First, Denny Hamlin ruined Matt DiBenedetto's feel-good story at Talladega. Then NASCAR stomped on it.
On the third overtime of today's YellaWood 500, DiBenedetto appeared headed to his first Cup Series race in 207 starts, but Hamlin caught him late and crossed the start-finish line just ahead.
Then, NASCAR ruled that DiBenedetto and his No. 21 car forced Hamlin (No. 11) and William Byron (No. 24) below the yellow out-of-bounds line, dropping him from second to 21st in the final race results. It was the third time the rule had been invoked during the race — Joey Logano got nailed twice.
"It was pretty clear cut the 21 hung a left and drove those guys below the line," said Scott Miller, NASCAR's vice president of competition. "So, we had called that twice on the 22 car during the race, so nothing different there. .. On the 24 and the 11 being down there, in our judgement, they were down there to avoid a wreck."
NASCAR originally penalized Chase Elliott and ruled he had ducked below the line, too. About an hour after the race was completed, a revised ruling was released. Elliott's fifth-place finish was restored, and Chris Buescher was found to have forced Elliott below the line. Buescher was dropped to 22nd in the standings.
During Hamlin's post-race news conference, he was fiery when asked about the rule, calling it a "non-story."
"They're supposed to (call it), right?" he said. "Call it the same on lap one as the last lap."
Hamlin added, "I've been a victim of getting forced down there all the time. Finally, they put their foot down and said, 'This is the rule, and we're going to enforce it.' So, you can't use the yellow line as a defense. You have to play within the boundaries that they set."
Hamlin said it's been called before and "it's part of it."
"I'm not saying I would've done anything different if I had been Matt," he said. "I don't know. I'm not a huge blocking guy. I don't know. I don't always think you have to block to win."
Should they change the rule?
"I think you'd probably see more wrecks with it. Probably see more accidents," said Erik Jones, who finished second. "I don't know. I don't know what to do to make it better."
Added Miller, who spoke with reporters after Jones: "We certainly don't need more wrecks than what we saw today."
Miller said he's not sure what NASCAR can do to make drivers stay within the lines.
"Outside of putting a wall there, I don't really know what more we can do," he said. "I do sincerely believe we need the rule. You see all the real estate that's around here. If we started having cars running 12 wide down the back straightaway, imagine what would happen when you get to turn three."