The Frontstretch: Should Debris Dictate The Outcome Of The Chase? It's Coming Close by Thomas Bowles -- Monday October 12, 2009

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Should Debris Dictate The Outcome Of The Chase? It's Coming Close

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday October 12, 2009


Race procedure is the manner in which an event is conducted. It includes… flagging … In addition to interpreting and applying these rules, NASCAR Officials are authorized to make such other determinations or take such other action as they determine to be necessary to promote the best interests of stock car racing, including but not limited to fairness and prompt finality of competition results. Section 9-1, NASCAR Rule Book

Flipping through the rulebook, that’s about as specific a section you’ll get on what can cause a caution flag in this sport. Like all officiating in any form of race, dictating track conditions is tricky business — especially when a change to the final outcome is at stake. Any caution flag not thrown for a wreck which blocks the racetrack or a raging downpour can lead to serious criticism.

Especially when it’s thrown in the final 15 laps of a playoff race. Such a caution was the talk of the town Sunday, whether drivers and crew preferred to talk about it on the record or not. Let’s start with some facts:

Fact: There was a noticeable black piece of debris on the backstretch, which looked like a chunk of rubber. It was certainly more than a water bottle, and easily seen by the naked eye.

Fact: It was reported by several drivers before the yellow flag was thrown.

Fact: The caution was the eighth such flag of the day. Four of them were for debris, tied for the second-most this season (only Dover had more) at a track known for follow-the-leader, parade-style racing during long green-flag runs.

Fact: It’s the second race in the four-race playoff there was a caution inside the last 25 laps for debris. In both situations, the leader had a seemingly insurmountable lead that wouldn’t have been overcome without a mechanical problem or some sort of freak incident on the track.

Everything else beyond that is pure speculation and opinion as to whether NASCAR should have thrown the yellow. But there’s a strong argument bunching up the field was in the sport’s best interest in a snooze-inducing race, one where Jimmie Johnson was putting a whoopin’ on the competition and hitting cruise control en route to taking over the point lead unchallenged.

As you might expect, that chunk of rubber caused comfort to turn to concern, as the No. 48 wound up under attack by a handful of challengers right on his bumper for a double-file restart. With the supercharged playoff atmosphere, everyone fought for everything they could get after the field restarted with just 12 laps to go. That led to aggression the likes of which we hadn’t seen in the first 450 miles; and like the old saying goes, “Cautions breed cautions.” When the smoke cleared, no less than four Chasers were involved in two wrecks which all but ended their chances for the title, part of a mess in which 11 total cars got a piece of the wall or another competitor. The second one was so severe, most of turn 1 got blocked, forcing a nearly 22-minute red flag for track crews to clean up the mess. A race that looked nearly over by 7:00 EST instead lasted until 7:30, digging into ABC’s prime-time schedule before ending just before its four-hour mark.

When the smoke cleared, Johnson wound up unnerved by the late-race rubbing – he won by 1.6 seconds over Jeff Gordon – but there were certainly plenty of frustrated drivers and crews staring at their crumpled sheet metal afterwards. It’s the type of circumstances that provide a rare forum nowadays in NASCAR, one where the political correctness is dropped for raw emotion from a day gone bad.

And trust me, people had plenty to say.

Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle’s wreck would have likely never happened if a debris caution didn’t bunch up the field, leading to two major wrecks over the final 15 laps of the race.

“It was kind of a strange day there at the end of the race,” crew chief Pat Tryson said, whose driver Kurt Busch fueled the first wreck after smacking the wall on a Lap 239 restart, collecting Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle in a wreck that knocked them both out of the top 10. “It’s just the way that these races seem to go. (NASCAR) seems to throw cautions during the race, it is what it is. We got jumbled up.”

Kahne wasn’t quite as forgiving. After wreck #1 threw him back in the pack, just eight laps later his car was junked after getting caught up in an eight-car melee that destroyed every one of Richard Petty Motorsports’ four cars.

NASCAR threw a debris caution for no debris,” the frustrated Kahne said. “We had a bad race to get a caution to put a show on for the fans.”

That wreck also involved Dale Earnhardt, Jr., hurt the most by the two late-race debris calls in the Chase. At New Hampshire, he had a top 5 run in the bag before the yellow and subsequent restart, where he got tagged by David Reutimann and knocked out of the race. This time, it was Elliott Sadler hitting the back bumper of the No. 88, turning a battle for a top 10 finish into one where he was simply trying to keep his composure during what’s been a trying season.

“We are doing whatever we can to stay positive,” he said in refusing to acknowledge the issue in his only public comments. “We had a top 10 car today, and it’s unfortunate that a lot of good cars got tore up there at the end.”

Others couldn’t be quite so cheery. For Biffle, his momentum from a near-win at Kansas got torn away in little more than the blink of an eye.

Or a piece of … whatever.

“It probably took us out of the hunt,” he said of his future championship chances. “You know, it’s not over ‘til it’s over, but that really hurt us.”

