The Frontstretch: Caution Flag for NASCAR: Race Directors Getting Way Too Conservative in Throwing the Yellow by Amy Henderson -- Tuesday November 8, 2005

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Do not adjust your TV set. The yellow tinge you see is a product of NASCAR, and it’s not your TV’s fault. It seems as though we are seeing more yellow and less green these days on the NASCAR circuit. And since green means go, this is not a good thing.

It seems like every week there’s a new record for caution flags at this track or that track, and while most of these flags are legitimate, the yellow is being thrown more frequently for smaller and smaller issues. At the rate NASCAR’s going, if some poor driver sneezes, the yellow will come out for him dropping fluid on the track. Certainly, NASCAR needs to continue to monitor racing conditions carefully, for safety’s sake, but they need to curb their urge to unfurl the yellow flag at every hint of a problem.

Once an occasional slowdown, yellow flags are now becoming a distraction from the real racing that should be going on under the green. Used to be, if a car brushed the wall but continued, the race remained under green unless there was significant debris in the racing groove. Recently, however, the caution lights have flashed as soon as sheet metal met SAFER barrier. Sure, it helps that guy get to pit road, but it also takes away from team strategy and artificially boosts competition. Cars that would have been 1 or 2 laps down with an ill-handling car before the first green flag pit stop now get way too many chances to fix their car while staying on the lead lap, as over half the races this season haven’t even gotten a green-flag pit stop in with all the yellows.

At Atlanta recently, race control hit a new low when they threw a yellow flag just because Elliott Sadler cut a tire. Sadler made it to pit road just fine, but NASCAR saw a puff of tire smoke and panicked. That’s pretty surprising in itself because unless things have changed in the last week, NASCAR monitors can monitor teams’ radio traffic. Sadler had to have known he’s cut a tire, and he most likely told his crew chief, too. So why wasn’t NASCAR listening? As a columnist and not a NASCAR official, it’s not my place to say. But what I can say is that moves like that are setting a far worse perception of the sanctioning body than even the one of poor competition.

Sometimes it seems like the caution flags are awfully well-timed, which leads to talk, fair or not, about NASCAR using the caution flag as a tool to play favorites, to help certain teams. Especially when those flags are for incidents that may not have caused a yellow flag in the past, to many fans (and some media) it does seem like they help certain drivers more than others. This only increases a perception among many fans as it is that think the sanctioning body already bends over backwards for some teams in other areas of the sport. If the caution comes out just as one of those teams is about to go a lap down, or is in position to get the free pass, and a caution flag flies for debris or tire smoke, it looks to the conspiracy theorists like more than mere coincidence.

Whether or not NASCAR has a hand in tweaking the outcome of races, the perception that they do could prove far more damaging than the perception that long green flag runs are boring. Look no further than the sport of baseball in Chicago, where it took a franchise almost a century to recover from the image that was tarnished by allegations of fixing the outcome of the World Series.

What NASCAR needs to do here is twofold. First, they need to be less heavy-handed with the yellow flag. Throw it and throw it quick if a car spins and crashes or catches fire. But if a car brushes the wall or cuts a tire or emits a wisp of smoke, take a deep breath and assess the situation before bringing out the pace car. Listen to team radios. If there is debris, or the danger of oil from an engine failure, then act in the interest of safety. Second, when it IS necessary to have a caution period for debris on the track, make the exact location and what the debris looks like known on the radio. Why? Because not only do fans in the stands listen to race control, so does the television network covering the race. It would give them the opportunity to locate the offending debris quickly with their cameras. Sometimes, those of us watching at home need to see it to believe it. But this issue needs to be addressed by NASCAR, and addressed soon. “Boring” finishes brought about by long green flag periods will be forgotten soon enough. A reputation yellowed by the tarnish of playing favorites and manipulating races could linger on far longer.

