DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- There's a gray area around Daytona's yellow-line rule.
Jimmie Johnson and Geoffrey Bodine were both black-flagged during the first of two qualifying races Thursday for driving below the yellow line at Daytona International Speedway. Both said they were forced down onto the apron and were unfairly penalized.
Johnson, a rookie and the pole-sitter for Sunday's Daytona 500, said he was racing alongside Mike Wallace when Wallace began to drift down and press Johnson near the line. He tried to slow to avoid going below the boundary but said he was hit from behind and forced to maintain his speed.
Wallace kept drifting, Johnson went below the line, and by the time he crossed back over the car had inched ahead of Wallace. The rule prohibits drivers from improving position while driving below the line.
"We had a run on (Wallace) and I'm right at his door number and there's not much I can do but get out of his way," Johnson said. "So what can I do? I go below the line because if I don't, I cause a pileup.
"I don't know how the rule works in that respect because I thought I was in the right for trying to keep a 20-car pileup from happening."
Bodine went below the line on the first lap of the first race when he went three-wide while trying to pass Sterling Marlin. Bodine said Marlin deliberately forced him under the line because he didn't want to be passed.
"He had some words for me, telling me that it was too early in a race to make a pass like that," said Bodine, the 1986 Daytona winner. "Well, I thought racing was trying to make a pass. So he shoved me down there, I still have the run on him and can come back over ahead of him, and get black-flagged for it.
"To me, enforcing the rule just became pairs figure skating at the Olympics. It all comes down to NASCAR's judgment."
That's what makes the rule so tricky. There's no reason why a driver can't deliberately force a competitor below the line if the other car attempts to make a pass. Then it's up to NASCAR to determine whether or not the driver should be penalized.
"I think you'll see a lot of that if guys getting forced down there on Sunday because a guy either has to lift and not make the pass or he'll be black-flagged," driver Jerry Nadeau said. "We saw that happen with Geoffrey Bodine. He got a raw deal there."
This is the second time drivers have been penalized for going below the yellow line, a rule that is only in effect at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway.
The first time was last July when 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 and his finishing position was disallowed.
He vehemently argued the decision then, but supports the rule now.
"When they first came up with it, there was kind of a gray area about how it was going to be enforced," Stewart said. "As long as you don't gain a spot, you won't get penalized. Lift when you're down there and there's not a problem."
But will any driver be willing to do that in the waning laps of the Daytona 500?
"If the other drivers aren't going to respect the yellow line, there's going to be a lot of judgment involved in enforcing this rule," said Chad Knaus, Johnson's crew chief.
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