The Frontstretch: Green-White-Wreckers: An Action Detrimental To The Sport of Stock Car Racing by Vito Pugliese -- Wednesday April 28, 2010

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Following the finish of the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega this weekend – I’m sorry, the Aaron’s 532 – the general consensus by the media at large was that it was a fantastic race that validated a number of variables.

As much as some would downplay it, the spoiler was a rousing success. Not only did it maintain those two-car breakaways from the glob of cars running 200 mph (remember, the winged restrictor plate races produced the same phenomenon), it also appeared to prevent the aerial antics seen the past two events here; absent were the harrowing accidents involving Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman. Nary a rear wheel was lifted off the ground in any of the wrecks Sunday, much to the relief of spectators and PA equipment surrounding the 2.66-mile superspeedway. Additionally, Jamie McMurray wowed the crowd with an incredible late-race performance to the front. Despite a second-place finish, he has established himself as the man to beat at restrictor plate racing, now suddenly the Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – or at least the Michael Waltrip – of years past at Daytona and Talladega.

Also roundly lauded as contributing to another memorable moment at the biggest track on the circuit were the green-white-checkered finish(es) that made it possible for Kevin Harvick to sneak by McMurray in the final few hundred feet, in a pass nearly identical to the one executed by Brad Keselowski – and Regan Smith – in recent races at Talladega. The prime reason for the finish that we saw Sunday, however, is proving to be a double-edged sword for our sport, one that could very well cut deep should it continue in its current form: the green-white-checkered (GWC) finish.

The whole notion of the GWC rule was born in the Truck Series upon its creation in 1995. It was a series that was, in effect, a bit of a gimmick – take a Cup chassis and put a pickup truck body on it – a way for NASCAR and the manufacturers to take advantage of the burgeoning popularity of pickup trucks as transportation options for the public at large, as well as create another touring feeder series, in particular for tracks and drivers west of the Mississippi. With the amount of banging, beating, and bashing that went on, and in an effort to help create and maintain viewership, it was the green-white-checkered finish that was devised as a way to differentiate itself from virtually every other professional racing series in the world.

Incidents such as Jeff Gordon being pelted by beer cans after winning at Talladega have had long-lasting consequences, such as the implementation of green-white-checkered restarts to Sprint Cup events.

Following a few high-profile incidents with fan displeasure of Cup races finishing under a late-race caution, most notably Michael Waltrip at Daytona in 2002 and Jeff Gordon at Talladega in 2004, the GWC made its way to the Cup Series in 2005, and has become as much a part of our weekly racing lexicon as “Double-file restarts … Shootout Style!”

As of 2010, however, the term GWC has grown from trendy favorite to being long in the tooth – for things have gotten way out of hand.

So far, we are all of nine races deep into this season, and five of them have gone past the advertised distance, in the name of “giving the fans a good finish.” Sadly, in the process, the lengthy races have compromised the legitimacy of not only stock car racing, but also motorsports in general, as NASCAR is far and away the most popular and recognizable form of auto racing in the United States.

For a sport that is routinely criticized for making up the rules as it goes along, arbitrarily slapping another seven percent to the stated length of the event in the last couple of minutes doesn’t necessarily make for a compelling argument. Adding insult to injury, taking a look back at the races this year that were decided by the GWC, you will see that most have been at those hallmark venues which routinely host the most anticipated races, home to the most memorable moments in our sport’s history.

Prime example: The Daytona 500. Clint Bowyer led from laps 186-198 of 200, while Greg Biffle took the lead on 199. But two accidents on the ensuing GWC restarts cleared the way for the cars of McMurray and Earnhardt, Jr. to come from relative obscurity to finish the event first and second by the 208th, and final, lap.

Two races later in Atlanta, Kurt Busch survived a late-race restart when Elliott Sadler and “Maxis” Papis tangled, which led to a multi-car incident as McMurray went sliding backwards through the field on old tires, eventually spun in the midst of the field, and took out a number of cars running in the top 10.

Martinsville saw a day that Jeff Gordon had in his grasp, only to get slapped out of his hands by GWC restart contact from Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth. Two weeks later, Ryan Newman scored his first win over two years, courtesy of a car running mid-pack blowing a tire as Kyle Busch was preparing to take the white flag. The resulting finish led Busch to remark, “it’s not a race, it’s a show.”

One could interpret that as sour grapes – if he wasn’t right. Don’t think so? Consider this past weekend’s event at Talladega.

The race was advertised as the Aaron’s 499 – albeit a 500-mile event with the 188 laps needed to complete it. However, on this day it would require 200 circuits, as NASCAR now allows three attempts at a GWC finish. Why? Because it is important for races to finish under green, apparently with no regard to the number of cars that may be wrecked, drivers who could possibly be injured, or how laughable and questionable the outcome of the race becomes.

Though for an entirely different reason than at Kansas Speedway a few years back, Sunday again saw Greg Biffle riding the apron, desperate to keep fuel flowing to his engine.

