The Frontstretch: Weird, Wacky, Wild : And Perhaps NASCAR's Latest Mistake by Thomas Bowles -- Monday October 1, 2007

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Weird, Wacky, Wild : And Perhaps NASCAR's Latest Mistake

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday October 1, 2007

 

Weird. Just…weird.

I spent the latter part of Sunday night trying to come up with better words to describe the most recent 400-mile race at Kansas Speedway; however, no amount of journalistic prose could excuse the feelings that - well, something strange just happened to the Nextel Cup Series this weekend.

Something I fear proved to be NASCAR's latest mistake.

At first glance, it would seem that the sport was simply Mother Nature's victim once again, especially on a Kansas prairie known for ferocious thunderstorms. As the race began under threatening skies, the first bout with weather wasn't so bad - just 12 laps in, a small shower pushed through that caused the race to be red flagged for just over 45 minutes Sunday. But the second, expanded weather delay that put a black cloud over several aspects of the race itself. A severe rainstorm, weather hit with such ferocity around lap 145 that the stands emptied completely, water was flying through the air sideways, and even cameramen were being pulled off the roof for fear of being struck by lightning.

As disastrous weather proved imminent, pit strategy was pushed to the forefront, eerily similar to a Pocono race in June that saw Jeff Gordon roll the dice on a gas mileage gamble en route to his fourth victory of the season. Stewart's crew chief Greg Zipadelli proved he sat back and learned from that, setting up a situation this Sunday that could have easily worked out the same way. By copycatting Gordon's old strategy - staying out on track while all other leaders pitted - the No. 20 team had the car out front when the rains came in earnest, forcing the event to be stopped. Once the skies started opening, the window of opportunity to run the full race started closing, creating a scenario that could have easily handed Stewart the winning trophy for the second straight year.

Sadly, that's where the 2005 Cup champ's luck ran out – and the Twilight Zone began. After nearly three hours of red flag activity on the day, NASCAR decided to force the race to go back green at about 7:00 EST…even though they knew there wasn't sufficient time left to complete all 400 miles. Standing firm on their pledge to deliver the fans as much of the race as possible when circumstances permit, it was an intriguing decision by the powers that be that offered up a variety of opinions…depending on whom you asked.

“I think that was an awesome call," said Jeff Gordon as the sun set behind him. Of course, he had little reason to complain; the extra laps gave him a chance to rally from 30th all the way to 5th. "I think NASCAR recognized what is going on in the Chase and what a disaster that was going to be (to not finish). I think that as long as there is daylight, they are going to race. I am sure there are some guys that disagree with that, but because of the wreck and some of the things that happened, from hey, from where I was sitting, there was only one call and that was to go back racing. Certainly, we are glad that they did."

Let's just say not everyone agreed with that assessment. The biggest problem with the "restarted race" appeared to be the confusion over the final distance. Instead of running a timed affair, the sanctioning body chose to try and work with an ending lap number, giving teams an adequate assessment of exactly how much racing would be left.

Turns out that number was a continual work in progress. It changed three times…from lap 225, to lap 210…to lap 210 with no green-white-checkered finish, leaving crew chiefs frustrated and unsure exactly how the race would play out. To be honest, the whole thing reminded me of when I would play video games with my younger brother when I was a kid. Whenever I lost, I couldn't swallow my pride and just admit defeat…instead, I just kept making up loopholes in the rules so I could say I won.

That same type of behavior seemed to emanate right from the NASCAR tower, as the decision-making brass appeared to make rules as they went along, mistake after mistake piling up as both darkness and on-track incidents caused gross misjudgments of time.

"Well, it's hard because you don't know (certain things)," NASCAR Vice President Robin Pemberton spouted out during an interview from the ESPN TV booth during the rain delay.

Except NASCAR did. They knew the time the sun set in the west at Kansas, and they also knew that track drying left them with less than an hour of green flag racing - not nearly enough to finish the final 120 laps or so of the scheduled racing distance. That seems to me the situation left them with two options: recognizing the importance of a playoff race and pledging to finish the full distance on Monday, or remaining consistent and calling the race due to weather, similar to what they do during the regular season.

