The Frontstretch: At Daytona, Bruton Smith's Caution Suggestion Dominates Discussion by Phil Allaway -- Friday July 6, 2012

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On Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, it was expected that the hot and humid weather (temperatures for the first practice session were around 90 degrees with high dewpoints) and the slightly revised cooling regulations were going to be the main subject of discussion during the press conferences. Oh, were we wrong.

Tony Stewart, for example, was very brief in regards to the package. After describing practice as “uneventful,” he stated that the only thing that had really changed since the Daytona 500 was humidity and temperature. Everything else is the same.

Most of the other drivers didn’t talk about the package at all, with the exception of Greg Biffle, who it seems will not be pushing at the end of Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 since he can only go a mile before pushing out water.

Instead, a significant amount of the discussion was based around Speedway Motorsports, Inc. Chairman O. Bruton Smith’s comments last weekend about requiring mandatory cautions in order to spice up the show. On Tuesday, our own Bryan Davis Keith wrote that just the notion of this shows the kind of position that NASCAR is in right now. The drivers aren’t really for it.

Carl Edwards was one of a number of drivers quick to point out that stock car racing doesn’t lend itself to producing a “Game 7” moment every weekend.

During his press conference on Thursday, Carl Edwards spent nearly 15 minutes talking about how he was uncomfortable with the whole idea.

“From a competitive standpoint to me, auto racing is auto racing. That’s what it is,” Edwards said. “Its not gonna be a Game 7 moment every race. That’s what makes some races great. To me, if you start affecting the competition like that, that is analogous to stopping a basketball game if the score gets too far apart and putting the score back even.”

Edwards continued on to state that it is better for races to play out to their natural conclusion. Maybe some people wouldn’t like that natural conclusion, but oh well. He stressed the notion that having scheduled cautions would take something away from the sport.

Denny Hamlin was also against mandatory cautions, but for a different reason.

“I’m more in favor of the green flag runs,” Hamlin said. “It allows…the drivers to be in control of their tire wear, to manage their equipment and car. I think when you have mandatory cautions, what can happen is everyone just drives as hard as they can every single lap with no disadvantage to wearing out your equipment. That takes the driver out of the equation even more.”

Hamlin also stressed the notion that having mandatory cautions, especially late in races could be quite dangerous since drivers would be willing to take risks. There would also be a high likelihood of “fluke winners” and “fluke champions,” thus diluting the importance of winning.

Hamlin brings up an interesting point. The idea of “fluke champions” has been floating around ever since Brian France brought the Chase into Sprint Cup for 2004. There have been multiple drivers who wouldn’t have won their titles unless the Chase has been in play. This irritates a number of fans.

Edwards also pitched a rather interesting solution that would eliminate the bunching up of packs during yellows and preserve advantages. I should preface this by saying that he understood upfront that a lot of fans would not like this.

“If auto racing wanted to move towards something that kept real competition alive, you’d throw a caution and take note of where everyone was on the race track, you’d like them up like that from a standing start and you’d throw the green flag again,” Edwards said. “That way, if a guy’s got a 100-yard lead, he starts with a 100-yard lead.”

As far as I know, NASCAR has never had a policy like that in the past. However, it is fundamentally similar to the yellow light system used at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the 1970’s. There, drivers were told to pace themselves under yellow so that they would reach lights installed at intervals around the track when they were displaying the same number. The idea is that no pace car would be required after the start of the race unless something really extraordinary was required, and that gaps would be preserved. Ultimately, such a system didn’t really work because it actually hindered rescue crews in the event of wrecks. Eventually, USAC reverted to a traditional caution setup. Such a system as Edwards described would probably create a bunch of other problems.

For Brad Keselowski, the situation is a little bit different.

“I can see what [Smith’s] trying to say,” Keselowski said. “I think, as a sport, we have to decide who we want to be. I think we’re in a little bit of an identity crisis. The tendency right now is that everyone is looking at football and seeing the huge ratings, all the success that they’re having and we’re trying to emulate them.”