As the laps wore on, just lengthening the race for a few short miles put every crew chief’s worst nightmare into play: gas mileage. With the time involved to clean up the results of “the gloves coming off” in multiple late-race incidents on Sunday, many cars, including leaders McMurray and Biffle were driving around on the apron, desperately trying to not run out of fuel they wouldn’t need to save if the race didn’t head into overtime. Never mind that there is another flag available to NASCAR – the red one – which is used to stop the field from circling, and is typically brought out when it is raining or the track starts falling apart.

If this method is available, might it make more sense to wave that flag should there be an incident in the closing laps, to make sure that the race finishes under green and within the specified time distance?

While many drivers involved in these late-race accidents were understandably agitated at the style of racing and actions forced to get up to speed on a restart, at least one who actually finished the race intact was less than enthused about it as well.

“I don’t think they need GWCs here,” Earnhardt, Jr. said following his 13th-place finish. “Maybe one is enough; it’s expensive. We’re in a tough environment economically, and I know it’s great for fans to see cars hit the fence and drivers climb out and everybody getting excited about the drama that brings … [but] it’s just not a good practice, I don’t think.”

Even Newman, who benefited greatly from the GWC two events ago in Phoenix, was nonplussed following his accident on lap 190.

“It’s the product of the racing here – or what happens here,” he said. “It’s not racing.”

For an event that is generally considered a lottery pick at best, rolling the dice a few more times for the sake of possibly making Sportscenter or your local newscast is hardly worth the risk, the expense, the potential for more accidents and injury, as well as the image and stock of NASCAR further devaluing itself to what it once was mockingly mischaracterized as: a demolition derby of drivers smashing into each other like Cole Trickle, Russ Wheeler, and Rowdy Burns. Wrestling with race cars, helmets, and fire suits was a common refrain when things began to run afoul of what organized competition should resemble, and we’re well past that point again already this year.

NASCAR already has the tools in place to help make sure races end in a timely and orderly manner. Should there be an incident with a handful of laps left, they can stop the race with the red flag, clean things up, and revert to the scoring loops to help set the field for a final restart within the stated time limit.

It seems many of us old schoolers are constantly harping on the same fundamental issues time and time again – NASCAR is not a stick and ball sport; we don’t need overtime. We didn’t need it for over 50 years, and things seemed to be progressing just fine. Not every race needs to be a photo finish — that’s what made close races so special to begin with. Taking three shots at just getting the race to completion gives credence to another criticism and accusation that often surrounds stock car racing; just keep restarting it until the driver they wish to see win does so.

Hopefully, in the process, somebody doesn’t get hurt, and the shred of decency that remains in NASCAR is not forever tainted.

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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
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04/28/2010 07:15 AM

GWCs: A knee-jerk reaction to fan’s (and the media’s) ignorant and overwhelmingly negative attitude toward the state of NASCAR.

Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

Maybe if folks focused on the good things in the sport, then NASCAR wouldn’t have to implement sideshow attractions to try and appease fans.

Watch racing for racing, with an open mind and stop reading and believeing journalists like Matt McLaughlin.

Vito – I like your stuff though.

04/28/2010 08:28 AM

G-W-C is NASCAR’s answer to other pro sports instant-replay… it’s all about tv; absolute el primo advertising time; that’s it… 15 minutes per G-W-C is a tv dream…

04/28/2010 11:40 AM

I couldn’t have said it better. Three GWCs is the product of confused minds of Nascar mgt. Why not 4 or 5? It’s insane. They pass it off as something that the fans want. Not this fan. It’s ridiculous.

Stephen HOOD
04/28/2010 12:43 PM

What’s the problem? I like that the race has to finish at full speed and NASCAR has devised a rule that attempts to accomplish a full speed ending. What is the difference of a top running car getting taken out in a green/white checker and getting taken out on a restart with 40 to go? Their day ends badly and the come back again next week to try again and maybe the rule works in their favor.

For me it creates a chess match that gives cars running close to the front a chance for a victory instead of the car with the best pit stall or with the best track position getting an instant victory. Maybe it is a bit contrived but no more so than most sports overtime rules (college football overtime games are often determined by the flip of a coin and the skill set of a kicker).

I like it.

Bill B
04/28/2010 12:45 PM

This fan doesn’t like GWCs either. It just makes the finish a crapshoot and makes the first 90% of the race pointless.

04/28/2010 02:25 PM

How about having them race back to the line instead of freezing the field for the last yellow?

04/28/2010 03:52 PM

Almost every lower level series in the country has a rule that a race must finish under green. It’s amazing the “best” drivers in the U.S have such a hard time with this.

