Welcome to this week’s edition of What’s the Call? Each week, two of your favorite Frontstretch writers will duke it out in a debate concerning one of NASCAR’s big controversies. Don’t let us be the only ones to speak our minds, though… be sure to read both sides and let us know what you think about the situation in the comment section below!
This Week’s Question: Should NASCAR look more closely at all debris cautions (i.e. – Robby Gordon possibly/probably throwing out rollbar padding) before throwing out the yellow flag? Or are the number of debris cautions we’ve had this year (29%) necessary to ensure the safety of the sport?
Editor’s Note: These opinions were written before the Robby Gordon penalty was publicly announced.
NASCAR “Debris” Needs to be Defined
It has been a debate for several years now. What constitutes enough debris to deserve a caution flag during a NASCAR race? With the advent of the Lucky Dog pass, the occurrence of debris cautions has come under more scrutiny than ever. And with expanded TV coverage, the fans want to see visual evidence of the debris whenever their race is slowed for something on the track. Unfortunately, NASCAR’s not doing that enough… as well as penalizing those offenders who cause the caution in the first place.
Purposefully causing a caution flag has been around as long as there has been racing. Water bottles, gloves, rollbar padding or simply spinning a car intentionally have all been utilized to bring out a caution and slow the field. NASCAR has penalized drivers in the past for intentionally causing a caution period, but the evidence has to be pretty insurmountable to do so.
The simplest answer to placating NASCAR fans over the myriad of debris cautions is to have the television cameras show the debris on the track. When a spotter observes debris, they notify race control and the decision is made to throw or not throw the caution flag. If the debris is significant enough to warrant a caution, it should be visible to a TV camera covering the race. There are cameras that can show every inch of the racing surface. It should not be too hard for NASCAR to coordinate with the TV crew to identify the offending garbage on the track.
In fact, if NASCAR ponied up a little bit of the billions of dollars of revenue they bring in on an annual basis, they could hire an official to sit with each camera man. When a piece of debris is spotted, the race control would notify the official near the camera closest to the debris, and that official would assist the cameraman in both locating it and judging whether it’s a safety hazard. If, for some reason, the debris is not easily identifiable, they can make a judgment call; once that call is made, the official can then assist the cameraman in following the track workers as they locate and remove the debris.
If, for some reason, the caution is preemptively thrown in the interests of safety and debris cannot be spotted by the cameraman or the track officials, the pits should not be opened, the Lucky Dog should not be awarded, and the race should go back to green. Anyone choosing to pit would be dealt with as any competitor pitting while the pit road is closed. That would at least partially negate the competitive advantage gained by some when the caution comes out in the first place.
Of course, should be piece of debris be identified as something coming from the inside of a racecar, all cars at the end of the race should be parked on pit road and held without crew members allowed access to the cars until all cars could be inspected for the missing item that was found on the track. When an offending car was identified, they would be docked 135 points and fined a commensurate amount of money to discourage any future occurrences of similar activity. If NASCAR already had such a policy in place, incidents like the Gordon one would no longer be open to interpretation; through one way or another, NASCAR would figure out his guilt or innocence and penalize him accordingly. That is, if the appointed track official I’ve suggested didn’t convince NASCAR not to throw the caution in the first place.
This policy would make it much more understandable when NASCAR throws a debris caution, and greatly discourage anyone from intentionally causing one. No doubt, change is necessary to stop a practice that’s eroding the competitiveness of the sport. – Mike Neff
Debris Cautions a Necessary Evil
Certainly, no one likes to see a caution flag thrown for any reason (alright, well maybe in California they do). But when one does happen, rest assured NASCAR’s got the safety of the competitors as their first priority. It’s not always the best timing… but it’s a necessary evil to keep both fans and competitors safe.
The reason more debris cautions are thrown now than ever before is simple: NASCAR’s put more of an emphasis on safety than at any time in their history. With the advent of soft walls, HANS devices and the Car of Tomorrow, the sport is making sure that drivers are protected from any possible hazard. The increase in debris cautions backs up that standard; while a small piece of metal might have been allowed to stay on the track in the past, the new era of NASCAR takes no chances.
Of course, it’s frustrating to have a caution thrown for a piece of debris so small, so inconsequential, sometimes the cameras can’t even find it. But if you take NASCAR at face value and assume all debris is real, any caution to pick it up minimizes the risk of what could be a tragic accident out there on the track. Even for a piece that’s out of the racing groove, you never know what’s going to happen… race drivers can and will use all aspects of a racetrack if they need to. All it takes is one car to run over a piece of debris, one tire to blow and one tragic slam into the wall for all those people saying there are too many debris cautions to look downright silly.
When you’re dealing with death as a possible consequence, you can’t wait for circumstances to dictate when the caution is thrown. The longer you wait to identify a piece of debris, the better the chance that it’ll disappear; underneath someone’s tire, only to be seen again after the accident happens. So, sometimes rushed judgments must be made in the heat of the moment, disregarding whether certain drivers will be trapped a lap down in the middle of pit stops – or be getting their lap back when the yellow flag is thrown.
It’s true NASCAR could do a better job of letting the fans know where debris is and how they can pick it up. But wouldn’t you think, after 58 years of running the sport, we can trust NASCAR says there’s debris when they say so? Of course, being safe rather than sorry will also lead to incidents like Gordon’s this past weekend, where a reported piece of rollbar padding caused a yellow that didn’t need to happen. Drivers trying to cause cautions, though, are nothing new; they’ve gotten away with it in the past, and no matter what types of rules you put out there about debris, they’ll get away with it again. No amount of TV camera coverage will be able to outgun the one asset drivers have against those mechanical watchdogs – shrewdness.
When you look at the bottom line of this issue, it really becomes a simple question. Which would you rather have… a sport that pulls the plug quickly in the face of danger, or one that leaves something out on the track just a little too long… causing a dangerous accident that didn’t need to happen?
When you look at it like that, keeping things safe sounds pretty darn good. – Frontstretch staff
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