The Frontstretch: Racing to the Point: NASCAR's Manipulation Nearly Costs Vickers by Brett Poirier -- Tuesday July 16, 2013

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Brian Vickers nearly had a victory stolen from him on Sunday at New Hampshire, and it wasn’t Tony Stewart or Kyle Busch that would’ve been the thieves. They would’ve only been the beneficiaries. It was NASCAR that nearly robbed Vickers, had he not been able to make his car stick on the outside of a three-wide battle on the last restart.

Brian Vickers might be smiling today, but NASCAR’s late caution almost stole it from him.

The fifth debris caution of Sunday’s race certainly came at an interesting time as the field had spread out and Vickers was on his way to a historic win (when was the last time a part-time driver won on a non-restrictor plate track in Sprint Cup?) when the folks in the tower decided to pull some strings and tighten the field.

The debris from the last caution was clearly outside of the racing groove, but by calling for the caution NASCAR clearly felt it was a danger to the cars on track with five laps remaining.

I started laughing as I wrote that last sentence. The caution was pure manipulation, and it’s one of the main reasons there were 36 people in the grandstands at Loudon on Sunday.

Even if the debris was in the racing groove, could a caution be justified with five laps to go when everyone is tight on fuel? The point of the debris caution in the first place is to prevent a driver from cutting a tire, which could potentially cause an accident and impact the race. But if you tighten up the field into a double-file restart, toss out the advantages gained on track in the last run and make the cars run extra distance when they are already close on fuel, isn’t that screwing up the race much more than any piece of debris ever could?

If the excuse is safety, the chance of a crash is elevated about 350% in a green-white-checkered double-file restart versus the race finishing under green.

The last caution made about as much sense as most NASCAR decisions. And as NASCAR fans know, the debris dilemma isn’t anything new. NASCAR knows it can manipulate the race at any time with a debris caution because there are always small pieces of debris on track, whether it is a sandwich bag, elastic band, water-bottle label or the dreaded piece of rubber.

Mike Neff summed up Sunday’s debris cautions pretty well in his race recap on Frontstretch on Monday.

Neff wrote, “Racing involves speed and when objects are traveling at speed and they run into items that aren’t moving it can do damage to a car. However, the incessant cautions for debris that, at least based on what they showed on TV, was nothing more than large pieces of tire slag outside of the racing groove is simply frustrating for both fans and drivers. There is a constant stream of rubber coming off of race tires during events and sometimes it accumulates under cars and falls off in a large piece. It isn’t metal and it isn’t going to cut a tire. The sanctioning body needs to let the drivers race and stop trying to make the race track a pristine environment.”

The one aspect of that I would argue is whether or not NASCAR’s goal is really to make the track a “pristine environment.” It seems that is just the fallacy masking the manipulation to constantly tighten the field and create action-packed racing. I’d prefer the race to run its natural course. If Kurt Busch laps all but five cars on the way to victory, then so be it. The debris cautions, justified or not, created multiple strategies and kept 25-plus cars on the lead lap for most of the race. Vickers, who was a lap and a half down at one point, never would’ve contended for the win without them.

Five of the 12 cautions on Sunday were for debris, but one other yellow flag was particularly troubling. A caution was called on lap 120 after Denny Hamlin slowed on track with a flat tire. There was no debris at the time, and Hamlin wasn’t exactly stopped. He was moving at a decent pace. In the unofficial race report given by NASCAR, the cause of the caution was, “No. 11 slow on track.” Since when is that an acceptable reason for a yellow flag? Last week at Daytona, a multi-car pileup ensued on the final lap with cars crashing and debris flying and no caution was called, but one week later they are throwing cautions because a car slowed down a little?

I guess every lap that Morgan Shepherd attempted to run the yellow flag should’ve flown.

I attended Sunday’s race, and after six of the 12 cautions were called, me and the fans around me stared blankly at one another as we searched for reasoning. The fans watching on television had a leg up as occasionally the cameras catch the debris being lifted from the track surface, but a lot of times they don’t.

“Sometimes, some people are a little more needy than others and they want to see (proof of debris) for whatever reason,” NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton told FOX Sports reporter Jeff Gluck at Charlotte Motor Speedway in early 2012. “And whatever their thought process and beliefs with the governing body (are), they think they need proof.”