“I think that there are good things about our sport that makes it better than the stick and ball sports,” Keselowski continued. “There are other things about our sport that make it less entertaining and not fun to watch. What we need to do is embrace the things that make our sport great. Sometimes, we try so hard to fix the other aspects that we lose grasp of the things that are great.”

As for potential changes, Keselowski talked a little about how the schedule could be changed. He also went on to talk about the lack of a true rookie class and how just having that back in play would make the sport more enjoyable to watch. However, Keselowski also stressed that NASCAR has a long history of luck playing a huge role in what happens and that we have to be very careful.

Even with the aspects of the sport that could be changed, Keselowski did point out positive aspects of the sport. For example, NASCAR has very little criminal activity. Yes, Jeremy Mayfield has been a one man headline machine for the last three years, but other than him, you don’t really hear about anyone else being thrown in jail for anything. Prior to Mayfield’s shenanigans, there was Aaron Fike’s heroin issue. We haven’t heard much from him since he was arrested. However, for the number of people intricately involved in the sport, the police blotter is surprisingly thin.

Not every driver was ready to write Smith off, though. For Jeff Gordon, was somewhat amenable to the proposed move.

“TV time outs. I don’t see why we shouldn’t have some TV timeouts; I’d rather have that than some mysterious debris caution to be honest,” Gordon said. “To me what its all about is letting the race play out and sometimes that can be the most exciting finish. You just don’t know.”

Gordon actually got even more radical and suggested the idea of heat races, field inversions and 50-100 lap shootouts. His reasoning was simply because that was the type of racing he grew up on in Indiana and that he finds such racing quite exciting.

I can’t ascribe to Gordon’s ideas. Let’s face it. This is not a Saturday night Broadway Bro Down. This is the Sprint Cup Series. I want to sit and watch a long race on a Sunday afternoon (or Saturday night). I’ve been doing that for over 20 years. Now, I might not be all that opposed to heat races (heck, the Izod IndyCar Series did heat races at Iowa recently). Qualifying at Daytona and Talladega literally takes as long as the races do. NASCAR seems resistant to even allow two Cup cars to qualify at the same time even though they’ve done it in the Camping World Truck Series.

Sprint Cup Series races are not necessarily sprint races. Heck, neither are Nationwide races when you really think about it…they do 200-mile races at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Hardly anyone does that. Sprint Cup has always entailed endurance. They don’t really publicize it, but its there. We’re talking about a series that used to do 500 miles at Dover, 500 miles at Rockingham and even 500 miles at Riverside in California.

NASCAR does have a lot of good things going for them right now. However, I cannot ascribe to completely throwing the current setup upside down in some kind of nutty quest for ratings. I’m not a fan of multiple sprint races over a weekend. As much as I like the V8 Supercars, this isn’t V8 Supercar racing. Plus, they have their own problems. I don’t want stupid cautions for nothing. That irritated me watching the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown last year (if you remember, it was kinda a joke to the commentators). That whole race had the air of making things up as you go along. All I ask is that a good race is put on, a good telecast is provided to our fans, and that everything’s on the up and up. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

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Henry
07/06/2012 10:54 AM
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Yes, (sarcasm) even trying a halftime (ONE TIME) would end NASCAR racing as we know it, and look out for those 747’s falling out of the sky too!!!

DoninAjax
07/06/2012 06:58 PM
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The only people who don’t like “natural conclusion” are Brian France and his toadies. Drop the green flag and let the best car win. Naturally.

Sean
07/07/2012 11:37 AM
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“As far as I know, NASCAR has never had a policy like that in the past.”

The Craftsman Truck Series had halftime breaks its first few years which everyone seems to have forgotten about, so it’s not like there isn’t a precedent…

I’m not for this, but Jeff Gordon certainly has a point that if you’re GOING to have fake cautions, at least it should be announced. He’s probably saying that because of this year’s Dover race, which he really should have won…