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Mike Alexander
11/09/2005 08:46 AM
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amy, they throw the cautions to tighten up the field. It stinks, but they won’t stop doing it. They control the outcome of the races to some degree, and that stinks too.

Cheryl
11/09/2005 09:23 AM
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I’m SO glad someone, besides me, is speaking up about this trend. There were so many bogus cautions at Atlanta (starting with the Sadler incident), I ended up calling it the Competition Caution 500. NASCAR used to adamantly claim they did not call competition cautions. Funny, I haven’t heard that claim in the last 5 years or so.

Mike
11/09/2005 10:12 AM
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I’ll agree 100%. Unfortunately, most “fans” only watch CUP. If you will notice, the same is happening in the CTS. The #1 truck is gettin’ some pretty good breaks with timely yellows tooooo. GO SETZER!!!!

Frank R
11/09/2005 10:38 AM
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I don’t know why there hasn’t been much talk about the following issues as major contributors to the increase in caution flags (and laps): I strongly feel the combination of the “young(er and younger) guns” (read inexperienced) and the the introduction of the new (read stupid) impound rules which eliminates practice after qualifying and the opportunity to improve car handling greatly affects the quality of the racing.

We all know practice makes perfect (so we lose there), and we also know that in order to qualify well (if you’re not guaranteed a starting spot – another dumb rule), you need a set up that probably is not a good race set-up. Result: we get gyped out of top quality green flag racing. Agree?

Jeff
11/09/2005 11:39 AM
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Sometimes I believe they throw the yellow after a green flag run because the field’s spread out and the TV people are whining about the ratings dropping as the field spreads out.

Randy
11/09/2005 11:47 AM
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This trend seems to be carrying on at the short tracks as well?

Henry Mullen
11/09/2005 12:38 PM
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They should not throw the Yellow until someone hits something. If someone spins-out but does not hit the wall or another car, let the race continue.

Harry
11/09/2005 05:56 PM
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TRUE! Nazicar “Bosses” want to control the outcome for their “favorite Sons” with Bogus caution flags-it’s been going on for years-it’s all about control and Favoritism! Nascar is more like other “Big Money Controlled ” “Shows’ such as WWF & Roller Derby!!

Kathie
11/09/2005 10:12 PM
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I have grown used to the “debris” cautions, they come too often when NASCAR decides that one of its golden geese needs help. I might actually believe that there is debris on the track if they would show it to me when this happens. Also if there truly was debris on the track every time they threw the yellow, that would mean that maybe the track workers are not doing their job in cleanup. Think about how many times we have been watching a race, when the commentators will try to figure out what piece of equipment or sheet metal the cameraman has honed in on, when NASCAR apparently gets wind of it and throws a yellow about 3-5 laps later, if at all? And the time they waste with the caution laps, there have been way too many of these this season, depending on the mess they have to clean up,

they should consider throwing a red versus a yellow flag if they are going to waste all those laps.

Kent
11/10/2005 08:47 PM
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This has been a trend that is gradually dulling the races, making them longer, and ruining some of the strategies that make the sport so interesting. I went to Michigan race in August and they threw the yellow flag when a car brushed the wall. They sent out the track crew because of debris, but, they NEVER stopped and picked up anything! We don’t need yellows to increase competition, or give chance to high publicity drivers to fix their problems, nor races lasting 3 or more hours. STOP them before they ruin NASCAR like baseball ruined itself with long boring games.

Ted
11/11/2005 10:05 AM
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Why don’t they just call them TV timeouts. It seems with the money networks pay NA$CAR they can show more commerecials doring caution periods.

danny
11/11/2005 08:47 PM
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when the 8, 48 or 24 or 99 are running bad look out for cautions cause they are comming fast. for the stupidest reasons, if we are gonna have 2 hrs of commercials and 1.5 hrs of racing at least give me split screan so i don’t miss the real yellow flags and heaven’s to betsy if we see pitstops. or the 1st couple of laps under green after the tv timeout

 

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