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The seventh annual Eldora Dirt Derby should be memorable due to its victor: Stewart Friesen broke through and won his first NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. In seven Truck Series races at Eldora Speedway, there has not been a driver who has won multiple times. All of this furthers the case that the Eldora Dirt Derby is a crown jewel race for the Truck Series.
However, the main storyline from the 2019 edition was not solely about Friesen. Instead, the focus after the race was turned toward the number of caution laps in the race. Sixty-eight of the 150 laps (45.33%) were run under the yellow flag. There was obvious frustration by all at the many caution flag laps in the race.
What can be done to solve the issues that plagued NASCAR and forced so many laps to be run under the caution flag at Eldora?
First, NASCAR could extend the race length. The 2019 race lasted 1 hour and 49 minutes. Because of its popularity, the sanctioning body could get away with extending the length and fans probably would still attend. Yes, NASCAR would need to alter the start time for the race. Because it eliminated single-truck qualifying on race day though, it could start the qualifying and last chance races earlier, thereby allowing the feature to also begin earlier. NASCAR could extend the Eldora Dirt Derby to 200 laps to hopefully create more circuits run under the green flag.
If NASCAR opts not to extend the length of the Eldora Dirt Derby, then what can be done? NASCAR could red flag the field after pit stops under the yellow flag to set the lineup. Despite the oddity of this idea, the format for the sport’s lone national series dirt race is unique. Adding another unique feature to the race is nothing new.
Under a red flag, NASCAR does not permit drivers to move their vehicles. NASCAR can make an exception to that rule. If NASCAR prompts a driver to move their vehicle to properly set the lineup, then a driver will not be penalized. The exception to this rule would also alleviate any lineup issues after the caution flag at other racetracks too.
In the 2016 Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway, NASCAR ran a caution-flag period for 30 laps. Scoring issues and other circumstances forced the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers to drive around the 0.5-mile track at an aesthetically glacial pace.
The incident in 2016 evoked necessary criticisms from fans and drivers alike. Jeff Gordon was outspoken about the issue then, and it remained a problem NASCAR did not correct.
The problem resurfaced in Rossburg, Ohio, and NASCAR failed to produce a satisfying answer.
In the Eldora Dirt Derby, Chase Briscoe vented his frustrations about the lack of green flag laps, and many fans agreed.
I imagine many will agree with Chase Briscoe on thoughts of increasing green-flag laps at Eldora after a frustrating night where 82 of the 150 laps were run under green. #nascar @nascaronfox https://t.co/PQ1BXQLCCv
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) August 2, 2019
Another suggestion would be for only green-flag laps to count in the feature race. But that might make the time of the race too long, so here is another outside the box idea: NASCAR could make the laps in the third and final stage of the Eldora Dirt Derby only count as green. The second stage of the race ended at lap 90. So, NASCAR conceivably could declare the final 60 laps of the race are only counted as green flag laps.
Consider this: five of the 12 caution flags flew in the final stage. Those five caution flag periods accounted for 34 of the 60 laps in the final stage. More than half of the third stage was run under the yellow flag. As a result, Briscoe could not regain his track position to battle Friesen for the win. The high amount of caution-flag laps arguably robbed the fans of a photo finish or at least a spirited battle between the two best drivers in the field.
Finally, NASCAR did not utilize an already established rule in the Eldora Dirt Derby. NASCAR only displayed the black flag once, and then it rescinded the penalty on Ben Rhodes. If NASCAR black-flagged drivers for failure to follow instructions on where to line up for restarts, they likely would spend less time arguing and more time racing. NASCAR is the boss; the sanctioning body failed to assert its authority in the race.
The Eldora Dirt Derby will always be a unique race for the Truck Series. Its uniqueness can cause rare problems, but NASCAR needs to prepare for known situations for the 2020 race. Who knows? If NASCAR makes a rule change to solve this problem, it may solve problems at other tracks as well.
- Sheldon Creed will have to run the next three races without his crew chief, truck chief and engineer after a ballast fell out of the truck during practice at Eldora Speedway last week. Jeff Stankiewicz (crew chief), Austin Pollack (truck chief) and Jonathan Stewart (engineer) have been suspended for the next three races. GMS Racing announced it will not appeal the penalty and Darren Fraley, who served as an engineer for Justin Haley last season will sit atop the pit box as interim crew chief.
- Spencer Boyd will make his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut at Michigan International Speedway this weekend. After missing the race at Eldora Speedway with back pain, Boyd returns to the No. 20 Young’s Motorsports Chevrolet in Saturday’s Truck Series race before piloting the No. 53 Rick Ware Racing Ford Sunday afternoon.
- As of press time, there are just 31 trucks on the entry list for Saturday’s race at Michigan. Cory Roper returns to the field for the first time since Texas Motor Speedway in June, while Codie Rohrbaugh will make his first since Kentucky Speedway a few races ago. Meanwhile, Jesse Iwuji is back behind the wheel for Reaume Brothers Racing for the first time since Chicagoland Speedway.
- Michigan hosts the final race to set the 2019 playoff field. Six drivers (Tyler Ankrum, Ross Chastain, Stewart Friesen, Austin Hill, Brett Moffitt and Johnny Sauter) are locked in based on victories already this season, and Grant Enfinger will clinch his playoff spot simply by taking the green flag. That leaves just one spot open for several hopefuls. Since Matt Crafton has a 63-point advantage on the closest driver not already locked in (Ben Rhodes), it will take a win by a driver below the cut line to knock him out of the championship battle.
- Tyler Ankrum could lock up the Rookie of the Year title at Michigan if no other rookie manages to qualify for the playoffs. Assuming the remainder of the rookie field fails to visit victory lane Saturday, Ankrum will take the advantage thanks to the point reset for playoff drivers and will finish the year with no less than 2,000 points, more than enough to give him the clear advantage for the ROTY title.