (in an effort to stop him from passing you), you may be black-flagged."
NASCAR's out was in the verbiage and it apparently didn't need a litany of replays to discuss the outcome. Conspiracy theorists can point out that the ruling benefited a NASCAR star at the expense of a relative unknown. And the series has made odd rulings in stars' favor before -- see the "rough driving" penalty against Jason Leffler in 2004 that benefited Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Daytona -- but stuck to the letter of the law this time more than scrawling in new words.
Though timing and scoring posted Smith's No. 01 Chevrolet as the winner because his transponder crossed the electronic finish line first, NASCAR waited only a minute or so -- presumable as president Mike Helton pondered Smith's pass below the yellow line after being blocked by Stewart -- to declare Stewart the winner.
Said NASCAR is a Monday release: "During the last lap of yesterday's race at Talladega Superspeedway the driver of the No. 01 violated NASCAR policy by driving under the yellow line to improve his position.
"In NASCAR's opinion he was not forced below the yellow line. NASCAR correctly took immediate action to enforce the policy by penalizing the No. 01 and scoring the No. 20 as the race winner.
"Since the end of the race there has been some confusion as to what is allowable during the last lap at Daytona and Talladega. To be clear, as we go forward, there will be no passing under the yellow line at any time during NASCAR races at Daytona or Talladega, period. This includes any passing below the yellow line near the start/finish line on the final lap."
Upon no further review, good call.