So in a cruel irony, NASCAR’s call to remove debris – done in the interests of safety – instead caused carnage far worse than the off chance someone hit that debris and cut down a tire. Yet for everyone’s loss, keep in mind there’s someone else’s gain. You won’t see David Ragan complaining about a late-race yellow: he used the last three restarts to turn a 15th place car to a 7th place runner at the finish. John Andretti won’t complain to you, either; he had a car barely keeping pace that wound up in 19th, on the lead lap, due to the lucky way in which the cautions fell.

So why call out a caution for debris in the first place? The first thing officials will tell you with debris is that it’s important to minimize risk in order to keep their drivers safe. No one wants an undetected hazard to lead to serious injury, and sometimes it’s obvious: how can you avoid a metal bumper lying in the middle of a track, for example? Yet not every situation is so clear-cut, and being picky has its consequences: how small can you go before it crosses the line between safety and pure manipulation?

“It’s frustrating when you’re leading and pulling away and they say debris caution,” Juan Pablo Montoya admitted after the race. “It could be simple. It could be a screw.”
“In Bristol, I had a flat tire from a washer, you know, with 20 laps to go. What can you do? Nothing. It is what it is. So I don’t know.”

It’s the old debate of whether to be safe than sorry; but in a subjective situation like this one, it’s always an easier decision to make when the entertainment factor of making that call shoots through the roof. That’s why any movement for change would actually come with you, the fans, and whether you feel shaken or stirred enough to take issue with these choices that err on the side of caution. Because in the beginning of this column, we left out two simple facts:

Fact: The last 15 laps were the most exciting of the race.

Fact: The loudest cheering from the grandstands came during that time.

What’s interesting is in both situations – New Hampshire and California — the leader at the time of the debris held on to win the race. But what if that doesn’t happen at another race down the stretch, and those points win or lose the title?

It’ll be interesting to see the reaction then. But one thing’s for sure: when you’re leaving the track talking about the debris more than the racing itself, Auto Club Speedway has its share of work to do in order to hold everyone’s interest.

Tom Bowles is now on Twitter! Click HERE to become a follower… even though he’s still learning how to use it (be patient on that one!)

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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Bad Wolf
10/12/2009 02:34 AM

I remember back in the day Nascar would radio the teams and tell them there was a peice of debrie on the track and where it was and let them keep racing. At a track like California that’s what should have been done since it is wide with multiple grooves and the cars were spread out and single file.

Pure manipulated racertainment.

10/12/2009 03:24 AM

Why doesn’t nascar do something about the drivers throwing the water bottles out of their cars, I’ve seen 3 or 4 drivers do this, and a number of caution thrown for these bottles.

10/12/2009 07:01 AM

When a mild-mannered guy like Kasey Kahne is calling NASCAR out, you know he’s not the only one who feels that way about it. I wonder if NASCAR is going to whoop on him like they did with Tony Stewart.

The Turnip!
10/12/2009 07:53 AM

As I have stated, many, many, times before, it is a matter of CREDIBILITY!

When NA$CRAP throws all those yellows for that “phantom debris” throughout the season, then when they do REALLY need to throw one (a yellow for debris), NO ONE BELIEVES THEM!

I simply don’t know if it was a piece of rubber, or anything else, and I don’t know if it really required a yellow flag!

What I do know, is NA$CRAP ALWAYS plays games with the yellow flag, and thus creates their very own problems when a “real” piece of debris shows up!

CREDIBILTY my friends, it is all a matter of CREDIBILITY!

And as we all know, NA$CRAP HAS ZERO!

10/12/2009 09:30 AM

I left nascar for several years before…and I’m considering doing so again. This is too much.

10/12/2009 09:31 AM

fact: 2007 daytona 500 cars were wrecking everywhere on the last lap. clint boywer was upside down with cars still charging at him at close to 200 miles an hour. no caution.

fact: a few weeks ago in loudon aj allmendinger was turned 90 degrees just off turn 4 and unable to fire his engine. cars were charging at him at over 100 mph because nascar didn’t want to throw the caution and waited until the very last second causing an extremely unsafe situation.

nascar’s credibility is really in the toilet as far as im concerned. it’s a complete insult to our intelligence to try and force us to believe they threw a caution with 15 to go for safety reasons.

btw… did anyone hear jimmie johnson with claire b lang in victory lane? he completely backed kahne up and didn’t see any reason for a caution. even the most politcally correct corporate pitchmen are having a tough time swallowing this one.

10/12/2009 09:57 AM

I bet if someone looked at the past races they would find a 100% tally on the number a “debris” cautions thrown when the fuel window is up for the last stop of the race. It is like clock work. The announcers talk about how drivers will have to make green flag stops or run out of gas before the end and bam, invisible debris. NA$CAR seems to have one every race in the 40 – 20 to go window. There is no racing. Just going in circles, biding their time, waiting for a yellow to make a move. It really sucks eggs. Total manipulation.

