Late debris cautions harm NASCAR’s integrity
by Ryan O`Hara On Wed, Apr. 16, 2014
Let’s be completely honest now: the racing in 2014 has been phenomenal, down to the wire at times. It is an impossible feat to keep every single fan 100 percent satisfied with the real race. For the past couple of weeks, it has been crystal clear that there have been late debris cautions that were flagrantly called to stack up the field for an “exhilarating” finish.
Is this issue a good thing or a bad thing for the sport? From my vantage point, it is just absolutely dishonest. If someone from the control tower were to say, “Hey we are throwing a caution to excite the fans,” that is simply being genuine. However, I do not want to give ear to that either because afterwards, the sport would be met with negative media attention that, in the long run, would deface our sport, permanently.
Do not take this in the incorrect way, I deeply care about the safety of everyone out on the race track. Perhaps not everyone will agree with what I am about to utter. In addition, I believe there are some people in the sport who will agree to an extent, but this is all about opening up a debate. This all started with the free pass, which is given to the first driver one lap behind the leader after a caution.
Executed, first, to do away with racing back to the line, Dale Jarrett sat in the middle of the track with a wrecked car, as dozens of drivers were racing back to the line and trying to get their lap back during the 2003 New England 300. Then, racing back to the line gets bashed for being “too treacherous.” I am not denying that racing back to the line is not dangerous, it is. However, so is racing. I believe that we should have kept racing back to the line, but with some mandates.
For example, a monstrous wreck occurs at Daytona that stretches from the start finish line to the infield. The conditions on the race track are too treacherous for the drivers to race back to the line. Therefore, the control tower makes the call, whether it is safe or unsafe. I have another example. A piece of rubber in turn two is the reason for the caution. A piece of rubber is not going to hurt anybody, so letting the drivers race back to the line under certain circumstances would not hurt at all.
Now, we have double-file restarts, the wave-around rule, the lucky dog, the Chase for the Sprint Cup, etc. NASCAR has the power to make any adjustments it wants, despite what the fans have in mind. On the other hand, this is a unique sport. Unlike NASCAR, the NFL cannot really do much if a game is horribly one-sided. The NFL cannot call down to the field during the fourth quarter of a game and have the ball given to the opposing team which happens to be losing by 35 points to make it a tighter match. Such an action would warrant a call for game fixing. At the moment, after I have teased you all, I want to bring up the current concern I have with my sport.
I talked about the NFL for a specific reason. Game fixing was specifically brought up to get people thinking. At Darlington, Jimmie Johnson looked on his way to clinching a spot in the chase, winning his second Southern 500 in the past three seasons, but is denied. A caution is thrown for debris, which leads to a late, double-file restart at Darlington. Everyone goes crazy! Here they come off turn two and spinning is Kurt Busch, slamming into the inside wall! Guess what, ladies and gentleman? We have another caution, which means we have another restart! Finally, we have a restart without an incident and Kevin Harvick, the guy who should have won anyway, was celebrating in victory lane. At Auto Club Speedway, Jeff Gordon was about to take the white flag, but was nabbed by a caution for a spinning Clint Bowyer, who was not actually on the track.
Why did NASCAR not throw the caution for Jimmie Johnson before, as the six-time champion was spewing debris all over the track? As Denny Hamlin stated in 2010, “You don’t have to be so smart to realize that these things are not just by chance.” Hamlin’s comments came after a win at the Michigan International Speedway, in 2010, as a late debris caution was called, as Hamlin was enjoying a lead of well over 10 seconds.
Instead of just finishing the race, NASCAR seems obligated to turn the end of the race into a lottery. While it is cool an all to see different people win, the feeling is simply murky. I would rather see someone win the hard way than rely on a phantom debris caution, or a green-white-checkered finish. As time goes on, I wish that the green-white-checkered finish was never implemented because, in the end, it has just been abused. Adding two more attempts at a green finish, as NASCAR did in 2010, has only added more to the problem.
If anything the late debris cautions, followed by the questionable restarts, are putting more drivers in danger of getting hurt, especially if this occurs at plate tracks. I consider NASCAR lucky that Austin Dillon was not injured severely, last year, at Talladega. “But the cars are safe!” Given, the cars are much safer than they were prior to the death of Dale Earnhardt, but risking it for the sake of entertainment is quite risky and disrespectful to the people who actually race these cars.
Finally, I would love to hear your thoughts. I will be involved with NASCAR for the rest of my life. Since the age of nine, I have dedicated myself to become the next great NASCAR broadcaster. So, please do not think that I dislike NASCAR. We can all have our disagreements, but the debate is what promotes a healthy environment. The input of the fans is what will make a serious impact to the sport in the future. With that being said; I hope you all have a Happy Easter with your families.