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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Full Throttle: The New Green/White/Checkered May Not Be Good for the Geese but Great for the Gander

Heading into this weekend’s NASCAR races, the sanctioning body made an adjustment to their end of race green/white/checkered policy. Prior to this weekend, if a caution flag flew after the competitors took the green, the field was frozen and the race was declared official. The new rule allows for up to three attempts at a GWC finish if a caution flag flies before the field takes the white flag. If a caution flies after the white flag has been displayed, then the field is frozen as it was before and the race is declared official. After seeing the first implementation of this rule, there is no question that it puts on a great show for the fans and it comes far closer to ensuring that races will end under a green flag.

Short of having unlimited GWC finishes, the new policy allows the drivers to race for all they’re worth and take chances that a caution may result while still giving them a reasonable expectation that they’ll race to a green-flag finish. As was evidenced this weekend, when the first GWC resulted in a caution before the white flag was shown, the field simply regrouped and took another shot, which resulted in the storybook finish everyone witnessed.

This new rule does throw a bigger question mark into the strategy that is implemented by crew chiefs during races. The potential for anywhere from a couple to 10 or more extra laps means that crew chiefs have to plan ahead for the possibility that the race can go far beyond the scheduled race distance. This was evidenced by the call that Kurt Busch’s crew chief made when the field was under caution before the end of the scheduled race distance.

Running in the top five, Busch came in for tires and fuel anticipating it would give him an advantage should the race run multiple laps to satisfy the GWC rule. Unfortunately for Busch, he was unable to exploit the advantage the new tires provided him, ending up with a 23rd place finish. The new GWC rule certainly played into the decision to pit and would have probably been handled differently had the new rule not been in place.

Like any rule change, this one will take some trial and error before the teams get a true handle on how to plan for it and what the odds are when they make gambles at the end of the scheduled race distance. While this policy is good for tracks other than the restrictor-plate tracks, it should be altered slightly for the races that occur on the superspeedways.

It is a known fact that a race car with a restrictor plate takes at least a full lap to get up to maximum speed. Thus, with a GWC finish, the cars are not really competing for the first lap after the green flag flies, they’re merely getting up to full song. The end result is the competitors are limited to a single race lap to try and settle their finishing positions. It would be a much more equitable policy if the field was allowed to have two green-flag laps before the white flag flies. The cars would get up to speed and be given two full laps to race for the win, like they have on the other tracks where the engine is not limited by a restrictor plate.

The goal of the GWC rule is to provide the fans with a green-flag finish to the races that they pay their hard-earned money to attend. Barring unlimited GWC finishes, which could get ridiculously out of hand (remember the 2004 Gateway Truck Series race), this new rule goes a long way to making it almost certain that the race will end under a green flag. NASCAR should be commended for working hard toward that end and also for holding off waving the caution at the end of the 500 when the crash occurred in turn 3 as the field was coming to the checkered flag. Multiple attempts can certainly cost owners more money because there is a greater chance for their cars to get torn up, but it is the best way for the fans to (hopefully) always see a green-flag finish.