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How NASCAR’s choose rule works

When NASCAR announced in 2020 it was implementing the “choose rule” — also known as the “choose cone” — in its highest levels of racing, reaction was immediate and overwhelmingly positive.

“I think the choose rule’s been needed for a long time,” Chase Elliott said. “I don’t think there’s really a reason to not have it. There’s no reason to me why you shouldn’t have the choice or you should be automatically told where you’re going to line up when one lane has an obvious advantage, just based on where you come off pit road.

“(It) just makes way more sense to put it in our hands and it either works out for you or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t work out, then it’s your own fault and not luck of the draw and where you come off pit road.”

For longtime race fans, particularly those who are grassroots racing aficionados, the choose rule has been a staple for years. Now, it has been elevated to all forms of NASCAR racing, including the three largest series: NASCAR Cup, Xfinity Series and Craftsman Truck Series.

In the lower ranks, a so-called “safety cone (a.k.a. choose cone)” is placed on the race track during the last lap of a caution period prior to a race restart. Instead of cars lining up two-by-two based upon where they are scored position-wise at that instant, the cone gives drivers the choice of whether they want to start in the high or low line on the restart.

In the past, only the race leader had the option to choose whether he/she wanted to restart on the inside (low line) or outside (high line). Now, drivers from third through last place can choose where they want to start on double-file restarts.

For example, let’s say Driver A is 15th in the race, preparing for the restart. That puts him/her in the eighth row, alongside Driver B, the 16th-ranked driver at the time. The choose rule allows the higher-ranked driver — in this case, the 15th-ranked driver — to choose whether he/she wants to restart on the inside or outside line.

It may seem like a small concession, but in reality, the choose rule has led to significantly better finishes for drivers who select the correct line upon a restart.

NASCAR has embraced the choose cone/rule, although instead of physically using an actual bright orange or yellow cone — as is commonplace in the sport’s lower ranks — it has implemented the painting of a brightly colored “V” shape just beyond the start-finish line on a track, signifying where drivers should line up before a restart.

“Considering feedback from teams, drivers and fans, NASCAR has implemented these changes to enhance competition,” NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller said last year after the choose rule’s implementation during the All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. “We received nothing but positive comments from the drivers on the choose rule following the All-Star Race and felt it was an important addition to the restart procedure.”

In strategy terms, the higher-ranked driver in a row can choose whichever lane he or she believes will give more grip or speed. But for the lower-ranked driver in a row, he or she can follow the higher-ranked driver onto the preferred line or can take essentially what is a leftover spot in a lesser advantaged line that allows for an alternative strategy they hope will help them overtake not only the car beside them in the preferred line, but also to climb upward in subsequent laps.

Sometimes the preferred line works, but as a race wears on, the less-than-optimal line can eventually become better. That type of strategy is one reason many of today’s NASCAR drivers have advocated for the choose cone/rule in the sport’s top series.

Another reason for the choose rule was to eliminate a dangerous game some drivers would play — slowing down and even stopping at times while leaving pit road before a restart, thus changing their position in the race and allowing them to get a better line and position for the restart.

“It definitely adds another piece to the strategy,” Joey Logano told NASCAR on NBC. “And even more importantly, it has everyone not doing the whole stopping at the end of pit road and letting a car go by because, for one, it’s not safe to stop at the end of pit road for anyone jumping over the wall and having cars swerve like that.

“That’s not racing. The goal should be to be in front of whatever car is in front of you, not let one go at the end of pit road so you can have the outside lane or the inside lane.