The Frontstretch: Racing To The Point: NASCAR Plays Dumb With Debris by Brett Poirier -- Tuesday November 12, 2013

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Racing To The Point: NASCAR Plays Dumb With Debris

Brett Poirier · Tuesday November 12, 2013


I want to give a call out to NASCAR officials for spotting that piece of tape in Turn 4 with 31 laps to go in Sunday’s race at Phoenix. The tape was outside the racing groove, but it easily could’ve rolled down the track and taped all of the cars left on track together the next time they came through that corner. It would’ve been like that movie Stuck on You, only with cars.

Tower, I think I see something in Turn 2. Should we throw the flag?

It could’ve been a catastrophe.

Sure, the tape bottled up the field and changed the outcome of the race, but do you know how sticky that stuff is? I got some of that invisible tape stuck on my finger the other day while I was wrapping a gift, and thought I was going to have to take a ride to the hospital. Luckily, we have the best of the best in the tower making calls on when the yellow flag should fly.

On lap 100, these experts noticed when Joe Nemechek slid out of the groove in Turn 3 and almost hit the wall, but didn’t. I can only assume the caution was called to make sure none of the rubber Nemechek kicked up stuck to the wall. Maybe that rubber slides down the wall later on, collects the tape and a cigarette butt and — well, I can’t even imagine. These guys in the tower are proactive, always three steps ahead of us.

You were probably thinking why did the caution come out for Nemechek leaving the racing groove? Shows what you know. A better question would be, if NASCAR’s going to throw a caution every time a car leaves the racing groove, then why are they throwing cautions for debris outside of the racing groove? By the time someone hit that piece of debris, wouldn’t the caution already be out? I assume they’re ahead of me on this one, too.

NASCAR officials weren’t this proactive 25 years ago, not even 10 years ago. There used to be spins, where the spinner would get back going in the right direction and the caution never flew. Cars sometimes went up and kissed the outside wall, and they all just kept racing. Even when cars slid out of the groove, stayed in control and touched nothing, NASCAR did nothing. They’ve come a long way.

Technology has come a long way, too. At some tracks, there are cameras literally installed in the track surface. There are cameras everywhere they need to be, so that if there is a wreck, or even a piece of debris, we always get a great shot of it at home (unless there really isn’t debris). ESPN spotted that piece of tape in Turn 4 immediately and the team of Allen Bestwick, Andy Petree and Dale Jarrett concluded in a matter of seconds that it was in fact tape, most likely from the rear of Danica Patrick’s machine. That team goes through a lot of tape.

The ESPN team recognized that the tape wasn’t much of a real threat, so why didn’t NASCAR? If pressed about it today, I can pretty much guarantee that NASCAR vice president for competition, Robin Pemberton, would say it’s because NASCAR didn’t know what the debris was exactly. It seems that even with all of these cameras available, even at some of the sport’s smaller tracks, officials can’t tell the difference between a sandwich bag and a German Shepherd. That’s what they want us to think anyway.

Pretend the cameras don’t exist for a second. If an official spotted a mysterious object in Turn 4 at a one-mile track such as Phoenix, couldn’t they figure out exactly what kind of debris they have with a pair of binoculars? While technology has drastically improved, NASCAR would like us to think that debris is a constant mystery. That way there is always an excuse to throw a yellow flag and tighten up the field. Is that a water bottle or a cylinder head? Is that a Fritos bag or a rear spring? They just can’t tell. It could be sitting on the track logo in the infield grass, and it’s a threat. If Richard Petty’s hat falls off on the No. 43 hauler, throw the yellow just to be safe.

That’s what it’s all about, right, safety? Safety is always a safe answer because only the heartless would call safety into question. Maybe that tape would’ve wrapped itself around the whole field and caused an 18-car pileup, but I’ve yet to see it happen. I also searched through various media outlets’ reports of the race. I’m yet to find one that calls the tape caution into question.

I want to give a call out to NASCAR officials, who have created an art form out of playing dumb. They’re so good they have us all imitating.

Contact Brett Poirier

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11/12/2013 07:55 AM

So what’s worse?

“Spingate”? OR….

Nascar itself throwing debris cautions for nothing but to manipulate the race? (Which they’ve been doing for years)

Until someone talks or video/audio comes out, then Nascar can justify it. Even though we all know it’s BS.

Fans have known about phantom debris cautions for years and early on it was laughed at. Not anymore.

It’s WAY past time for the Nascar media to get the story on this.

