What Is Lucky Dog In NASCAR? (Beneficiary Rule Explained)

There’s a beneficiary rule in NASCAR called the lucky dog rule. This rule was not implemented until September 2003, and it has been a controversial one. The rule has its pros and cons, and it’s a rule that has helped drivers win races in the past. But many fans may wonder what the lucky dog rule is.

The lucky dog rule allows the first car one lap down to return to the lead lap. It has met criticism from both NASCAR drivers and broadcasters, but the rule remains in place. Regardless of its reception, there are situations where the first driver one lap down will not get a free pass.

Although the lucky dog rule is controversial, it’s an important part of NASCAR and will remain in place for the foreseeable future. In the article below, we’ll explore what the rule is, why it’s such a controversial topic, and if any drivers have won a race following its implementation.

What Is The Lucky Dog Rule In NASCAR?

The lucky dog rule is a rule that allows the first driver a lap down to regain the final spot on the lead lap. This can benefit drivers when they have a fast car, but an unfortunate event caused them to lose a lap. Before NASCAR implemented the lucky dog rule, drivers raced back to the caution flag.

Each week, between 36 and 40 NASCAR cars take the track in hopes of winning that weekend’s event. Some tracks, like Daytona and Talladega, are so large that the primary way to lose a lap occurs if a driver needs to spend extended time in the pits or the garage area.

Other tracks are not as large, and it’s easy to lose one or more laps. Bristol is only a half-mile in length. And within the first few-dozen laps, drivers racing toward the bottom of the pack might see the leader in their rear-view camera. Before, it was hard to get a lost lap back. But starting in September 2003, NASCAR implemented the lucky dog rule to help drivers who fell behind.

When Does The Lucky Dog Rule Not Apply?

The lucky dog rule does not apply if the first driver one lap down caused the caution flag to wave. For example, if they turned another car into the wall, whether it was intentional or not, they will not get the free pass. The driver also cannot have been black flagged.

Exceptions To The Rule

Besides not earning the lucky dog rule if a driver creates a caution, if an event occurs where a black flag summons them to the pits, forcing them to lose a lap, they may not get the free pass. The only exception to this rule occurs if the driver regained their lap before falling a lap down once more.

Drivers must also refrain from committing an act of gamesmanship. Gamesmanship happens when an athlete takes advantage of a rule to increase their chances of winning. While not illegal, gamesmanship acts are frowned upon, and NASCAR has cracked down on this.

Suppose a driver on the lead lap pits with cars that are a lap down. They cannot get that lap back if they lose it and a caution flag waves. The only exception occurs if NASCAR officials deem it a quick yellow, which allows all cars to pit.

Has Anyone Ever Won Using The Lucky Dog Rule?

7 drivers have won races because of the lucky dog rule as of 2022, the twentieth season the rule has been in place. The first win came during the first race the lucky dog rule came into effect, at the 2003 race in Dover, when Ryan Newman took advantage of the free pass and won.

The lucky dog rule is a double-edged sword. The clear upside is that it gives drivers who unfortunately fell a lap down a chance to regain track position on the lead lap. Sometimes, an on-track incident beyond the driver’s control led them to losing a lap.

Another car may hit the driver’s car and cause enough damage to warrant an extended pit stop to repair the vehicle. Or a driver can blow a tire, which calls for a tire change if the driver can navigate their car down pit road. There are so many ways a fast car could fall a lap down, and the lucky dog rule gives these drivers a chance at redemption.

Winning Drivers

Besides winning the inaugural race with the lucky dog rule, Newman is one of just two drivers to achieve the feat twice. Kyle Busch is the other driver, having won at Phoenix in 2005 and Talladega in 2008. Busch also nearly won a race thanks to the rule at Watkins Glen.

Mark Martin was the second driver to win a race with the free pass. This race also occurred at Dover one year after Newman’s victory. A year later, Jeff Gordon took advantage of the rule to win the Martinsville race, and both Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne were lucky dog victors in 2006.

Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick were the last two drivers to win races because of the lucky dog rule, which occurred in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Should NASCAR’s Lucky Dog Rule Still Be Used?

Each season, NASCAR updates its rulebook and drivers are required to attend a pre-race meeting to go over those rule changes. Some drivers would argue that the lucky dog rule in NASCAR has overstayed its welcome and the sport would be better off without it.

The lucky dog rule is a flawed one, despite its advantages. Both drivers and broadcasters are not shy regarding their outspoken nature toward the rule. Especially early on when it was first introduced.

Why Keep The Lucky Dog?

The lucky dog rule is a great way for drivers running a good race to regain their position on the lead lap if something unfortunate occurs during a race. Over a 300- to 500-mile event, things could run smoothly for the entire duration of a race but go bad quickly near the end.

The beneficiary rule at least gives drivers a fair chance to win the race if they have a car capable of doing so. Further, as shown in the section above, the lucky dog rule rarely helps drivers win races.

Since NASCAR implemented the rule in September 2003, they have run nearly 700 regular season and playoff races between then and 2022. That means drivers have won roughly one percent of all races because of the rule. It’s not like the lucky dog rule completely changed NASCAR’s landscape.

Why Get Rid Of The Lucky Dog?

While only seven drivers have won races because of the rule, all seven of those wins occurred between September 2003 and July 2010. Although there was no winner between August 2010 and May 2022, it shows that drivers can still win in races often thanks to the rule.

Further, the rule could immediately place a driver back onto the lead lap toward the end of the race. That means if a driver spins out and loses a lap, they can gain it back if the caution waves a lap later, assuming they remain on the lead lap. Joey Logano took advantage of this situation in 2009.

Kyle Busch was in the garage area at Watkins Glen. The time spent behind the wall put Busch five laps down. And following a slew of cautions, Busch, the first car not on the lead lap, slowly gained his laps back and finished the race in contention for a win.

Changes To The Lucky Dog Rule

Since its implementation in September 2003, NASCAR has made a few changes to the rule. The first came in 2006, when they extended the beneficiary rule to the road course races held in Sonoma and Watkins Glen.

During the first five seasons, the rule did not apply in the final ten laps. That changed in 2009, when NASCAR extended the lucky dog rule through the entire race. Also, any car positioned between the pace car and the leader during a caution also advanced.

While the lucky dog rule has its flaws, it still has its upsides. The best way to keep the rule going is to add a few restrictions. For example, NASCAR could limit drivers to receive the beneficiary just once instead of multiple times, as was the case for Busch. Or they can revert to nixing the rule at the ten laps to go mark. The rule is far from perfect, but it might just need some fine-tuning.

Final Thoughts

The lucky dog rule in NASCAR allows the first car one lap down to regain position as the last car of the lead lap. The rule has been in effect since September 2003 and remains controversial for drivers and fans. Despite criticism, it’s a good way for drivers to gain position after mishaps.