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Why Do Green and White Checkerds Exist? Do They Serve Their Purpose?

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Joshua Lipowski

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What’s Happening?

It’s now 2024, which means Green-White-Checkered finishes, now commonly referred to as NASCAR Overtime, have been in the sport for 20 years. Now seems like as good a time as any to look back on the history of NASCAR Overtime. Why does it exist, and what led to Overtime as it is today?

  • NASCAR implemented Green-White Checkerds in the Cup Series in 2004, which was originally one two-lap attempt at finishing the race beyond the scheduled distance. In 2010, it was expanded to three attempts, then it was eventually expanded to unlimited attempts.
  • Now, there are unlimited attempts to allow the race to finish under green unless a driver takes the white flag. Once the white flag is taken, the next flag ends the race, caution or checkered.
  • The rule has been controversial among fans. Some fans like how it allows races to end under green, but, others feel it leads to unnecessary issues at the end of a race.

The Birth of the Rule: 1995-2009

The “Green-White-Checkered” rule began in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 1995. The rule was as follows, if the race reaches its scheduled distance under caution, NASCAR will extend the race to allow for a green flag finish. When the caution flag is lifted, the field has two laps to finish the race. If a caution flag comes out, then the race ends under caution.

This was implemented to ensure a green flag finish. Some fans do not like races to end under the caution flag, so, this is a way to make sure they happen.

During this time, the Cup Series had numerous instances of cautions late in the race causing controversial finishes. Between 1995 and 2004, when the Green-White-Checkerds were implemented in the Truck Series, the Daytona 500 ran lap 200 under caution 3 times (1997, 1998, and 2000). In 2002, just two years removed from the 2000 race, NASCAR tried to prevent a finish under caution by throwing a red flag after a late caution, which led to the famous Sterling Marlin incident. Ward Burton won the race after a shootout.

Before 2003, NASCAR allowed drivers to race back to the line when a caution flag came out. This somewhat helped these instances because drivers could at least race to the caution flag, or, if the caution came out on the last lap, to the checkered flag. Well, towards the end of 2003, NASCAR banned racing back to the line, meaning the race would effectively end as soon as a late caution came out, and this led to some controversial moments.

In 2004, a race controversially ended under caution. Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnahardt Jr. were battling for the lead when a wreck happened behind them NASCAR declared that Gordon was ahead of Earnhardt Jr. when the caution came out, and no red flag was thrown to finish the race under caution. The overwhelmingly Earnhardt Jr.-centric crowd was not happy.

In the middle of the season, NASCAR changed the rules and implemented the Truck Series Green-White-Checkered rule. The rule was used three times in 2004 at Indianapolis, Phoenix, and the season finale at Homestead-Miami. The season finale at Homestead was particularly dramatic, as a tight points battle set up a mad dash for a Championship.

The rule became commonplace in NASCAR as time went on. It ensured plenty of green flag finishes for races that would not have ended under green under the old rules. However, the rule was not without controversy.

Due to there only being one attempt at the Green-White-Checkered finish, plenty of races still ended under caution, even if the caution came out barely into the attempt. One example was the 2007 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega, where a wreck less than 1/2 lap after the green flag waved ended the race. Ironically enough, Jeff Gordon won the race.

The 3 Attempts Era: 2010-2015

Beginning in 2010, NASCAR expanded the Green-White-Checkered rule from one attempt to three attempts. Under the new rules, if the caution came out before the white flag was displayed, NASCAR would extend the race for up to three tries. If the caution came out on the white flag lap, the race would end, just like in a normal race procedure.

The new rule was tested during the 2010 Daytona 500, where it took two attempts to finish the race under green. The race did finish under green, and it would not have been under the old rules.

Jamie McMurray went on to win the race, instead of Kevin Harvick, who led the most laps. Harvick was leading after the first attempt, so, he would have won under the old rules. The summer race at Daytona that year took all three attempts to get a green flag finish.

However, the rules were under scrutiny once again in 2015. To prevent a wreck fest finish that was becoming increasingly more common at superspeedways, NASCAR declared leading up to the fall Talladega race that there would be only one attempt at a Green-White-Checkered finish. This was the elimination race of the Round of 12.

The finish of the race was a disaster as a late caution forced an overtime finish. When the green flag waved, cars immediately started spinning out, but, since the leaders did not reach the start/finish line, NASCAR declared it was not an attempt.

The second attempt saw the cars wreck just past the line as Kevin Harvick, who was unable to maintain pace with the field, wrecked the field. The caution came out, and Joey Logano edged Dale Earnhardt Jr. eliminating Earnhardt Jr. from the Playoffs.

“The Overtime Line” Era: 2016-2017

To counteract the disaster that was the 2015 fall Talladega race, NASCAR changed the rules again. They implemented the “Overtime line”. The new rule was that drivers had to reach a line on the backstretch to designate an attempt at “Overtime”, and, if they failed to reach that line before a caution came out, they would redo it. The attempts at reaching the “Overtime line” were unlimited, but, if they passed the overtime line, a caution would end the race.

This caused many issues as races were ended before the white flag was displayed. The unlimited attempts also caused many races to devolve into wreck fests at the end.

The 2017 Brickyard 400, for example, saw 5 wrecks over the final 18 laps before finally finishing on lap 167, 7 laps beyond the scheduled distance. Soon after that race, NASCAR changed the rules again.

The “Unlimited Overtime Era”: 2017 To Present

In August of 2017, NASCAR said that the overtime line would be the start/finish line from now on. Essentially, the rules were the same as they were before the 2015 Talladega debacle with one key difference. Now, drivers had unlimited attempts to get to the white flag. While the essential elimination of the overtime line was a welcome change, the new rules are not without their problems.

Now, the unlimited overtime attempts have helped to ensure a green flag finish. The 2022 Daytona 500 is a great example of a great finish created by overtime.

With unlimited attempts at “Overtime”, drivers became more aggressive late in races. This caused many races to, once again, devolve into wreck fests late, particularly on superspeedways.

Since going to unlimited overtime attempts in 2018, the Daytona 500 has been extended beyond 500 miles every year except 2021. The 2023 race took 212 laps and three overtime attempts to complete, the longest in history.

Talladega is a similar story. Since the fall of 2017, 5 of 12 non-shortened races went beyond the scheduled distance. The fall 2017 race saw only 14 of 40 cars finish, but, it was not an overtime finish.

Does It Serve Its Purpose?

If NASCAR wanted it to ensure a green flag finish to its races, then, yes, it has served its purpose. Many fans feel slighted if a race ends with cars slowly trundling underneath the caution and checkered flag, even if other fans are okay with races ending under caution.

There is no denying that it has caused carnage towards the end of races, particularly on superspeedways. Team owners do not like their cars ending up in a smoking heap at the end of races. This also causes races to go on far longer than originally intended.

It’s also worth noting that other racing series are following suit with NASCAR to some extent on this issue. IndyCar, for example, called two red flags at the end of the 2023 Indianapolis 500 to ensure a green flag finish. Formula One ended their 2021 season finale with a one-lap shootout.

NASCAR seems dead set on ending their races under green in any way they can. With other motorsports making similar efforts, it shows that many fans like ending races under green.

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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