There is a reason fans want proof of the debris Robin, and it’s pretty simple — they don’t trust you. And with incidents such as the last caution on Sunday at New Hampshire, how could they? The actual racing takes too much of the brunt when it comes to why fans are leaving the sport. Manipulation by NASCAR officials, and an overall lack of trust in the governing body has played as big of a role as any.

Manipulation is a tricky, tricky thing. NASCAR does it to create closer racing, and in Sunday’s case, a climatic ending to a relatively uneventful race. It gives some fans a story to tell about a chaotic finish, and a reason to come back to Loudon in the fall. It gives other fans a reason not to come back at all.

Contact Brett Poirier

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
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Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
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Bill B
07/16/2013 06:54 AM

Man, thanks for saying what we all know. I hope NASCAR sees this (so they can ignore it).
I agree with you. I’d rather see one driver on the lead lap if that’s the way it works out than have fake cautions.

The double file restarts are pretty much the same deal. NASCAR realized that the racing sucked and it was easier to have double file restarts than fix the cars, tracks or tires. As far as I am concerned, the double file restarts are inherently unfair and also cause more wrecks and create more crapshoot endings.

07/16/2013 07:54 AM

Excellent article and right on point.

If Dale Jr. had been leading at the end you can damn well bet money that last caution would NOT have come out.

The fans can only do so much though…until the Nascar media starts putting some real heat on this stuff what’s going to change?

07/16/2013 09:31 AM

Most of these late race “Debris” cautions are when a driver that is not a “fan favorite” is in the lead. It has happend to Truex, Montoya at Indy no less and they tried it again Sunday. Why not announce at the drivers meeting if none of these cars are in the lead with 10 to go a caution will be thrown to get one of these guys a chance.

07/16/2013 12:52 PM

That was a big chunk of debris that set up the GWC, not like it was a beer can.

07/16/2013 02:03 PM

Good article. Robin Pemberton is a jerk – that comment about being “needy” was insulting and a cheapshot to the fans. If NASCAR didn’t already manipulate the competition, the fans wouldn’t WANT to see what caused the caution.

I don’t like the GWC nonsense either. It causes so many wrecks for no good reason and can wind up costing a driver who’s worked hard all day to lose out all in the name of “excitement”. If NASCAR would hire some better engineers for the race car instead of worrying about parity, the excitement would take care of itself.

07/16/2013 02:51 PM

Nascar fails to address the real issue on the track (poor unexciting racing) so they use the debris caution to try to make it exciting. Problem is, they think we are all stupid rednecks and can’t figure out what they are doing.

If you are a longtime fan and was watching Vickers lead towards the end on Sunday, you had to know it was coming. While I have my issues with some of the writers here, I’m glad at least one site isn’t afraid to take Nascar to task on this issue. Nice job Brett!

The Mad Man
07/16/2013 06:14 PM

I have been at the track and seen mystery debris cautions as well as a phony rain caution. Fans aren’t fooled by them. It’s NASCAR fooling themselves by thinking the fans are dumber than they are.

The product on the track is abysmal at best. The cars still don’t resemble the street counterparts. NASCAR still treats the fans with contempt. And the NASCAR-controlled media treats the fans like they’re mentally retarded. Fans know what’s going on and are tired of it.

The fans are showing NASCAR in the only way they know how that they’re tired of it. By not watching the races on TV or at the track.

BTW, great piece Brett.

07/16/2013 11:21 PM

Brett, great work as always. Robin Pemberton is a jackhole who has lost touch of why he has a position at the top of NASCAR competition.

Betweeen him, BZF and Ron Jeremy (Helton), the Three Stooges have destroyed what was a great product for fans and are manipulating the action like they are the McMahan’s.

That last caution screwed Smoke out of a top five finish and could have cost Vickers a victory.

For the ridiculous amount these networks pay to do a bad job covering races, gyro cams and the such, they can show us debris. If they cannot, then Jacques Debris it is and a loss of credibility.

Considering the lack of credibility NASCAR has at this point, I guess they don’t really care about the product or the fans.