Brett Poirier · Monday October 21, 2013
Fans absolutely hate when races end under caution. There is something unfulfilling about a driver leading a single-file parade across the line at 55 mph — slower than you drive down the interstate — to take the checkered flag. We want to see drivers earn victories. It’s the same reason we get upset when races are won on fuel mileage or if there is a daylong monsoon just past the halfway point.
When the caution flies in the final laps, we expect a green-white-checkered, even if it means mixing up results, throwing off fuel strategies and putting our favorite drivers in the middle of chaos they might not make it out of.
But once in a great while, ending a race under caution is refreshing.
It’s refreshing when it’s the best possible outcome. It was on Sunday at Talladega. While it was unfortunate that Austin Dillon and Casey Mears both took hard hits in their two-car accident on the backstretch during the final lap, that wreck may have salvaged the rest of the field, and maybe some fans as well. Jamie McMurray crossing the line at 52 mph to take the checkered and yellow flags was one of the best finishes I’ve seen at Talladega in recent memory.
It certainly lacked the drama and circus value of traditional Talladega finishes, but that was fine by me. Let’s look at the alternatives: Last fall, the caution flew and the race ended while leader Matt Kenseth was still in Turn 4 on the final lap because all that was left behind him were piles of bent sheet metal and shaken up drivers. Or it could’ve turned out like Saturday’s Camping World Truck race where Justin Lofton broke his thumb, Miguel Paludo slid down the frontstretch on his roof and Kyle Busch crushed the inside wall that didn’t have a SAFER Barrier in a 12-truck demolition derby.
After seeing that truck finish on Saturday, who would’ve thought the Sprint Cup race would end as quietly as it did on Sunday? With 30 laps to go, the front pack looked like a bomb ready to explode at any moment, but then things settled down, cars got single-file and most everyone decided, “I just want to finish in one piece.” Why else would they all stay tucked in line, feathering the throttle until the final lap? Do you really think the driver in ninth or 13th really thought they were going to go to the lead on the final lap? They didn’t. Instead, they settled — settled for not risking the end-over-end flip down the frontstretch or the Paludo roof-slide, or even worse the Kyle Larson, “I’m going to throw my motor in the grandstands.”
None of that happened. I wasn’t sure it was possible. Drivers settling and the nearly perfect last lap crash prevented what ESPN advertised all week as the inevitable. The only thing that would’ve made it better was if Dillon spun down the track off Turn 2 and saved it as the caution lights went on. We all know it takes more than that for NASCAR officials to throw the yellow flag on the final lap, though. Sunday’s wreck was just enough.
For the fans who showed up or tuned in hoping to see a melee like they saw a day earlier with the Trucks, I sincerely hope they were disappointed — disappointed enough to not tune in the next time around or show up again for that matter.
It’s bad enough that the best drivers this country has to offer are thrown into what Dale Earnhardt Jr. correctly referred to as a lottery in NASCAR’s playoffs. Why do we allow a lottery to decide our champion, anyway? If the rest of the final lap was completed, maybe officials are left trying to determine how many positions Matt Kenseth’s car carcass finished behind Jimmie Johnson’s.
“Well technically Mike, Kenseth’s hood is ahead of Johnson’s right-front tire, even though the majority of Johnson’s car is 500 yards ahead.”
People tune in for that kind of carnage. Talladega’s two races will probably both land in the top-five highest-rated NASCAR races on television this year. Yet Martinsville will get half that rating next week. Nothing embarrasses me more as a race fan than that — more than Brian France, or the Chase, or this year’s Chase scandal. I can’t stand how many race fans tune in for sparks, fire and cars crashing into the fences above the walls, and that they believe putting restrictor plates on 43 cars and watching them run on top of one another is racing.
I bet those same fans weren’t on YouTube showing their friends at work the finish to Sunday’s race. They should, though, because what happened on Sunday has become something much more rare then the aerial display we normally see. Only two cars were in the “Big One,” no drivers were hurt, and as far as I know, the sheet metal stayed out of the grandstands.
What a finish.
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