In what's been a tough season for the officiating body, they did neither…and no one understood why. To make matters worse, a nasty wreck as the race restarted - again, no fault of NASCAR officials but ugly nonetheless – claimed three Chase contenders and ruined Stewart's day. A fender rub caused while attempting to miss that wreck led to a flat tire after a poor decision by Zipadelli to keep the car out on the track; the No. 20 wound up in the wall shortly thereafter, leaving a frustrated Stewart leaving the track without comment.

“I think whenever the rain ran its course, it really had things jumbled up for awhile there," explained Johnson afterwards. "But I think the craziness on track came when we went back to green and you had a lot of guys on the tail end of the lead lap. And then we had such a small window of time that everybody just started driving really aggressively."

That theory holds water; at the time of the major storm, Stewart, Bowyer, and Kevin Harvick were the only Chasers remaining in the Top 10. Others who had dominated the race - Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch among them - were trapped a lap down, standing to lose everything on the heels of pit stops made before the rain. Such a jumbled finishing order as a possible outcome likely forced NASCAR's hand to try and rectify things.

It's just too bad they didn't know how to do so. But alas, the Twilight Zone performance showed no signs of stopping anytime soon.

The race continued on, with a revitalized Greg Biffle establishing himself as a surprise contender up front. With the lap count dwindling, so was the fuel in Biffle's tank, and he stood to be the biggest loser once the caution came out for Juan Pablo Montoya's scrape with the outside wall on lap 206. Surely, a green-white-checkered finish would force Biffle to run out of gas; he was already projected to run out around lap 210.

Right behind him, hometown boy Clint Bowyer prepped for a high-energy finish. Up to second, he felt assured of a shot at a win; except, lo and behold, the Twilight Zone came up again. Apparently, darkness "prevented" a green-white-checker finish, causing the powers that be to run the advertised distance - and nothing more.

A few drivers defended NASCAR's call.

“I had to run with my visor up those last few laps," said fourth-place finisher Casey Mears. "I had a tinted visor on. I couldn’t see at all that last five ten laps, I just had to turn my visor up and then I could see pretty good. Obviously, it got dark quick, so it definitely was the way to call the race."

"When they said they were going to call it, I thought, wow," added Biffle in the post-race press conference. "But after I drove back by there (the back straightaway), there's all that stuff (left from Montoya's car) and we're still five, 10 minutes away from being able to go green again."

Of course, that's the type of situation that reinforces the idea of why time worked so much better than distance. You can't stop that type of yellow flag stuff from happening any more than you can the sun from setting in the West - and if teams had a time to adhere to, they'd actually have a way to strategize instead of focusing on a lap count that changed more often than the stock market fluctuates between 9:00 and 9:01.

Of course, as if all that weren't enough, Biffle clearly ran out of gas heading to the finish line. Slowing under the yellow, he crossed at virtually a crawl - causing the cars of Bowyer and Johnson to go by him, a move that actually led to the unprecedented announcement of Biffle declared the winner even though Bowyer's car had crossed the line far ahead of him.

"I was trying to save enough fuel to do burnouts and drive it to Victory Lane," began an explanation by The Biff that seemed as nonsensical as it was implausible. "So, I was steering with my knee and undoing my helmet, taking my seatbelts off and all of that and coasting down on the apron, and figured I was far enough along that I didn't have to - I had to grab ahold of the steering wheel and had all of my stuff unbuttoned, start back up or let the clutch out, drive another 50 feet and then shut it all back of again."

"So, I didn't really feel like it was necessary (crossing the finish line first). The race was over, the caution was out, we were declared the winner, all we had to do was come back around and cross the stripe. So, that's that. I could've passed the pace car, if you want. I can go start the car up and do some burnouts in the garage over here, do some doughnuts if that'll make everybody feel better about it. I don't know what to say."

The rest of his opposition felt a little differently; after all, they knew that the number one rule of racing since the dawn of time was that he who takes the checkered flag first is the race winner - as long as he didn't cheat. But in this case, there was the rare circumstance that the guy behind the one who crossed the line first broke the rules - yet, he's still going to make out with a win anyway.

