Race Weekend Central

Fan’s View: Racing 101 – How to Use a Yellow Flag

Think about it: There’s nothing quite so thrilling as watching a car start to slide in the turn. If you’re attentive, you can see those gloves waving wildly back and forth as the driver fights the wheel to get his machine under control. Most of the time, if that car’s tail is waaaaay out of shape, it’s a sure thing that your breath will expel only when you hear that sickening smack into the outside wall.

So how much sweeter is the moment when not only does that driver drive away from certain carnage, but the guy that was riding his tail, who executed a synchronized spin himself, manages to save his totally out of control ride as well?

Awesome, dude! Totally awesome!

Such was the key moment of Sunday’s Camping World Truck Series O’Reilly’s Auto Parts 250.

God damn if Johnny Sauter in the No. 13 and Ron Hornaday in the pursuing No. 33 didn’t execute the near impossible. They were sideways! Not a little wobble. No, the kind of out of shape that usually has the flagman lifting that yellow flag in preparation of race control’s announcement, “Put it out.” I mean, they were running first and second. They wrecked! They just didn’t hit each other or the wall. Then they sorted out which way was forward, put the pedal back down and drove off to finish the race!

Through it all, no caution flew. Nothing happened to destroy the excitement of the battle. The officials stayed silent, and I was permitted a moment of jaw-dropping, finger-pointing amazement.

That, to my way of thinking, was the perfect ending to a race.

Now, rewind to Friday night’s Nationwide battle. At lap 186, Jason Leffler’s No. 38 Great Clips machine took a long slide up the track. His brakes had finally given up any pretense at being effective, leaving him simply on a mission to find his way towards pit road.

He never got there. Apparently afraid that the No. 38 might present some kind of danger to the outer wall, NASCAR threw the caution. Rusty Wallace thought so, too, and commented, “That just flat scared NASCAR.”

As usual, that fluttering yellow flag killed any kind of action happening on the track. I could be sitting here wondering what had possibly got into the officials Friday night, but I don’t have to.

Even though I am extremely generous when judging the actions of those in race control, there is one sad fact. Given the slightest opportunity in the Sprint Cup levels, and apparently Nationwide, that yellow flag will be thrown — no matter what. And I really feel it’s necessary to call them to task for this knee-jerk reaction.

I can’t tell you how many times at my local track there is a killer race on and somebody gets sideways in the corner. They spin. They even block the track.

We look over at the flag stand. No yellow flag. We wait. The driver puts his machine in gear, staggers forward a few feet. No yellow flag. The field is bearing down the backstretch. This could get crazy! No yellow flag. Finally, tires squeal and the poor guy gets his car moving. Everybody in the stands cheers. NO YELLOW FLAG!

We will boo and hiss when the driver just sits up by the wall, forces the officials to bring out the pace car, and then takes off. We know what the deal is. He’s just hoping to stay on the lead lap. To us, that is just dirty pool.

But back to that caution flag, and to those two spinning heroes on Sunday afternoon.

Let’s hypothesize for just a moment, imagining that we weren’t in Kansas and the vehicles turned in the wrong direction weren’t trucks. Say that was Kyle Busch’s No. 18 and Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 burning rubber as they beat back the inevitable. Let’s surmise that the usual suspects sat up in the tower. What do you think would happen then – even if the next closest competitor to those two was nine seconds back?

There would have been a caution. There would have been a double-file restart, and maybe a car that hadn’t even had the leaders in sight prior to the yellow would have managed to muscle their way to the checkered flag. And gosh, wouldn’t that suck.

Look, we know there’s a certain amount of showmanship involved with presenting a NASCAR race. But this is still a sport. That means the best possible moments are not manufactured. In the heat of the moment, the fans don’t really care if Gordon and Johnson haven’t been very happy lately. Honestly, if Kyle Busch is spanking the field because he’s got the car, that’s cool. And Lord knows if four fenders and two doors that belong to two cars are sharing the same three square feet, it doesn’t much matter what the number on the roof might be.

So we’re begging you, NASCAR. If nothing else, remember your integrity when there hasn’t been a yellow in “far too long.” Dropping that flag because a few marbles up by the wall are bugging you will do one thing and one thing only – steal a fantastic race from the competitors and the fans.

In the meantime, go ahead and watch that Truck race. Take some notes, and learn from those that did it right.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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