Did Dale Jr. Out-Pace The Rules In Weekend Win?

While dealing with the headache of an on-going harassment suit, NASCAR probably felt better about getting some good publicity for a change, as fan-favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Lifelock 400 on Sunday, his first victory in 76 races.

Dale Earnhardt Jr Lifelock 400 trophy

But one Connecticut columnist believes that NASCAR officials may have let Junior bend the rules to claim the checkered flag.

A spinout by Sam Hornish Jr. with two laps to go extended the race by three more laps. During the caution laps, Earnhardt would surge forward then turn off his engine, in an effort to save on his low fuel supply. However, some of the surges sent Junior past the pace car.

Thus, Shawn Courchesne of the HARTFORD COURANT argues that Earnhardt should have been penalized for passing the pace car:

Isn’t it against the rules to pass the pace car under caution? And if it’s not, wouldn’t a driver be penalized if NASCAR has warned them 3 times to stay behind the pace car - as television commentators relayed to viewers - before Earnhardt took the checkered to win the LifeLock 400 Sunday at Michigan International Speedway?

But Courchesne says he’s not too surprised by NASCAR supposedly playing favorites:

And when the most popular driver you have is on the verge of breaking a 2-year plus winless streak, does fair and equal play for all go out the window?

It seems in some sense that’s exactly what happened Sunday at Michigan. Earnhardt was allowed to play by a different set of rules than everybody else. Different rules for different drivers is not a great precedent to set, but one it seems NASCAR has been going back to through much of its history.

The racer responds by telling such critics to stick it in their tailpipe:

“I can understand how it might look if you’re not a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan,” he said. “But the hell with it. My fans are happy, and the other half are going to [dispute it]. I got the trophy, and I got the points.”

And in the end, isn’t that what really matters after all?