"I feel terrible for Greg (Biffle)," He’s been working so hard to win a race and he was up there in position to win it," said Johnson of the strange ending. "But if you don’t maintain pace car speed, you don’t hold your position."

"It was clear to everyone that he couldn’t do it. If he could have, he would have stayed on the bumper of the pace car to the finish line."

Surprisingly, NASCAR chose to immediately reaffirm Biffle as the winner, giving hometown boy Bowyer the short end of the stick. To his credit, the New Hampshire winner took his defeat in stride; after all, there was so much weirdness going on it was impossible to pin defeat on one shining moment.

“I don’t know, but it didn’t look right," questioned Bowyer. "I don’t know what the rule is."

"It is just weird, very weird."

You're preaching to the choir, Clint.

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Dennis
10/01/2007 07:16 AM
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This is just the next play in a series of NA$CAR blunders. Nobody outside the fan base they have now are ever going to take this “sport” seriously with crap like this being presented every week. The failure that is the COT was highlighted again during the times there was racing between the clouds and between the commercials. NA$CAR’s TV ratings will continue to drop with crap coverage like this. 3 wide racing for the lead interrupted by a commercial??? Maybe NA$CAR demanded it since it is a near impossible feat to pass in the COT. Football does not break to commercial at the snap. Baseball does not as a player is rounding third. NA$CAR has nobody to blame but themselves for the rotten coverage. Want to broadcast exciting racing? Fire half the talking heads, tell the others to shut up, show more in-car views, track side views, the roar of the engines, not the bore of the broadcaster. Most of all put the rule book and the Officials under an independent body like the WUA. What we have now is a joke. Run by an idiot who can not admit his failures and correct them.

mmack
10/01/2007 08:27 AM
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Tom,

After reading the recaps that you and Matt wrote, I have a word to describe yesterday’s race:

Clusterf . . . Oh, wait a minute, if I use that word NASCAR will dock me 25 points and fine me $25K. :^)

Alexander
10/01/2007 08:42 AM
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I just need to vent a little! I was so disappointed with NASCAR’s many bad calls Sunday, that I have no intention to ever purchase another race ticket or any merchandise with an affiliation to NASCAR! I have had it with their “new rules as you play” format. I have been a fan for over 25 years, but no more! I will still be a fan of some of my favorite drivers, but wont support NASCAR in any form or fashion from now on. And they have the stupidity to wonder why their ratings are dropping off. I will be a local dirt track supporter and sponsor from here on out! Maybe we could get a rich backer to start a competitor to NASCAR series? If it we had a series with consistent rules and provide some real door-to-door racing they would sell me tickets and merchandise. Any billionaires interested? dalexander20@sbcglobal.net

Nikki
10/01/2007 09:42 AM
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I’ll try to make these comments as brief as I can: As a fan in the stands, I, along with the thousands of other fans who stood through the 2+ hour soaking rain delay, greatly appreciate NASCAR running as much of the race as possible. These drivers get paid to race and we pay to see them race. How many times do we hear the drivers say “We do this for the fans”? If this is true, then NASCAR made the right decision.

Ending under yellow flag: The right decision. It was getting dark very quickly. The cleanup and a green-white-checkered finish would have taken too long. The way it was, it was already too late. Much like the track, the parking areas have no lights except for the lights on the streets nearby, which were hardly enough to light the entire parking area. We left as soon as NASCAR declared Biffle the winner, before the whole “controversy”, and by the time we got to our car it was pretty much pitch black. Had they waited it out and the thousand of fans who stayed waited it out too, it would have wreaked HAVOC on the parking lots. The way it was, I’m sure there several hundreds who stumbled around in the dark trying to find their cars.

Several crews/drivers were commenting that it was just too dark and even someone on Bowyer’s frequency commented that they either shouldn’t or probably wouldn’t go back to green. Bowyer himself even said he couldn’t see the debris on the backstretch because of the darkness. For the safety of the competitors and the fans, it was probably best that it ended as it did.

As for Biffle’s “controversial” win, I think people need to get over it. I thought as long as the car crosses the start/finish line under its own power, that driver is still considered the winner – and his car was not pushed.

