The Frontstretch: Voices From the Heartland: NASCAR Deems That Allmendinger is 'Expendable' by Jeff Meyer -- Thursday September 24, 2009

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A lot has been said this past week about the timing of the last caution flag that flew on the closing lap of last Sunday’s race. The controversy started as A.J. Allmendinger’s No. 44 spun on the frontstretch during the white flag lap. Meanwhile, Mark Martin and Juan Pablo Montoya continued to battle for the lead as Allmendinger sat dead in the water in the middle of the track. It wasn’t until the field was in the middle of Turns 3 and 4 that NASCAR finally gave up hope that A.J. could refire his car and they finally threw the caution. After all, NASCAR is all about safety, right? Wrong!

“We were waiting to see if [Allmendinger] could get going and get out of the way,’‘ said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, as he explained NASCAR’s hesitation. “You wait as long as you can to try to not affect the outcome of a race. We don’t like the race to end under caution.’‘

Even after the caution flew, effectively freezing the field, the racing didn’t stop.

“Somebody came up there and ran into the back of me,” said Martin as he remembered a Daytona 500 victory that slipped away all because he followed the rules. “And of course I went back to accelerating. I knew the race was supposed to be over, but I’ve done lots of stupid stuff, and I didn’t want to lose this race.”

Mark Martin and Juan Pablo Montoya continued to battle for the lead on the last lap at New Hampshire when NASCAR was slow to throw a caution for the stalled car of A.J. Allmendinger.

Ironically, it was this very race, at this very track and an incident that involved Dale Jarrett, that prompted NASCAR to make a major rule change in the name of ‘safety’ back in 2003. In case you don’t remember, here’s how it went down.

Jarrett wrecked coming out of Turn 4 and was left sitting in the middle of the track. The yellow immediately flew, but guess what? That was back in the days when there was still the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ and racing back to the line under yellow was allowed. Unfortunately, there were no ‘gentlemen’ on the track that day and as the leaders came back to the line, Jarrett narrowly missed become the hood ornament of the leader’s car. NASCAR meanwhile, still stinging from the death of Dale Sr. barely 2 years before (all because they were loath to spend money on existing safety technology, namely SAFER Barriers), decided that something must be done to prevent the possible death of another of the sport’s superstars and thus the “Lucky Dog” rule was born.

In fact, back then (2003), NASCAR was quite adamant that safety was their number one priority.

“We have monitored and continually discussed internally the situation regarding racing back to the yellow throughout the season, and have reached the conclusion that it is time for us to take this step,” NASCAR President Mike Helton said. “We will eliminate the practice completely and no longer depend on the gentlemen’s agreement by the drivers in an effort to further ensure the safety of the competitors. We needed to find a better way to do it rather than racing back to the yellow, and the new procedures we are putting in place are the first step in the process.”

A few days after Helton’s statements, a Q & A session was held to further explain the new rules and NASCAR’s position. Series Competition Director, John Darby was one of the main speakers. One of the questions asked was whether the new rule was a direct result of the incident involving Jarrett in the (then) 88 car.

“I think it’s not a secret that we’ve been discussing options to racing back to the caution flag for probably a year, if not more. We wanted to continue and have all the faith in the drivers that they could still manage the gentlemen’s agreement properly. The situation last week at New Hampshire was probably one of the largest reasons why we knew we had to react,” said Darby.

Another question asked back then, one that is more apropos to last Sunday’s race was; Has NASCAR considered letting the drivers race back to the line under yellow on the last lap of a race?

“We can’t be guaranteed that the same situation that could happen on lap 15 won’t be there on the last lap. So as far as the caution being displayed and the cars slowing down and maintaining positions, it’s our feeling right now that we need to apply that to every lap of the race,” said Darby.

Here we are, six years later almost to the day, and what do we have? You got a car dead on the frontstretch of the last lap in the race. You got NASCAR waiting until the field is entering Turn 4 to throw the yellow and when they do, you got the leaders refusing to lift or slow because of NASCAR’s past ‘judgment’ calls! So much for NASCAR’s “concern” for safety!

Of course, even back in 2003, Mike Helton left NASCAR with an “out”, as any good spin doctor would.

“We will monitor and evaluate the new procedures and fine-tune them if needed as we move forward.”

I guess we’ve seen their “evaluation and fine tuning.” In their eyes, a No. 44 (Allmendinger) is only HALF of a No. 88 (Jarrett) and therefore expendable.

Stay off the wall,

Jeff Meyer

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wcfan
09/24/2009 03:49 AM
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I remember many times since they quite racing back to the caution that there was a spin in the back of the pack and nascar quickly threw the caution, I also remember nascar black flagging drivers who did not slow down fast enough. Many I would say were trying not to get hit in the back.

