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Every racecar in a NASCAR race obviously has to complete the required number of laps in a race. If there are 500 laps in a race then you have to go the entire 500 laps. But sometimes cars will lose laps. They may be forced into the pits for repairs or they just may not be fast enough and get lapped by the field. Whatever the case, just because a car loses a lap doesn't mean their race is over. In fact the history of NASCAR has several races where the winner was able to make up a lap, or even two.
There was a time when NASCAR allowed cars to make up a lap by racing back to the yellow flag when a caution came out. If the leader were just past a car that was a lap down, the lap down car would try to pass the leader before the start/finish line and get their lap back. If the car just a lap down were a teammate to the leader, the leader would often slow down and allow his teammate to make up a lap.
There was also a ‘gentlemen's agreement' that the leader would allow those cars who were a lap down to pass him and get back on the lead lap. The leader would slow and allow cars to pass before he crossed the start/finish line. As NASCAR became more competitive however, this ‘gentlemen's agreement' wasn't adhered to and this led to a lot of bad blood between competitors. The practice was also considered by many to be very unsafe. When the caution came out, safety vehicles were forced to wait while the field raced back to the line, if a driver was injured this delayed help getting to him.
Then in September 2003 during a race at New Hampshire International Raceway, driver Dale Jarrett spun on the front stretch his car ended up sideways blocking part of the track. As the field raced back to the caution several cars barely avoided Jarrett. The following week NASCAR instituted a rule that ‘froze' the field when the caution came out. In effect whatever position the car was in when the caution came out was where they were scored.
As a compromise of the old practice of getting a lap back as a caution came out, NASCAR now allows the first car one lap down an opportunity to get their lap back via the ‘free pass' rule. This rule is most widely known as the ‘Lucky Dog' rule. This creates excitement for the cars that are a lap down, as they will race to try and be the first car one lap down, creating a ‘race within a race'.
Why is it called the ‘Lucky Dog'? The first race that the new rule was used at Dover International Speedway on September 21, 2003. Driver Jimmy Spencer whose sponsor logo featured a dog was given the ‘free pass'. One of the television commentators called Spencer the ‘Lucky Dog'. The rule has been
This rule refers to the car that's the first one a lap down. As a race unfolds cars can lose laps, the field passes them. Every time a caution period happens on the track, NASCAR will allow the first car one lap down will be allowed to pass the pace car and go to the rear of the field getting themselves back onto the lead lap.