NASCAR has come under a lot of scrutiny following the end of Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, when caution flags ended both attempts (yes, there were two) at a green-white-checkered (GWC) to finish the event.
JR Nation was in an uproar after Dale Earnhardt Jr. came within inches of a Chase-advancing win, showering the 2.66-mile track in beverages to show their disgust. Critics of defending champion Kevin Harvick blasted both the driver and wife Delana Harvick on social media after a replay appearing to show Harvick force the yellow to maintain his position in the Chase.
Fans found themselves unhappy with many aspects of Sunday’s ending, but the caution-flag ending weighed heavier than any other issue after NASCAR announced a sudden switch to one GWC attempt in the week leading up to the race.
In the days following Talladega, the question of whether a race should be allowed to end under caution has arisen. Once common in the series, caution-flag endings have largely become a thing of the past in the GWC era, but the rare caution-flag ending on Sunday has fans wondering. Should races be required to end under green-flag conditions?
Should All NASCAR Races End Under Green-Flag Conditions?
Yes! Is this even a question?
Written by Sean Fesko
Races should absolutely end under green for two huge reasons: the fans and the competition. NASCAR recognizes this, and that’s why they introduced a single attempt at a GWC finish across all three national series in 2004. In 2010 they bumped it up to three attempts.
It’s not enough.
First off, it’s unfair to the fans in the stands to have spent hundreds of dollars on tickets, dozens more on food and souvenirs and hours at the track to see a race end under the yellow flag. NASCAR is an entertainment sport, after all, and what’s less entertaining than a lackluster finish?
It’s also unfair to drivers who have spent all day working towards a good finish — only to have their opportunity of using the remaining laps taken away because a caution ended the race. Sure, they could also lose spots if the race continued, but drivers aren’t conditioned to think like that. “Unless my car is hurting,” they think, “I can make up spots.” They should be able to do so.
This might be an even bigger issue next season with the new rules package. With cars that are easier to pass with, drivers should have every chance they can get to make up those spots. It will make for some crazy good racing, and after all the years of follow-the-leader parades why should fans and drivers be forced to miss out on that?
Now, looking over the history books, there has only been one Sprint Cup race that has needed three attempts at ending a race under green, so I’ll give NASCAR some credit. Their current policy has been accommodating so far. The biggest issue comes during restrictor-plate races, where two-lap shootouts and close racing tend to lead to big crashes. Add in the new rules package discussed above, and you can see why three attempts just might not cut it. Right now it does. But we shouldn’t get complacent.
If NASCAR wishes to avoid unforeseen issues, it needs to be proactive and get rid of the three attempt rule. If restrictor-plate racing is seen as a safety issue, let’s find a way to keep cars on the ground. Issue an engineering bounty that can be collected after providing a proven way to keep cars from going into the air.
But how can you keep drivers from taking advantage of the unlimited restarts? Because we know that’ll happen. Look at the blowup from the Kevin Harvick incident this past weekend; drivers might be tempted to punt a driver, gain a spot, and restart. Repeat multiple times a race and you can see how cheating could become an issue.
How’s this: any car involved in an accident (spinner or spinee) during a GWC is done for the day. They’ll be scored at the end of the lead lap but sit in the pits while the race resumes. It should keep drivers honest. It might not be an exact science; after all, why should a punted driver be penalized? But then NASCAR can make a judgement call like the ones we see during restarts.
Whether that idea is implemented is irrelevant. What is is that the race should end under green.
Every. Single. Time.
Picture this: Dale Earnhardt Sr. is finally in position to claim the biggest win of his life, the one race that has eluded him for 20 years: the Daytona 500. With a dominant No. 3 Chevrolet, Earnhardt is holding his competitors at bay until suddenly, the caution-flag flies with two laps remaining.
Earnhardt’s put on a dominant performance, but on the ensuing GWC attempt, “The Intimidator” is outdone by the Labonte Brothers, who were closing in on his bumper before the yellow. Suddenly, Bobby Labonte is a Daytona 500 champion, and Earnhardt ultimately ends his career without the one victory he craves most.
Sound ridiculous? Far-fetched? It shouldn’t. In the modern day, stories like this happen all-too often.
GWCs are exciting. They offer fans one last glimpse at the stars they pay money to see every weekend. Where other sports have overtime between two teams, NASCAR offers a chance to see 43 drivers biting and clawing for every last bit when they’re given one last chance to fight for position.
Unfortunately, GWCs have often robbed deserving winners of the very prize they worked 400, sometimes 500 miles to obtain.
Where in the past, drivers were able to stretch fuel until exactly mile 400 to claim a surprise victory, they’re now left praying they won’t see the race extended when NASCAR spots “debris” on-track in the closing stages.
Other drivers have dominated events just to watch their races fall apart by a late-race restart – Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon at Martinsville in 2012 come to mind. NASCAR’s issue on Sunday didn’t come from the caution-flag ending. It came from the poorly-designed GWC.
The true solution for NASCAR’s issues doesn’t lie with running unlimited GWCs, it lies with ending events at the scheduled distance. A few races might end under caution with that format, but the winners will be deserving.
The race ending under yellow didn’t tarnish Earnhardt’s 1998 Daytona 500 triumph, nor did it soil Tony Kanaan’s 2013 Indianapolis 500 victory. Should NASCAR go back to ending races at the scheduled distance, they won’t damage the ending of any other races, either.