While it wasn’t an ideal situation, I think NASCAR made the right decisions.

Jeff
10/01/2007 10:26 AM
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Dennis,

I realize that you must get your boilerplate complaining out of the way but they weren’t even driving the COT. Did you even watch the race?

Mark
10/01/2007 10:29 AM
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No one could put the Kansas race into better perspective than Jeff Gordon . “ i think that was an awesome call . Nascar recognized what was going on in the Chase and knew what a disaster it would be not to restart the race “ . Gordon believes the restart was to benefit the drivers who were caught a lap down and once again give us a phony finish . I’ll take Jeffs’ word for it .

Richard L
10/01/2007 11:12 AM
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For those who buy the “pace car speed” theory by Johnson/Gordon/Bower, doe that mean in any caution if you slow down to scrub your tires you can be passed even with the yellow out? If the leader lays back on the restart can you pass before the green since the leader isn’t maintaining speed? I believe the rule is leader sets the pace speed.

M. B. Voelker
10/01/2007 11:14 AM
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Last year they called a race, Michigan IIRC (Kasey won), for rain and people complained bitterly when the sun came out before Victory Lane had even finished taping.

Today people are complaining that the race was restarted.

A couple years ago they tried desperately to run a Loudon truck race to the end as darkness fell. No one was happy about that either.

Two things:

1. People like to complain regardless of what Nascar does.

2. Nascar should require that no track wishing to be granted a Cup race may be without lights. Period.

Dennis
10/01/2007 11:44 AM
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Jeff, duh. Let me explain it again. Of course I watched the race, that is my point Skippy. This race highlights how much those slot car like COTs are inferior to the older style. The same facts remain week in and week out. Unless they address them the ratings and interest will plummet. Maybe your the type that can enjoy the presentation of a meal of dung without bringing up the fact your eating crap. You must be a sycophant NA$CAR apologist what with all your ad hominem Boilerplate attacks on divergent opinions.

Nikki
10/01/2007 12:18 PM
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M.B.: You hit the nail on the head with your first point.
I also agree with your second statement. Kansas has been trying to get approval for lights almost as long as its been around, and ISC wont approve it. Yet, Chicagoland has a year of declining attendance and ISC jumps to give them lights.

Ken in Va.
10/01/2007 12:21 PM
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They should have announce up front at all races without lights that the race will be over at completion of the race or precisely at sundown and the winner will be the leading car at that point. Doesn’t matter if it yellow, green or red flag. There will be no questions if the rules are spelled out up front.

sharon
10/01/2007 12:32 PM
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maybe if nascar went back to 1:00 starts, alot of this crap wouldn’t happen, also if nascar would stop making the rules as they go along, we wouldn’t have all of this confusion.

juniorbb8
10/01/2007 01:04 PM
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The day was screwed up from the beginning. They knew it was going to rain and should have started the race earlier. They have done this many times before. Then after they got 1/2 way and the monsoon hit they should have called the race. Guess they’re not Stewart fans. Then when they restarted it again they knew they didn’t have very much time before it was going to be dark. “Being too dark to drive” is a matter of opinion. I’m sure there were some who didn’t think it was dark enough to call it. Bonehead move at the end. Biffle clearly ran out of gas and Bowyer absolutely won the race. Montoya’s wreck was nowhere near the finish line so what they did at the end should not have happened. And you have to give the teams a specific amount of laps to run and can’t change it on a whim. I’m about disgusted with the way they dictate the winner of each race. They definitely don’t have their *#@& (25 points or 50 or 100 or whatever the hell they decide today) together.

Sgee
10/01/2007 01:14 PM
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I agree with Richard. Biffle would have crossed the finish line first if the guys behind him would have followed the rules. There is an actual rule that says “no passing” during a caution. If Greg would have come to a complete stop, then yes, they would have to pass him. However, he kept up a “reasonable” pace. He was moving.
I agree this race was messed up.
I was going to write and say they should have followed thier own rule of never starting a race unless they could finish it..but this is Restarting a race, so I guess that works.

Still, That was an odd race.

