NASCAR was under a lot of scrutiny a couple of weeks ago after rollbarpaddinggate. People were venting about debris cautions and the fact that many times there are debris cautions with no video evidence of anything on the track. This week, for whatever reason, there hasn’t been the uproar. NASCAR was given a pass and it was rather surprising considering the events that unfolded at Texas.
On lap 167, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was leading Clint Bowyer coming out of turn 4. Bowyer had a faster car and Junior didn’t think big picture. Instead he pushed his car a little harder than he should, Bowyer got a little close to the back bumper, and Earnhardt wiggled. The No. 8 car caressed the wall and both cars continued on. Nothing fell off of Earnhardt’s car. No one lost control of a car and spun in the way of oncoming traffic. A car grazed the wall and continued on with the race.
This happens 10 to 15 times a week in Cup races, 80 to 90 times at Darlington, 60 or so times at Martinsville and Bristol. Do we see 60 caution flags at Martinsville? Of course we don’t; it’s racing for goodness sake! If there isn’t visible debris falling off of a car that bounces off the wall, there isn’t a caution.
So the question is, why was there a caution this time? The caution flag flew before Earnhardt had even passed under the flag stand. It had to be the fastest caution in NASCAR history that didn’t involve a safety truck on the backstretch at Charlotte. It is amazing that the hordes of conspiracy theorists, who think that Daytona is all about getting Junior a championship, haven’t been screaming and hollering to anyone who would listen that the NASCAR powers were making sure that Junior could fix his car without going down a lap.
NASCAR should always err on the side of safety. That’s why the rollbar padding caution should have been thrown. It was a large object near the racing surface, but this didn’t create any debris. This was a caution simply for the fact that Earnhardt bumped the wall. Brian Vickers hit the wall earlier in the race and there wasn’t a caution for that contact. Elliott Sadler was leaking enough fluid that his car was black-flagged, but there wasn’t a caution.
However, when the supposed poster boy of the sport loses some paint off of the right side of the car, the caution flag flies immediately. It certainly gives the appearance that NASCAR played some favorites, at least in this case. NASCAR is creating a very large shadow of doubt when it comes to their caution flag decisions. It is in their best interest to work with their television partners to show debris on the track whenever they throw a debris caution. They also need to be consistent about the criteria that is used for throwing a caution for wall contact. Safety in racing is everyone’s first concern. However, it is possible to be overly cautious.