Full Throttle · Mike Neff · Monday June 11, 2007
Mother Nature has really had it out for the Nextel Cup series this year. Three of the last six races have been postponed due to rain, and this weekend's event should have been the fourth. While it seemed there was no way the track could get dried in time, during the four and a half hours of rain fill NASCAR doesn't start a race unless they are confident that they can get the entire event in for the fans’ enjoyment and to do their best to run the advertised distance. Well apparently, that was not taken into consideration this weekend. It was evident, to me at least, that the entire focus was to get to the halfway point of this race and call it a day…and I don’t think it’s entirely fair.
There was no way, looking at the history of the race, that any of these cars under the gun were going to complete 500 miles without so much as a shred of daylight available. Simply put, the race was not going to take the green flag until 5:00 or later Eastern time. Looking at the race over the last seven years, it never ran faster than three hours and 29 minutes. The average time for the event is actually three hours and 47 minutes, which would put the finish time for this race, with a 5:00 start time at roughly ten minutes until 9:00. Well, there is no way they would run a race that late into the evening; once they decided that they were going to start on Sunday after 5:00 that they were going for the half way mark and then see what else they could get.
Knowing that NASCAR was shooting for the halfway point of this week’s event, it was ridiculous that they did not throw a caution flag for a flat tire on Jimmie Johnson's car. In case you were living in a cave this Sunday, Johnson’s left front tire blew coming out of the Tunnel Turn – throwing debris everywhere at a point in the race where they should have had 275 miles left if they weren’t also racing Mother Nature. After that, It was blatantly apparent to all involved that NASCAR knew the rain was coming, and that they were going to get the race to the 101st lap, whether it meant compromising the safety of the competitors or not. NASCAR has been bashed quite often in recent history for throwing unnecessary caution flags, and yet, in this instance, they had a situation where the No. 48 was spewing debris all over the track, and they refused. On lap 50, Robby Gordon had the exact same situation, a left front tire down and not spinning, sparks and debris showering all over the race track…. and the caution flag flew immediately. With the kind of debris that was being thrown on the track by Johnson's car, it is certainly a great possibility that there were metal fragments that could easily cut down a tire, and heading into turn one at Pocono is not the place to have said tire go down, to say the least. Yet, the debris was ignored and the track stayed green.
Well, there was no question that the rain was coming on lap 96 when some of the competitors began reporting that they were noticing raindrops beginning to hit his windshield. It is not the first time that NASCAR has let a race go on for a little while with a light sprinkle hitting the track, because A) the Darrell Waltrip vortex might very well take over, and B) because the motivation and desire to move on was overwhelming. However, in this instance it did not, and the rain began to intensify. There was noticeable precipitation falling before the race got to lap 101, and yet NASCAR left the competitors on the track, barreling into turn one at nearly 200 miles per hour with moisture on the surface. Ryan Newman was quoted after the race that he tried to dive in on the tunnel turn on the next to last green flag lap because that was the only location on the track that was still dry.
Now, it is certainly an inconvenience for NASCAR to have to delay or postpone a race; it is also a hassle for fans that have to get back to work on Monday, or who don't have hotel reservations for Sunday night. But forcing a race to get to halfway for the sole intent of making it official and getting out of town is not what the fans pay for or tune into the television for. Sunday's race was like kissing your sister. You are kissing a girl, but you can't enjoy it, because she's your sister, and something is missing. The end of the race left us all feeling that way on Sunday, especially because there was plenty of potential there for some great stories. Denny Hamlin had a dominant car and Martin Truex was certainly strong. Could Hamlin win for the third straight Pocono race, or could Truex go back to back? We'll never know.
Was it a good event in the end? Certainly it was, and from Pocono standards, probably one of the better ones in recent years… but it could have been so much more exciting. If they'd have thrown the caution for Johnson and then red flagged it before lap 101, we could have seen an entire race finished up the following day.
Instead, thousands of fans at both the track and watching TV get to see everything jam-packed into one afternoon. Another race in the books. Meanwhile, everyone on the crews appeared to breathe a sigh of relief… drowning out a deafening crescendo of boos in depreciation for a race that seemed to be over as soon as it finally got started.
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