The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is now a year into the caution clock rule. Did it work as advertised, and should NASCAR consider it in the XFINITY and Cup series?
Jeff Wolfe, Senior Writer: I’m not sure if it’s the best idea for the XFINITY or Cup series, but I have liked the way it has worked out for the Truck Series. At first I thought it was a terrible idea, but it has given the Truck Series a bit of a unique twist to its rules, and it also has played a big factor in strategy in several races.
Mike Neff, Short Track Editor: It absolutely worked as advertised, because it put a new element of strategy into racing. If you like to have racing more like stick-and-ball sports where clocks determine the periods of action, then it would work in the other two national series. That said, I like to see people push equipment to its limits, and you don’t get that with a 20-minute timeframe.
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: Yeah… no. The caution clock is really nothing more than a scheduled debris caution. The purpose of a caution is not to bunch up the field or let everyone pit; it’s to keep drivers safe when there’s a legitimate problem with the track. The caution clock is another gimmick in a long line of gimmicks designed to magically rope in a generation of fans whose attention spans are better suited to drag racing.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: I was totally against the caution clock when it was first announced and introduced, but now, after a season of using it, I believe it’s added an interesting competitive wrinkle to the series. It’s not relevant for either the Cup or the XFINITY divisions, but it seems to have created unique challenges for the Truck teams this year. Too much control is often just that, but I think this addition was one that worked quite well overall.
Clayton Caldwell, Contributor: I don’t think it worked. Call me old school, but I’m not a fan of slowing a race down, which is what the caution clock does. Fans complain the races are too long as they are, so why would we slow them down with an intentional caution? Makes no sense to me. You can’t convince me it’s a good thing. Ever.
NASCAR is rumored to be looking at restrictor plates for Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2017 in the XFINITY Series? Your thoughts?
Neff: Horrendous idea. Research restrictor plates at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Henderson: What Neff said. I was at that race. I’m not a physicist, but I think the banking is a huge part of why drivers can pass in plate races and on a flat track, there will be no passing because they can’t carry enough momentum into the corners. Here’s a novel idea, though: there’s a track across town that doesn’t need any help making the racing exciting.
Howell: I am usually 150 percent against restrictor plate racing in any series, but perhaps making such a change next year will improve the quality of racing we see from XFINITY cars at Indianapolis. Maybe the greater problem is the nature of Indy itself, being that it’s not conducive to multiple-lane competition when full-bodied stock cars are on the track. Dare we suggest that the Brickyard be dropped from the schedule? No, but it’s possible that running with plates will help liven up the show.
Caldwell: NASCAR’s idea behind this is to get the racing more like we see in the Indianapolis 500 in May. It tried that with the high-drag package last year, and it didn’t work at all; it was a rough race to watch. It’s going to be different than what we see on the superspeedways, because Indianapolis isn’t a wide, high-banked racetrack. There’s one groove and that’s it. It’ll be interesting, but I don’t know if that will help the racing at Indianapolis.
Wolfe: The restrictor plates might be the only thing that can make a race at Indy look competitive. I don’t think the plates are necessary to keep speeds down because of the four distinct corners at Indy that help slow the speeds. But if NASCAR does do the plates there, then it will be in the name of competition, not safety.
NASCAR penalized Martin Truex, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson at Phoenix International Raceway for passing the pace car while entering pit road under caution. It made the right call based on the rule, but it hasn’t been enforced since Kevin Harvick and Casey Mears got similar penalties at Dover International Speedway last spring. Is it that nobody has done it since then, or has NASCAR been
missing the boat on the calls?
Henderson: Without going back and watching yellow-flag pit stops from every week, it’s hard to say exactly how often it happens, but I have a hard time believing it has not once ever happened between Dover in May and now. I get wanting to make sure championships are won fairly, but it seems like too little, too late. NASCAR has always struggled with credibility because of inconsistencies either perceived or real (and it can be argued that if they are perceived, they are real), and this kind of thing is why. You don’t get to pick and choose when to enforce a rule and who to enforce it on.
