Race Weekend Central

Caution Preventing Cautions in NASCAR Cup Series & Beyond

There sure has been a lot of hand-wringing this week over the final restart at Richmond last Saturday night. From restart boxes to allegations of NASCAR telling Tony Stewart’s spotter that he was the leader – and Edwards’s spotter overhearing it and relaying that to the No. 99 team – about every angle has been critiqued and criticized during the last five days.

I offer two points of contention: 1. Why not just use the guy in the elevated box at the start-finish line that waves a big green flag, and 2. Nobody seems overly concerned that the outcome was due to the equivalent of the dreaded “phantom caution” that precipitated the anti-caution/get back to our roots/Have-At-It-Boys mantra of the past couple of years.

During the last few weeks, everybody has marveled at the lack of cautions (i.e., wrecks) in the races, including the final 234 laps at Texas that went yellow free – despite constant 40-mph winds. There were but a pair of cautions at TMS – one of which was for what was clearly a hat that had blown onto the track and well up out of the groove, and all of three at Kansas the following race. At Richmond, a beer can was rolling around with 12 laps left so the yellow came out.

There was a time when starters would routinely fall off the cars mid-race and they’d wait until they went skittering to the inside of track and didn’t bother with them.

After a very un-Bristol like Bristol which led to its undoing and repaving, as well as Martinsville that took until overtime for it to get dicey, coupled with the marathon of green-flag pit stops at Texas, surely there had to be some sort of door-bangin’ restart at Richmond, right?

Personally, I don’t really see anything wrong with the advent of these caution-less races. Formula 1 seems to get on just fine without having photo finishes every week, and their pit stops only last about four seconds now. There was close racing for the lead and the win late in the going at Texas and Kansas, despite the absence of yellow-flag fever.

What I am afraid is that with all the talk surrounding the lack of caution flags we’re now going to see just that; the pendulum swing the other way as it did in 2007, when there was a caution flag thrown at the slightest hint of any disturbance, puff of smoke, or rollbar padding tossed out of Robby Gordon’s window.

Many have theorized as to what is behind this unusual stretch of green-flag fun. Some have cited tires that don’t wear out (except Bruton Smith at a Bristol presser), others increased reliability of the cars (but don’t tell the drivers of TRD-powered cars at Kansas). But I believe the answer lies in the most important place of all for any race team: the bank account.

Look how many organizations can barely put together a full season of sponsorship. Matt Kenseth and Trevor Bayne have both won the Daytona 500 in the last two years, but neither one has a complete season of fully-funded sponsorship to show for it just yet. Richard Childress had to part ways with Clint Bowyer and essentially shelve the No. 33 team for the most part, even though Bowyer now stars in a commercial for 5-Hour Energy or Sprint that airs every 14 seconds somewhere in the United States.

Rusty Wallace had to scuttle his Nationwide operation due to lack of funds, while his brother Kenny Wallace, one of the most enthusiastic and recognized pitchmen in the sport, has been reduced to a part-time capacity due to difficulty finding dollars to race with.

Why destroy and beat up cars simply for the sake of trying to finish 13th in April? OK, if it’s Daytona I can understand it; look at Kurt Busch and Phoenix Racing – they’re just now digging out of that hole of depleted inventory. Its the first race of the year and you need to make some headlines and Daytona is the place to do it. These cars cost a lot of money to fix, and not just when NASCAR starts fretting about the contours of the C-pillars on the roof, or the area between the splitter and bumper, fore of the wheel opening on a short-track RCR and Turner Motorsports entry.

With an all-new CoT coming out for 2013, why make your team invest a ton of money unnecessarily to build a bunch of new cars that are going to become obsolete in six months? Resources and manpower are being thinned out across even the top teams (Jack Roush’s flagship No. 6 has now achieved milk carton status), there are less people to do the same amount of work – and that task just got a bit harder with an all-new car design dawning in half a year.

The budgets and bandwidth are not what they were the last time NASCAR debuted a new Sprint Cup car over five years ago, and that is not going to improve anytime soon. Besides, with a points system that rewards consistency and avoiding bad things happening through August, there’s not much motivation to go out and make ill-advised attempts at overtaking, unless it’s for the win. Or unless you’re Carl Edwards and lined up against a guy who wasn’t able to get out of his own way on every single restart last Saturday night.

Carnage lovers however, take heart. We’re going to Talladega this weekend and Darlington the next. I’m sure we’ll find a way to wad up more than a few of them for you.

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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