Brian France Sucks
10/01/2007 02:04 PM
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The missing Headline here is: NA$CAR morons chose to run Chase race at venue w/ no lights! And just when you thought the Daytona 500, Pocono, and Montreal were as bizarre as it could get, NA$CAR pulls a call out of their a$$es and gives Biffle the win after he couldn’t keep up w/ the pace car. Do these guys ever rule on anything consistently ? If there were lights, then there would be no problem. All races that are as important as Chase races need to be run at venues that have lights. Hey wait a second, Kentucky Speedway has lights, and also better racing than Kansas, which has no lights. But wait, isn’t Kansas a NA$CAR.. oops, an I$C track? Thought so.

Dot Jones
10/01/2007 02:10 PM
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@ Nikki,
How come ISC won’t approve lights when they own the track? I also agree with with Sharon about starting the races earlier.

Douglas
10/01/2007 03:32 PM
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Biffle DID NOT MAINTAIN PACE CAR SPEED!

PERIOD! CASE CLOSED!

If the other drivers would have followed the lead car, in this case Biffle, they ALL would have parked on the grass!

AndyPandy
10/01/2007 03:43 PM
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There is no rule about maintaining “pace car speed”. Under caution and up to taking the green, the leader sets the pace. Biff did, Biff won.

Michael
10/01/2007 05:27 PM
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If NA$CAR now says that there is no rule about maintaining speed under caution, why did they want to put Robby Gordon back in 13th spot after he was leading and got spun by Ambrose AFTER the caution came out during the Mexico road race. NA$CAR making up rules as they go along is a HUGE reason why they are losing their fan base on a weekly basis. This latest ‘ruling’ opens up a Pandora’s box the next time a race comes down to fuel mileage. Let’s say the leader’s car run out of gas right after getting the white flag at the next road race or a bigger track like Pocono and the caution comes out soon after. Is he still going to be the winner if he stops with a 1/2 lap to go to the checkers? No way – the winner has to be the one that completes all the laps first. By the way – Biffle saying he undid his safety belts and helmet before the end of the race should get him a fine.

Derrick
10/01/2007 05:38 PM
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Nascar’s latest and ongoing mistake in the last 8 seasons has been commited by the fans of Nascar who are not purist of the sport and only wish to see popularity;not performance rewarded.

ezrider714
10/01/2007 05:43 PM
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Hey andypandy
Ask Robby Gordon about the rule for maintaining pace car speed.
Or maybe that rule only was in place for that week.
Exactly what most of the complaints are about.

Nikki
10/01/2007 05:49 PM
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Dot Jones: I dont know the reason why ISC, who owns the speedway, wont give them lights…money, I suppose. The last time I remember them really talking about it, they decided to give them more seats instead. The biggest problem with no lights before was that the truck and IRL races were run July 4th weekend with sometimes 100+ temps. I guess they figured by getting IRL and CTS to move their race to April, there was no reason for lights. Good plan.

Scott Chatman
10/01/2007 06:05 PM
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A track with lights isn’t always the answer either. I was at Vegas in 2000 and Atlanta in the fall of 2002 when each race was stopped by rain. I remember thinking, “cool, I’ll get to see a night race…” NOT! NASCAR called the races and both times it was dry as we walked to the parking lot in the early evening. They used the lame excuse that it was a long day for the crews and it was time to go home. What about the people that PAID to see the race? We spend a lot of money on travel and overpriced motel & race tickets to have a race called that could have been run under the lights. Don’t we figure in to the equation somewhere? You can bet that everyone in the stands that stuck it out at Kansas on Sunday were glad they restarted and got to see a race for the win, not pit strategy and a red flag winner. They did blow the call with Biffle, though. Ask a guy that has been spun out after the caution flew about the “maintain pace car speed” rule. The pace car pulled away as Biffle slowed down. Clint Bowyer should have been in victory lane.

jamierustyfan
10/01/2007 08:03 PM
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At the truck race in Indy in July, the start time was supposed to be 8pm, but due to rain off and on all day, the race didn’t start until 10. But they made the effort to run the race and the fans that stayed were rewarded with an incredible race. Sometimes (and ONLY sometimes) NA$CAR gets it right.

 

Contact Tom Bowles

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