10/12/2009 10:13 AM

Did anyone watch the Indy car race at Miami on Saturday night? 200 laps and NO CAUTIONS! What a concept! They let the race play out and other organizations should too. The F1 race had a piece of a car on the track just out of the groove into a corner and they kept it a local yellow until a TRACK WORKER went out during the race and got rid of it. There will never a caution-free race again in NA$CAR until King Brian is gone.

10/12/2009 10:44 AM

Why aren’t the teams required to mark their water bottles with the car numbers like they do the tires? I’m sick of water bottles causing cautions that change the outcome of races and nobody is ever held accountable.

10/12/2009 11:37 AM

I’ll bet Vince McMahon of the WWE has been hired as a consultant to NA$CAR.

Mike in Floyd Va
10/12/2009 12:19 PM

If the rules were actually enforced for the drivers throwing debris (water bottles) on the track to cause an intentional caution, we’d either see it stopped or we’d be seeing a lot of big name drivers being penalized. But that would affect the outcome of the phony play-off system that doesn’t work and we can’t have that happening. Heavens forbid the WWE on Wheels actually had to abide by their own rule book. The drivers might actually have to race.

10/12/2009 12:54 PM

I’ve seen a number of Grand-Am Rolex Series races in which there was a piece of debris on the track—sometimes a very large piece—and the drivers simply race around it. Granted, oval racing is different and sometimes a caution for debris is warranted, but most of the time it is not. We say these are the best drivers in the world…shouldn’t they have enough skill to maneuver around a water bottle or a piece of rubber?

10/12/2009 01:43 PM

Just for the record, Ryan Newmsn ran Dale Jr up the track tearing off the valve stem of his left side tire causing a flat. This caused Jr to lose momentum and Sadler got into him. This was a direct result of Newman driving like a bull in a china shop which he does every race.

10/12/2009 02:02 PM

It’s a wide track and the drivers are good; they should be able to avoid debris. After all, NASCAR doesn’t throw cautions to clean up the “marbles” every few laps, and those are probably more treacherous.

I’m glad someone mentioned the Indy race this weekend. No cautions, only three cars on the lead lap, but easily one of the best races I’ve seen this year.

10/12/2009 02:16 PM

I like Ann’s idea.

Matthew Sullivan
10/12/2009 03:12 PM

For what is supposed to be a professional level of racing, it’s pretty funny that so much stuff falls off these cars. I rarely see debris fall from cars at my local hometown track. Of course, fans and drivers know what these “debris” cautions are all about. Fans need to make their voices heard on this matter. These cautions help to manipulate the finishes of races. It makes the series less of a sport.

10/12/2009 03:43 PM

funny how so many of you actually think the debris is water bottles. lol. the in car cameras have been showing drivers tossing drink bottles out for years. they’re not waving the caution for those. they claim they’re waving it for actual debris. in yesterday’s case it was some sort of rubber.

also if you listened to claire b lang from victory lane jimmie johnson completely backed kasey kahne up. he had no clue why they threw the yellow. if there was something out there it was so far out of the groove that jimmie didn’t see it.

10/12/2009 03:56 PM

You have got to be kidding, what does debri have to do with how the chase is determined, that thing is already determined, hell you have about 7 tracks in 10 that Johnson just loves, this is the biggest joke in Nascar history, all I can say is if they think their ratings are bad now, just let Johnson win the set up title again. I for one will never watch or listen to another Nascar race as long as I live, and I have been a diehard fan since the 60,s To much like Wrestling now.

10/12/2009 04:20 PM

Curious as to why we are seeing more and more water bottles being tossed on the track the last couple of weeks.

PS…the Chase needs to renamed to “the Hendrick”

The Turnip!
10/12/2009 04:23 PM

hey Ginger!!

Say what? “A valve stem”???

So funny, go look at your tires on your vehicle! Do you think a valve stem can be torn out by hitting another car?

And the most important part is the valve stems on a CUP car are hidden even more than on your “street” car!

More TV garbage is all your quoting!


Listen to all the broadcasts! A CUT DOWN TIRE”???



Please stop repeating this TV CRAP!

Yep! With jr. it is ALWAYS someone else’s fault! If not Teresa, then his crew chief, whoops new crew chief, now it is another driver!

When will his excuses stop?

Richard in N.C.
10/12/2009 06:30 PM

In the future, if it is smaller than a loaf of bread, NASCAR should not call a caution until a member of the press goes out to the area of the track and makes the call, and agrees to be responsible for anyone hurt if the debris ends up causing a wreck.

10/13/2009 12:27 PM

LoL looks like the Turnip is clueless, how many races in the past do you see a car get bumped by another either with the splitter or something else and next thing you know the guy has a down or low tire and as a result pounding the wall. Obviously you don’t like JR but he raced a good race, raced from the back and stayed in the top 10 nearly 3/4 of the race only to get caught up in something that he did not create. Same type of situation for Biffle, running the lower part of the track and Kurt hits the wall and bounces off Kasey and keeps on trucking and Kasey and Biffle are toast. Valve stems get knocked off all the time during the season causing drivers to either smack the wall of lose a lot of positions.


Contact Tom Bowles

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