Howell: NASCAR feels compelled to enforce so many rules that it’s inevitable it’ll miss a few week-in and week-out. Making calls in a seemingly random manner is not OK, so officials need to decide on what’s necessary to enforce and what could be dropped from the rulebook. I know there are rules/laws that are understood to be regularly broken (as in speed limits, where it’s OK to go 10 mph over), but that also adds the element of complaining when Racer A gets caught while Racer B goes about his or her way. I think passing the pace car has been one of those rules that’s been overlooked during most weekends. If so, there’s no reason to enforce it now.
Caldwell: This is an odd situation. I understand wanting to enforce a rule, but why not wait until 2017? If it’s that big of a rule where you had to enforce it Sunday, why wasn’t it enforced all the time? Luckily, the penalty didn’t affect someone’s championship hopes, but if it had, NASCAR would have looked bad. I’ve been watching the sport for 20-plus years and never remember this happening other than Sunday and at Dover with Kevin Harvick and Casey Mears. NASCAR said it had to penalize Jimmie Johnson because of consistency. Not sure if that was the best word for the situation.
Wolfe: I think NASCAR was using the letter of the law against Martin Truex, Jr. and Johnson and not the spirit of the law. They both were just doing what cars normally do by speeding up a little before hitting the first timing line at the entrance of pit lane. It’s what all cars do at pretty much every race. Did they by they break the rule by passing the pace car? Well, yes, but because of the design of the track and pit entrance at Phoenix, it just made for a bit of weird situation.
Neff: I’m not sure what happened at Phoenix. It has been a longtime practice for the leader to gas up and head to the pits ahead of the pace car. The rule has always been there and should be enforced more often. As with any rule in the book, if it is implemented properly it will get everyone in line rather quickly.
Kevin Harvick said last week that he didn’t feel that Tony Stewart has been given his due in terms of the kind of retirement gifts and celebrations from various tracks that Jeff Gordon received in 2015. Is Harvick right? Is Stewart being overlooked in his final season?
Howell: Tony Stewart‘s farewell tour has been pretty much limited to signage thanking him for his years of involvement in racing. That seems slightly shallow, but perhaps more relevant than the catalog of gifts Jeff Gordon (or his family) received last season; did Gordon really need a Bandolero car or two ponies? While the giant bobblehead seemed like a novel idea, knowing Smoke’s unique sense of humor, I think honoring him through kind words and sincere gratitude means more than truckloads of stuff to store and/or eventually donate to charity.
Caldwell: He is, but I don’t think Stewart wants the same treatment. Part of the problem is that Stewart has been checked out all season long. The fans kind of went a little sour on him after his comments earlier in the year that he doesn’t want to be in NASCAR anymore and he was basically only there because of sponsors, whereas Gordon was very gracious and smiled all the time in his final year. Stewart’s honesty hurt him here, but I don’t think he cares all that much. He just wants to go dirt racing.
Wolfe: I’m not sure if Stewart has been shorted on the gifts or not. He’s certainly received plenty of different types of appreciations and gestures, from having his own little dirt track made for him at Indy to the life-sized bobblehead given to him at Texas Motor Speedway. I think Smoke’s got enough money and other stuff where he doesn’t need to play the game of who has the most toys wins.
Neff: Stewart told everyone he didn’t want a bunch of rocking chairs. He’s had gestures, but he certainly could have had more. People are near-sighted; in 10 years they’re going to realize just how great Stewart was at driving racecars and how important he was for NASCAR. Tony Stewart is one of the five greatest race car drivers of all time. There were better stock car drivers, better IndyCar drivers and better sprint car drivers, but if you look at someone who does all of it, Stewart is unquestionably top 5 all-time. I’m willing to bet there will be a big tribute at the banquet, but that may be too little too late.
Henderson: Stewart did say he didn’t want a big deal made about his retirement, but I do think he’s been somewhat overlooked. One year ago, last weekend’s race was run at Jeff Gordon Raceway in tribute to Gordon’s accomplishments. This time around, it remained just Phoenix. The bobblehead was pretty cool, and there have been some cool things, but all in all it seems much less than a year ago. I do wonder if that’s due to Stewart’s wishes or his personality, which has been decidedly less fluffy than Gordon’s over the years. If it’s the former, that’s OK, but if it’s the latter, it’s a shame people let the end of the road for one of the greatest drivers ever to climb into a car go by with so little fanfare.
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