The Turnip
09/24/2009 08:41 AM
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As I’ve stated many times, and as you very succintly stated!

NA$CRAP ONLY TALKS SAFETY, it does not promote it!

Kinda like the IRS saying their taking our money for our own good!

Now who would believe that?

But then again, I am “THE TURNIP”, you know, the fan that is supposed to believe everything NA$CRAP does is well and good without question!

glenn
09/24/2009 10:58 AM
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Oh the safety-crats are whining again. We raced to the caution for 40 years but now because they actually try to finish a race under green were gonna cry about it? If they throw the yellow and the race finishes under caution these same whiners would talk about a snoozefest with an anti-climactic ending. Every driver has a spotter, none dove into turn 3 without knowing that AJ was there. Quit whining, it’s racing, it’s a little dangerous. I guess all these safety-crats would advocate completely eliminating T-Dega from the schedule, huh?

Jeff Meyer
09/24/2009 11:54 AM
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To Glenn,
I personally have no problem with them racing back to the line, and I never did. The point of the article is to show the blatant hypocrisy of the sanctioning body.

glenn
09/24/2009 12:17 PM
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Jeff, Cool, I wish some others in the media would print that. I get crazy when I see “safety” thrown around all the time these days.

Fred
09/24/2009 01:12 PM
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I think not racing back to the line when a caution is thrown has been one of the biggest downfalls when it comes to the excitement of a race… especially when weather may shorten the race.

But not getting into the for or against the Lucky Dog rule, this past week’s fiasco can easily be summed up in one word “inconsistency”. If NASCAR hesitated to throw the cautions all the time, then what they did would have been fine. But they usually throw the yellow as a car is still spinning, even if it does a complete 360 and continues on. You heard the scanner chatter… it sounded like every spotter thought that they couldn’t see the yellow flag, or something was wrong because they were all expecting the yellow almost an entire lap sooner. I don’t think the outcome would have been any different, but it would have avoided the chaos on the radios… and will keep drivers foot in the gas that much longer from now on, not knowing if NASCAR is going to hesitate to throw the flag.

Once again, NASCAR finds a way to screw things up.

Kevin
09/24/2009 01:43 PM
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I applaud nascar for waiting and not throwing the caution instantly. They figured (as did most of us, I’m sure) that Allmendinger would be able to get going again and everything would be fine by the time the leaders got back around. They clearly waited too long, though. Maybe they need to set a specific rule in place for that…something like, if Allmendinger or another driver in that situation has not started moving again by the time the leaders are 10 seconds away from that point, then throw the caution.

The Turnip
09/24/2009 05:23 PM
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How about just doing it the way the rules are written? (at least I think NA$CRAP has rules),

A spin on the final lap or so causes a yellow, then the race restarts with the
“green/white/checker”!

Help me out folks! Isn’t that the way it is written? And haven’t we seen plenty of G/W/C finishes before?

Why wasn’t this brought into play in this situation?

This dumb TURNIP wants to know!

AND! Lets go one step further! NA$CRAP has had installed AT ALL TRACKS, a multitude of “scoring loops”, so they can tell EVERYONES POSITION when, for example, a yellow flag comes out!

This system is used to detrmine either re-start positions, or finishing positions!

SO! Their failure, or reluctance to throw the yellow flag in this instance borders on criminal!

HELP!

No wonder Mark Martin “raced” back to the start finish line, because the powers to be at NA$CRAP don’t have a clue how to run a race! At least according to the rules as we know them!

Once again that ugly word rears it’s ugly head!

CREDIBILITY!

Keith
09/24/2009 09:28 PM
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Turnip the rule for green white checker is for any lap except the last lap when a driver takes the white flag and a yellow comes out the race is over and they go to the scoring loops. Na$car has always had it’s problems but they have really shown up since Brian France and his YES MEN have taken over and made fast decisions with out any thought about the ramifications his dad and grandfather always thought about the changes they made even if we did not like them they usually worked because they did not rush into things.

djones
09/24/2009 10:14 PM
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Why is it that NASCAR will throw a yellow when a car safely spins (no way of getting hit), but not when a car is sitting in the middle of the track? Last lap or not, the yellow should have been thrown sooner.

And what BS Pemberton is spewing. Didn’t want to affect the outcome of the race. Why, I want to know, were there three yellows for debris that no one saw?

I believe this as much as I believe I will win the Daytona 500 in 2010.

 

Contact Jeff Meyer

Recent articles from Jeff Meyer:

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