Who knew Bristol was an endurance race?
Oh, sure, the ability to endure is something that drivers have to be able to do in order to win the race, but endurance racing is something totally different. Those long races are better served for series that have multiple drivers for each race, times carved out, and, oh yeah, the word “endurance” is formally carved into those events.
But, my oh my, Sunday’s race at Bristol was surely a test of endurance.
The race was supposed to start around 1 p.m. ET but Mother Nature decided otherwise. The race was initially delayed for around 90 minutes due to rain. After the first green flag, the race ran for only 22 laps before the yellow waved for a crash involving the No. 2 of Brad Keselowski and the No. 22 of Joey Logano. What had been a light sprinkle turned into an actual rainstorm while the field was under yellow, and NASCAR red-flagged the race.
And that red flag lasted for almost four hours. That’s… the entire length of the race, almost.
However, the race did eventually resume. While there were several cautions throughout much of the rest of the race, the rain wasn’t finished causing trouble just yet. Matt Kenseth, leading with just five laps to go, faced a caution when a multi-car pile-up ensued just behind him. The final wreck included five cars and lots of cleanup, which allowed a smaller rain cell to move in. NASCAR allowed the drivers to ride around under yellow for a few laps before calling them back down onto pit road. The race was red-flagged again, but this interlude was much shorter. The race would resume once more for a green-white-checkered and Kenseth would win the 511-lap race (the longest ever at Bristol) in the Food City 500.
The race ended around 10:30 p/m. ET, and there were still post-race activities to be completed after that. Interviews, the hat dance for Kenseth, post-race availability, etc. Though fans don’t have to stick around for those things, staff members, team members and media all do, and it made for a long day for everyone.
On social media, there were many, many calls for NASCAR to just end the race, especially on that last delay. The race had already gone well past its scheduled distance under caution and it didn’t make sense to have another delay just for the drivers to go out and race for two more laps (which winds up being less than a minute at a short track like Bristol).
But they waited it out anyway. Caution after caution flew toward the end as a giant, colorful cell on the radar inched closer and closer to the track. Though the race finished before that storm ever got there, its presence was duly noted on pit road and elsewhere. And with four multi-car accidents in the last 30 laps of the race, it was hard to imagine the race would be able to finish in time at the pace they were going.
However, NASCAR remained persistent. They parked the cars on pit road, put the jet dryers out on the track, and had the drivers going green as fog continued to roll in and with sprinkles still intermittently falling.
And it was the right thing to do.
Yes it was a long day. Yes, sitting through those delays was awful (though having the IndyCar race on in between helped). Yes, it must have been cold and miserable in those grandstands and everyone who had any work to do after the race just wanted the whole dang thing to be over.
But if there is one thing I hate seeing it’s a race ending under yellow. How many people dedicated their entire day to seeing that race? Even if the grandstands weren’t as full as they would have been had the race started at its scheduled time (or as full as BMS would have wanted them to be at all), there were still a lot of people there. Those people likely paid a lot of money to be in those grandstands, and there were still quite a few in the stands when the race was over. They deserved to see the race end under green, no matter what it took.
And that’s not to say anything about the fans at home. I know just by interacting with them on social media that they were waiting out the rain too. Sure, unlike the fans at the track, they had the ability to go do other things for the time being. But they were right back in front of their televisions when the race resumed later that evening and remained with it until it finally, mercifully ended.
I’m sure the television crews, pit crew members, track staff, NASCAR officials, media members, and on and on and on, would have just rather have it called. They don’t have a choice whether they can go home or just turn off the television. It’s part of what they have to do. But the fans that pay to be there, that make time to be a part of it, NASCAR needs to give them the best that they can. And that’s a green flag finish.
The only part I disagreed with was running that last caution for so long. Austin Dillon wound up being a victim of what appeared to be NASCAR’s own indecisiveness by running out of fuel and being forced to go to pit road. He wound up finished 10th, which isn’t bad, except he was running third when the caution initially came out.
And the same thing almost wound up happening to Jeff Gordon. He was so concerned about running out of fuel that he was coasting on the apron while under yellow just to be on the safe side.
It’s not fair to Dillon that NASCAR was waiting out the rain and he paid the price for it when otherwise he would have been able to make a decision either way. Though it looks like he may have had to pit eventually, perhaps he could have salvaged a top-five run had NASCAR decided sooner that this would be a longer delay. I understand the “why” behind NASCAR’s waiting, but felt like it would have been safe to just go ahead and do what they wound up doing anyway – parking the cars on pit road while the rain finished and the Air Titans went to work.
Overall, though, I think they made the right call. They did everything in their power to get a full race in on Sunday, and under green. Yes it was late and on a different channel than when it started, but that wasn’t entirely in NASCAR’s control. What they could control was how persistent they were within these windows and making sure that the right procedures were put in place for there to be a proper finish to a long day.
NASCAR gets criticized for a lot of things, and sometimes it’s warranted. This is not one of those times. They did the best they could with the things they could control. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t pretty, and sometimes it was downright miserable. But they got it right, and should be applauded for it.