04/28/2010 03:56 PM

The quote from Newman is accurate , but he was talking about the fact that he got turned around at a restictor plate race , not about the GWC .
It isn’t unusual for racing to go into over time to finish under green , many short tracks do it . Many racing series also use it . I know it must look different from the media center or one of the suites that free press credentials get you into Vito , but the fans spend enormous amounts of money to go the races . You must have at least heard how much tickets go for . Now times that by 4 or 5 for the entire family , then add motel rooms , gas , food away from the track , food at the track , and driver or event t-shirts , and you have a ton of money wrapped up . Now lets say you take the family to one NASCAR race per year . And of course the family has it’s favorite driver or team . After all of the money spent , the long drive , the anticipation of seeing your driver or team do well ( or just seeing anyone beat the Hendrick team ) does it sound like a family would be happy to see the race finish under yellow ? Even if their favorite was leading at the time ?? No , the fans want to see a race to the finish .
The important part of this is that in order to finish under green , the races may have to go beyond their advertised distance . By the way , remember the howling that was being done by NASCAR up till just a few years ago that races were legally bound to finish exactly on the advertised distance . My how things change . And of course there really needs to be a limit on how many attempts there are . But as to the GWC question , i haven’t heard one single Harvick fan complain about the GWC at Talladega , only ones complaining are the fans of drivers who only needed one more lap to get to the front .
And that brings me to the final point . The drivers and writers who love to whine about how unfair it is for a driver to lead most of the race and then get beat on a GWC . If a driver is good enough to be leading as the the caution comes out thereby requiring the GWC , then he should be good enough to stay out front until the checker . Gordon’s loss to Newman a couple of weeks ago was due to Newman outdriving him . Period .
The fans don’t have a problem with the GWC ( unless their favorite gets beat ) and the drivers and teams simply need to keep racing until the checkered flag falls . Now of course a solution would be for the caution to only come out for real caution stuations , not for harmless one car spins , or slides , or slightly brushihg the wall , etc. That’s what makes NASCAR look foolish in the eyes of the sports world in general . But how to stop NASCAR from the caution flag frenzy they always have … thats another column alltogether .

Kevin in SoCal
04/28/2010 04:17 PM

RamblinWreck said: “How about having them race back to the line instead of freezing the field for the last yellow?”

How about you pretend you’re a driver on the track, your car just hit the wall in a serious accident, and is on fire. To make things worse, you broke your leg during the accident and are having trouble getting out of the car. Remember, its on fire. Now, do you want the fire trucks and ambulance to have to wait for the rest of the field to cross the line and slow down? Or do you want the field slowing down right away so the safety crew can get to you quickly?

And, I was just fine with one attempt at a green flag finish. Three is a little gimmicky but I would rather have three than zero.

04/28/2010 05:20 PM

RamblinWreck said: “How about having them race back to the line instead of freezing the field for the last yellow?”

Do the words Dale Jarrett mean anything to you?
Why is there a lucky dog rule now?

Richard in N.C.
04/28/2010 06:08 PM

While I happen to believe 2 GWC’s should be enough, I do know that the cardinal rule of the media today is that whatever NASCAR does there must be something wrong with it – and, of course, in the mind (?) of the media what it thinks is far, far more important than what the fans think.

04/28/2010 08:02 PM

I didn’t like it from the beginning, and nothing has changed. All I does is get a whole lot of cars wrecked at the end of the race. You watch your driver notch what looks like a top ten only to see it taken away because of a rule that is a gimmick. If it stays there should only be one attempt. While I like most of the rule changes nas@car has has made recently I do not like this one. Orchestrated caos is the correct term for this rule.

04/28/2010 08:07 PM

Don’t get me wrong folks. This was a great race. I just think one attempt at a HWC finish enough. Three is overkill.

Brian from Indiana
04/28/2010 09:20 PM

Heck, why stop at 3? Let them go until they have a checkered flag winner. You have to have a cut throat attitude when going for the win. When I was racing, it didn’t bother me one bit to beat and bang on my team mates car for just one more position on the track at the end of the race. Put the sissys in the camper who don’t want to race for the win because as sure as I am typing this, there are 1000’s of other drivers that would gladly take any NASCAR’s drivers place, including me!!!

04/28/2010 09:21 PM

Kevin in SoCal, DoninAjax-

The statement was somewhat, although not entirely, tongue-in-cheek.

I know why we got rid of racing back to the line, but if we’re doing something that makes an unsafe situation more unsafe (because multiple GWC’s virtually ensure carnage), it should at least feel less contrived.

04/28/2010 09:23 PM


Quit laying the BS blame on the “fans”. Nascar is the one who made every (stupid) decision the last 10 years. They are incompentent, out of touch, and clueless and having to ask the fans what to do to fix it proves it.

04/28/2010 09:48 PM

And Hunker – you’re a fan of something that dumb?

04/28/2010 09:48 PM

@Michael, Ditto.
The unfortunate thing is that FOX and the other TV partners only see them as an opportunity for more commercials, thus the reason NA$CAR no longer howls about being legally bound to end on time. Many of today’s problems with NA$CAR are created by the TV contracts.Does anyone really think DW and the Funny Farm Animals would be there if NA$CAR didn’t collect the $$$$? They will do whatever it takes to cater to the Cash Cow.

04/28/2010 10:30 PM

The traveling late model series in my region has last 5 under green, but do not have to be consecutive. Make it last 10, and go with it. Basically you don’t count yellows at the end.

04/29/2010 09:12 AM

Point for dansmom.

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