11/12/2013 08:15 AM

These phantom debris cautions come out so frequently now that if a race runs for more than 50 laps one has to wonder if the guys up in the tower have fallen asleep.

11/12/2013 08:58 AM

Really? A full column about debris? Isn’t this just another kind of debris?

Carl D.
11/12/2013 09:17 AM

Todays Nascar Math Lesson….

The size of debris on the track is equal to the distance between the first and second place cars divided by the number of laps left in the race.

11/12/2013 12:01 PM

first i laughed as i found the article amusing. then as i thought bout it, i remembered how sad the state of it actually is. nascar is between a rock and a hard place and it’s of their own doing. seems like among other things, in the interest of keeping “competition” equal, they’ve mandated themselves into an ugly spec racing car that goes fast but can’t pass and is running mostly on tracks that amplify the problem. i can’t see anything else they can do to solve the problem of boring races in the short term besides bunching up the field several times through out the race. I see the real problem as no one seems to be smart enough or willing to fix the problem in the long run. so it’ll be business as usual as long as dollars are rolling in to the sanctioning body.

11/12/2013 01:56 PM

My question for NASCAR is simple: if you can be counted on to ‘reset’ the race throughout and again near the end, why should I watch the first 3-4 hours?

11/12/2013 02:32 PM

I have no problem with NASCAR having a low standard of “debris” just be consistent about it. Don’t have a yellow a piece of tape, but then hold off for oil all over the place (e.g. Watkins Glen 2012).

11/12/2013 03:08 PM

That’s why you tape the race (no pun intended) and only watch the last 30 minutes, illogic.If you think yellows are bad on ovals, you should watch this clown act on a road course. I went to Montreal one year and the Wallace kid kept spinning out in the hairpin, into the grass then back onto the track. They kept doing a full course yellow when the only thing needed was a yellow at the hairpin. Its almost funny to watch, they are so predictable and of course the majority of the Nascar media types don’t want to make waves so they don’t say anything. How silly.

11/12/2013 04:23 PM

Since brain fart france took over the reins of nas$car about ten years ago, this series has sunk like a turd flushed down the proverbial toilet. The chase has been nothing but pure manipulation from the beginning. Fans have been leaving in droves for years, yet the farce continues. When Monsieur debris makes an appearance in a race these days, it’s usually calculated. The lower series’ of nas$car have become tainted too. I don’t watch a nationwide series race unless it’s a stand alone race. Why bother watching the other 27 when you know a cup driver is going to win. Ultimately the joke will be on nas$car.

Brian France Sucks
11/12/2013 09:26 PM

Rise in phantom “debris” cautions in last 10 years.

Brian France takes over 10 years ago.

Racing is now, stale, boring, and predictable.

No correlation here….

11/13/2013 01:11 AM

Ah, one of the many problems Nascar thinks we are too stupid to notice…hhhhhmmmm.

Bill B
11/13/2013 07:49 AM

I’ve been beating this drum for a long time. IMO, fake cautions undermine the legitimacy of the sport more than any other factor

Joe C.
11/13/2013 10:59 AM

Yesterday I watched the 1989 race from Phoenix on youtube. One thing I found really interesting was that Sterling Marlin’s car caught fire leaving the pits under green. Sterling stopped the car on the apron inside turn 1 and got out. The car was sitting there burning, and no caution was thrown. They actually were putting out the fire and hooking up a wrecker while the race stayed under green. I’d say a burning race car is a legitimate piece of debris, and I was amazed that they stayed under green with this going on. Things sure have changed, and not for the better.

The race was also a hell of a lot better than anything I’ve seen in 2013 for sure.

11/13/2013 02:13 PM

With under 50 laps to go, Nascar knew it had a problem. Going to Homestead with the championship already decided would be very bad for the pocketbook.

So in an attempt to tighten things up, the tape caution comes out to hopefully help Kenseth. It didn’t work and it actually made the points wider when it was all said and done with Edwards running out of fuel.

As a fan who is sick of the Chase and the boring racing, I hope the ratings tank for Homestead so it will be another step closer to changes being made.

11/14/2013 01:05 PM

I recall Mark Martin and Dick Trickle talking about the tracks they raced being littered with debris and even mentioned having to dodge parts such as alternators and suspension parts while they raced as cautions were hardly ever thrown for that. Now we throw the caution for what can clearly be seen as duct tape. Pathetic.

I realize that the cars are holding up better than they have in the past so the attrition rate has dropped but I don’t think it’s a wise idea to use “debris” cautions to create “drama”, (after all, it’s technically a sport not a movie).

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