Amy Henderson · Tuesday November 8, 2005
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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