conformity in the application of something, typically that which is necessary for the sake of logic, accuracy, or fairness.
“the grading system is to be streamlined to ensure greater consistency”
synonyms: uniformity, constancy, regularity, evenness, steadiness, stability, equilibrium
I chose the word consistency because it feels like the world of NASCAR is lacking some right now. Following the CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, fans were left scratching their heads at what exactly had just taken place. A new green-white-checkered rule was put in place, which everyone knew ahead of time, and we (unsurprisingly) were able to see that play out. Instead of the usual three attempts at a GWC, NASCAR reduced that number down to one (as it used to be a few years ago) in the name of safety, following some rather harrowing late-race wrecks at restrictor plate tracks recently. Unsurprisingly, the race ended under caution.
That wasn’t the issue.
The issue was that there were two attempts at a GWC… whether NASCAR “defined” it that way or not.
I’ve been watching racing for a long time. Perhaps not as long as some of you reading this, but long enough that I know what the rules are. I know about restarts, pit stops, points, etc., as I’m sure you do too. I can speak racing rules and regulations as if it were a second language.
So why is it then, that I had never heard of this “the drivers have to make it back to the start/finish line for it to be an ‘attempt’” prior to Sunday?
Just to catch you up, a late-race caution brought on by the expired engine of Jamie McMurray generated a GWC finish, what we knew would eventually end the race one way or the other. The mess was cleaned up, the field was reset, the pace car peeled off… and the race went green.
You can spin this any way you want it. The race. Went. Green.
The green light was on. The green flag was in the air. The drives were in the restart zone. The race restarted. Period.
However, a slow restart by the No. 22 of Joey Logano (and likely some miscues on the part of the drivers behind him) caused a stack-up and Jimmie Johnson went spinning into the infield. A few other cars suffered damage and the caution flag flew. Again, the caution flag flew after the race went back green.
So… the race was over, right? I mean, it sucked that the race was over after a whole three seconds of green-flag racing, but that was the rule, right? Logano was leading, throw the checkered, the race is over.
But… no. I (and many others by the looks of it) learned something new.
Because the drivers didn’t actually make it to the start/finish line after the race went back green, it wasn’t considered an “official” restart.
…Wait, what? When has the location of the start/finish line ever mattered on the restart? In fact, there has been a debate going on now regarding the “restart zone” and whether or not it should be eliminated completely and instead have the drivers begin to accelerate at the start/finish line. Wave the flag and go.
The way it currently works is that NASCAR dictates a restart zone (which is demonstrated to us either by television graphics or the racetracks helpfully painting the zones onto the wall and infield). The lead/control car can dictate where within the restart zone s/he wants to accelerate and start the race. If the leader/control car has not restarted the race by the time s/he reaches the end of the restart zone, the flagman starts the race and the race goes green.
Do you see anything about the start/finish line in there? The start/finish line, up until last Sunday, really had no impact on the restart as the restart zone was always several yards away.
Now, it’s possible that this is just a rule that we had never previously had to witness or encounter. I find it a little hard to believe that any time a restart has gone awry that the caution flag has always flown before the cars crossed the start/finish line but, okay, maybe it hasn’t had the impact that this race did. Maybe it wasn’t enforced.
Except that just seems a little ridiculous, right? After all, if they were going to change the GWC rule for this one race, shouldn’t the word “attempt” be a little more clearly defined going into it? I know cars wrecking on the restart is such a rare occasion at Talladega (insert sarcastic tone) but it should at least be addressed ahead of time.
Now, I know that Dale Earnhardt Jr. being involved in the incident didn’t help matters. Conspiracy theorists abounded as to why NASCAR suddenly enforced a rule that had never been previously discussed, announced or defined clearly (or it wouldn’t have been as surprising when it happened) and the resounding answer from the conspirators was that the call was made for Earnhardt. Heck, even Logano referred to the call as “Junior rules.”
Of course Logano would be the angriest about it considering he would have benefitted most, but come on… any leader (Chase or not) would have felt the same way. “It doesn’t count as an attempt unless we cross the start/finish line? Since when?”
What happened next was even worse. Since NASCAR didn’t define that as an “attempt”, they had to go again. On the ensuing second GWC “restart” (or attempt or whatever you want to call it), there was yet another wreck.
The drivers actually made it past the start/finish line this time and the caution was called for a second time.
Why was it worse? NASCAR didn’t even hesitate to throw the caution on the original GWC restart when the No. 48 went spinning through the grass. It was within seconds. That’s why the drivers didn’t make it to the start/finish line. On the second attempt, NASCAR waited several seconds before finally throwing the green, even though the second wreck involved a lot more cars and saw much heavier contact.
You probably know what happened next. After reviewing the footage, NASCAR determined that Logano was ahead of Earnhardt at the time of the caution (a call I didn’t see very widely disputed based on the video footage) and the initial GWC wave-off didn’t really impact much anyway. Oh, other than Earnhardt missing the Chase, but you know.
Look, I wasn’t a huge fan of reducing the GWC attempts in the first place. Yes, I throw a tantrum whenever a driver hits a part of the wall that isn’t fitted with SAFER barriers and any other safety mechanism isn’t put in place that should otherwise be common sense.
However, I’m of the mindset that — except under very extreme extenuating circumstances — the fans should always see a race finish under green. That’s why I want all safety measures put in place. That way, the likelihood of injuries is greatly reduced and fans can see the drivers race back to the start/finish line. I would have rather NASCAR went back to single-file restarts for a GWC restart than all but guarantee the race will end under yellow. What else did we expect to see happen at Talladega? I don’t care if it’s one attempt or five. Finish the dang race at full speed, not with the pace car leading the field to the checkers.
With that said, that wasn’t the rule in this race, whether I liked it or not. And while NASCAR would say that they didn’t backpedal on their “one attempt” rule, it sure felt that way. Earnhardt making the Chase would have been great for the sport but the rules need to be the same regardless of circumstances. Am I saying they would have made the call differently had the roles been reversed (Earnhardt first, Logano second)? I don’t know. I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the call would have been the same regardless of who was out front, but I couldn’t say so with certainty.
The bottom line is that the sanctioning body is perceived by many longtime fans as making up rules as they go along. Perhaps this was a long-established rule that had never reared its head before, but if that’s the case, why didn’t anyone know about it? No, the “attempt” at a GWC was an attempt… it just wasn’t the attempt NASCAR wanted.
Heck, it’s not the attempt any of us wanted. I’ve never met a race fan that wants the race to end under caution. But change the rules to fix that after the race is over, not in the middle of competition.
Maybe the word shouldn’t be consistency. Maybe the word should be compliance. Instead, we had another word… “confusion.”
I will end this by saying that, despite the rather unpleasant ending, I enjoyed the race. I’ve said before that my ideal race is one with fantastic racing and little or no cautions. For most of the race, that’s exactly what we were able to see. It was a rather… pleasant surprise.
Another sidebar. I’m not intentionally picking on Logano every time he wins. He just happens to keep winning in ways I don’t like. I’m not sure this one was really his fault but he ultimately pulled through nonetheless.
Finally, honorable mention to Kevin Harvick, who was accused by fans and competitors alike of intentionally causing that final caution in order to save his own Chase chances. The replay certainly looked questionable at best and Harvick had surprisingly little to say once the race was over. I certainly hope that he didn’t pull something like that to win the race but it’s hard to argue that point considering the circumstances.
Phew… and we still have four races left!