Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday March 1, 2007
There is a danger lurking in the shadows at your local NASCAR track. It's more dangerous than a flipping, burning racecar. It's more insidious than a soaked tire. It's scarier than Jimmy Spencer in a Speedo. It's…Invisible Debris!
Yes, race fans, Invisible Debris is everywhere! It could be lurking in Turn One, ready to devour an innocent tire. It might be on the apron in Turn Four, waiting to jump into the racing groove and wreak havoc when we least expect. It could even be on a straightaway, biding its time, waiting to maim an innocent racecar. Obviously, NASCAR must take the road of caution when dealing with such a hideous beast. After all, it could strike at any moment, rendering a race "exciting" and "a close battle" on the track. Yes indeed, NASCAR had better be cautious with this hideous threat!
Yeah, right. And I have a really nice bridge for sale in a great neighborhood at an incredible price. A few years ago, when the yellow flag flew for a debris caution, there was actual debris on the race track, like a brake rotor or half a bumper. I know… that's amazing! Once upon a time, you could actually see debris!
But over the last three years, something has happened. Debris has apparently gained the remarkable ability to will itself invisible at any time, posing a threat to all who race across its path. Good thing we have NASCAR officials with super powers who can see the Invisible Debris and throw the yellow flag before it can strike.
Either that, or someone's bored. It isn't me. If you believe the scuttlebutt, it isn't most fans. It can't possibly be the drivers – they're busy! Maybe it's that Brian France, head of all that is NASCAR and supreme dictator to its minions. Maybe he really does have the attention span of a kindergardener.
The problem has been spiraling out of hand for the last three years or so. Since late 2005, it's been even worse; let someone work hard enough to have a great car and build up a lead of more than a second or so, and you can bet your socks the yellow flag will come out with NASCAR claiming debris. Some fans are claiming "conspiracy" when the debris caution is displayed when certain drivers are leading, or need a caution to have a shot at the win. I don't necessarily buy that. I think it's just that NASCAR is so afraid to lose one fair weather fan should a race be won by a large margin, they feel pressured to throw the yellow. Never mind, of course, that the margin the leader built up probably came from hours of preparation and the driver working his tail off in the car. According to the powers that be, that is now "boring" and what fans want to see (gotta love being told what they want to see) is the field bunched up and a lesser car stealing the win.
NASCAR has robbed Casey Mears of his first win not once, but twice when Invisible Debris reared its ugly head. Never mind that the debris in question was a spring rubber so far out of the racing groove that someone would have had to wreck to hit it; it was there, and fans were bored with Mears' big lead (or something). The yellow flew, and Mears was a sitting duck with any pit decision he had to make; helplessly, he was passed by Greg Biffle, who won his thirty-seventh race at Homestead. How predictable. To my mind, watching Mears get his first Nextel Cup win was excitement…but NASCAR tells me otherwise. That, they tell me, would have been too boring. Um, okay. You just go right on believing that, NASCAR.
This week's Invisible Debris caution with 23 laps to go was even more questionable. None of the television cameras could find it. None of the drivers reported seeing it. But NASCAR said it was there and threw the caution, erasing Jimmie Johnson's lead and virtually robbing the reigning champ of a win. Even Johnson, who is possibly the most politically correct person on the planet, expressed his doubts after the race. "We had a nice comfortable lead," said Johnson, "and the wonderful debris caution came out. If anyone has seen the debris, I would like to know where it was. I didn’t see it either…there were five trucks looking for it. It did seem like there would be one coming, to be honest. I hate it and wish it didn’t take place, but I think we all saw it coming."
The last statement is the most telling. The race leader was expecting a caution was coming. So, either Johnson has x-ray vision, or NASCAR decided we were bored and presto! Invisible Debris on the track waiting to attack. Darn that stuff anyway. Darn the race leader for being so critical. Doesn't he know that Invisible Debris is a terrible threat to race car drivers everywhere?
Of course, in the wake of a race where several spinning cars, including one upside down and on fire, were not enough debris for a caution, this makes NASCAR look even worse. Shockingly enough, though, there's a fix so easy for this problem even my cat could have figured it out. Send the cleanup crew out and have someone stand there and point out the debris to the TV cameras. That is all it would take, because real debris is dangerous if it cuts a tire. But NASCAR has failed to do that on numerous occasions, leaving fans to wonder…who's really bored?
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