Dale Earnhardt Jr. has lived the yellow line controversy before

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In wading into the controversial yellow-line penalty issued Sunday to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in The Clash, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is speaking from experience.

In his fourth consecutive victory at Talladega Superspeedway nearly 15 years ago, Earnhardt went below the yellow line while passing Matt Kenseth for first and led the final two laps. He wasn’t penalized.

There are some parallels to the penalty Stenhouse received Sunday for driving below the yellow line to complete a pass of Busch. In both instances, Kenseth and Busch moved down the banking and then swerved back up when they seemed to realize a car was on the inside.

Compare the incidents in these videos (the Earnhardt pass occurs at the 3:14:30 mark):

There are some critical distinctions:

–Kenseth’s No. 17 Ford swooped down from much higher up the track — about three lanes — than Busch, whose No. 18 Toyota was in the lane above Stenhouse’s No. 17 Ford.

–Stenhouse’s tires were below the yellow line earlier roughly when his Ford had just cleared the left-rear quarter panel of Busch’s Toyota. The left front of Earnhardt’s No. 8 Chevrolet doesn’t dip under the yellow line until the car is nearly even with Kenseth’s car.

But in both cases, Earnhardt and Stenhouse went below the yellow line before clearing the car above them.

NASCAR even conceded this after Earnhardt’s victory in explaining why it didn’t issue a penalty.

“This was a judgment call very obviously,” late spokesman Jim Hunter said. “There is no question that [Earnhardt] went below the yellow line. … He already had passed (Kenseth).”

“I ran [below the line] to keep from running into him,” Earnhardt said after the race. “By that time, I was already past him.”

Before that April 6, 2003 race at Talladega, drivers were given the same ground rules by NASCAR in the prerace meeting: Cars that improved their position by crossing the yellow line would be black-flagged.

Reaction from other drivers after the race was mixed. Jimmie Johnson, who led a race-high 65 laps and had been battling with Kenseth for the lead, said Earnhardt “was clearly below the yellow line. I didn’t think it was a legal pass.” Asked afterward if he would make the same maneuver, runner-up Kevin Harvick said, “that’s a good question. I’ll plead the fifth on that one.”

Sunday’s race promises to spark a new round of questions from drivers, who could be seeking clarification from NASCAR on judgment calls made in a game of inches at 200 mph.

Stenhouse posted on Twitter that his only option would have been to wreck the field by holding his line and making contact with Busch. NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell has said Stenhouse could have avoided a penalty by immediately yielding the spots he gained on the pass.

“It is a judgment call, and people are mostly going to disagree when we make judgment calls, but that’s OK,” O’Donnell said during his weekly spot with “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We try to be clear as we can in the drivers meeting that if you go below the yellow line, you cannot advance your position. In this case, we saw (Stenhouse) go below the yellow line, advance the position.

“When we have not made the call is if that position is given up or if that car kind of backs off and gives that position back, we’ve been OK with it historically. That didn’t happen, so in this case we had to make the call. We viewed it as a pass that was maintained below the yellow line.”

NASCAR has been enforcing the yellow line rule since the July 2001 race at Daytona International Speedway.

Denny Hamlin posts fastest lap in Saturday morning Cup practice

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LOUDON, N.H. – Denny Hamlin had the fastest lap in Saturday morning’s Cup practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, leading the field with a lap of 132.942 mph.

He was followed by Ryan Blaney (132.526 mph), Martin Truex Jr. (132.462), Kyle Busch (132.406) and Kevin Harvick (132.356).

Harvick ran the most laps at 50. Harvick told NASCAR on NBC broadcaster Rick Allen in the garage that he ran so many laps to see how much the speed falls off as the tires wear. Jimmie Johnson was next with 42 laps run.

There were no incidents in the 50-minute session.

Ryan Blaney had the best 10-lap average at 131.767 mph.

Click here for the speed chart.

Start time of Sunday’s Cup race moved up to 1 pm ET

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LOUDON, N.H. – The start time for Sunday’s Cup race has been moved up to 1 p.m. ET because of the threat of rain, NASCAR announced.

NBCSN will broadcast the race. NBCSN’s coverage begins at noon ET.

The wunderground.com forecast for 1 p.m. ET Sunday calls for a 49 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms. There is a threat of rain throughout the day.

Kurt Busch won the pole for Sunday’s race.

Two Cup teams to be penalized practice time Saturday at New Hampshire

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LOUDON, N.H. – Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne each will miss 15 minutes of Saturday’s final practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for inspection issues, NASCAR announced.

Hamlin is being penalized for failing pre-qualifying inspection twice last weekend at Kentucky. Kahne is being penalized for failing pre-qualifying inspection twice Friday at New Hampshire.

Final practice is scheduled to go from 12:35 – 1:25 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

NASCAR’s Saturday schedule for New Hampshire Motor Speedway

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Today’s schedule at New Hampshire Motor Speedway includes two Cup practice sessions and the Xfinity Series race at the “Magic Mile.”

Here’s the full schedule with TV and radio info.

(All times are Eastern)

Saturday, July 21

7 a.m. — Xfinity garage opens

8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. — Cup garage open

10:05 – 10:55 a.m. — Cup practice (CNBC)

11:05 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying; multi-vehicle/three rounds (CNBC)

12:35 – 1:25 p.m. — Final Cup practice (NBCSN)

1:30 p.m. — Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

3:30 p.m. — Xfinity driver introductions

4 p.m. — Lakes Region 200 Xfinity race; 200 laps/211.6 miles (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)