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What does a ‘green white checkered flag’ finish mean?

Going Into Overtime

Also known as ‘overtime' this is the method NASCAR uses to attempt to finish a race under green flag conditions. If there is an accident or a caution flag late in a race, NASCAR will make one attempt to finish the race even if it goes beyond the scheduled distance; in affect adding two laps. Once the caution is clear, the green flag will be waved, on the next lap the white flag for the last lap will be thrown followed by the checkered flag. If an accident or caution happens during the green white checkered flag period, all bets are off, the field is frozen and will finish under caution.

The green white checkered flag finish allows fans to see a race end under race conditions. It's a big let down for fans to sit through a 500 mile race only to have it end under caution with the field frozen.

The risks for drivers and teams are great. If a driver has built up a sizable lead and there's a green white checkered, then the field will be bunched up again for the restart and the drivers behind him now have a chance to win, and if crew chiefs don't estimate their fuel mileage correctly and take into account the possibility of extra laps they could leave their driver high and dry.

What's a 'spotter'?

Looking Out For Number One

A spotter is a member of the team that ‘spots' for the driver during a race. Usually stationed on top of the grandstands, they communicate with the driver via a radio and let them know when the green flag drops, where they are at in the field, if there are other cars on the outside, inside or behind them, when to slow for an accident and when pit road is opened or closed. Inside the cockpit of a racecar, the driver actually can't move all that much. Because of safety reasons, drivers are belted into their seats and side headrests won't allow them to move around much.

Spotters are essential in helping to driver know what's going on around them during a race. A great many spotters are former drivers who use their on track expertise to provide a wealth of information to the driver. If another driver seems to be going faster using a different line around the track for instance, they will relay this information to their driver.

What's a 'track bar'?

Keeping the Wheels Straight

A track bar is a bar that runs between the rear wheels on a racecar and helps keep the rear tires centered under the car. It connects the rear axle on one side and the frame on the other. These are sometimes referred to as ‘panhard' bars. If a crew can't correct a loose or tight condition using wedge, then they will adjust the track bar.

What's 'Wedge'?

Getting a Handle of the Handling

Part of the science of NASCAR is getting the proper set-up on a racecar prior to the race. Having the right set-up will ensure that the racecar is getting as much speed as possible.

If the team's right, then when the racecar hits the track for the first practice, they will be at or near the top of the speed charts. If not, then they may have a long weekend ahead of them. Teams will use notes from previous races and the experience of the driver or the crew chief to try and get the best chassis set-up they can before they hit the track.

Wedge is the primary method crews use to correct a ‘loose' or ‘tight' condition on a racecar. During practices or a pit stop a crewmember will insert a long wrench through a hole in the rear window and manually rotate the rear spring one way or another. This is known adding or subtracting wedge, tightening or loosening the spring. Another way to correct handeling that crew will use is by adjusting air pressure in the tires.

What do they mean by 'loose' and 'tight'?

Slip, Sliding Away

The first time you watch a NASCAR race there's almost an entire language that seems to along with it. While there are literally hundreds of terms associated with the sport, here are a few you might hear more often then others.

The terms loose and tight are the ones you'll most often hear from the drivers talk about.

Being ‘loose' is one of the terms drivers and crews use to refer to the handling of the car on the track. When a driver turns the wheel the car will tend to feel likes it's sliding, the back end will want to ‘fishtail' towards the outside wall.

Tight is just the opposite of loose. When a car is ‘tight' the driver tries to turn to the left and the front of the car seems to not want to steer in that direction. In this case the car will want to ‘push' towards the outside wall.

What is the 'free pass' or 'Lucky Dog' rule?

Who Let the Dogs Out?

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.

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