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Beside the Rising Tide: NASCAR’s Green-White-Wreckers Finishes

It could simply be a coincidence, but it’s been happening routinely enough lately that what starts as a coincidence becomes a trend. Most fans found the conclusion of the Kansas race a couple weeks ago less than compelling.

It was the errant tire that found itself marooned on the grassy area between the track and pit road that drew most of the comments, many of them negative.

But something else bothered me to an equal degree. The caution flag flew on lap 259 for a legitimate incident involving the cars of Christopher Bell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Josh Bilicki. On lap 257, Kyle Busch was credited with wresting the lead from Kyle Larson, who had dominated much of the race. But had the debris been quickly dealt with and the race been allowed to resume, Larson would have at least had a shot at re-passing Busch.

Instead, and this is the trend I’m either noticing or imagining, track cleanup seemed overly slow and deliberate. There were almost 10 laps scheduled to be run in the race when Stenhouse caused that caution. But the laps were left to tick away as the pack circled the track behind the pace car, their positions frozen. That led to yet another overtime finish. A green-white-checkered finish is far preferable to a race being allowed to end under caution, but it really limits how much time a driver, even one in a decidedly faster car, has to work with to advance his position or perhaps even take the win.

Yes, sometimes races used to end under caution and a lot of people weren’t happy about it, though a vast majority of fans count a race that ended under caution as one of their all-time favorite NACAR events ever. Dale Earnhardt was leading the field on lap 200 of the 1998 Daytona 500, the one Crown Jewel event that had eluded Earnhardt his entire career, though he’d come heart-achingly close to winning it many times. Bobby Labonte was making a determined charge at the black No. 3 car and might well have caught him. But NASCAR wasn’t going to allow that to happen yet again, especially not as they kicked off their much ballyhooed 50th anniversary season.

Earnhardt and his multitude of fans were of course deliriously happy that he had won. Members of most other teams lined pit road to congratulate Earnhardt on the win as well, even the crews of other drivers who had had run-ins with Earnhardt during his storied career. And it was a bit of a relief that fans were finally not going to hear about the “Earnhardt Curse” at Daytona anymore. (Truth is Earnhardt Senior won a ton of races at Daytona, just not the 500 until 1998.)

I don’t mean to minimize the work that the track crews do during a caution period or the importance of that work. Even one errant shard of metal left on the track as racing resumes can cut down the tire of the leader. Fluids left on the track not completely and correctly cleaned up can cause drivers to lose control, and physics being physics, that can lead to nasty wrecks. Let the track crews have time to do their jobs and do them properly.

But the fact remains that in this era of the low horsepower, high downforce package, the most competitive racing is directly after a restart, and takes place in a period of a lap or two — especially if that’s under a potential overtime end of the race.

Most fans head to the track, or invest three or four hours of their precious downtime at home watching on the tube, wanting to see a good, competitive race, with the best cars and drivers settling the race win between themselves. Their eyes tend to glaze over watching the pack circulate slowly behind the pace car lap after lap, especially as the number of laps left to run in the race dwindles away.

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Beside the Rising Tide: Hey, Where Did Everybody Go?

So to provide the fans with what they want, keep the track crews safe and able to do their job completely, and give each driver a legitimate shot at winning, here’s what I’d propose …

If a race is under caution with 12 or fewer laps left to run, the red flag would be displayed to bring the race to a halt. When track cleanup was complete to NASCAR’s satisfaction, the caution would return. Drivers who wished or needed to pit would be allowed to do so on the one-lap “hurry-up” schedule, on the first lap after the track returned to caution conditions. Sorry, but this “choose cone” stuff gets jettisoned for this late race restart. Ideally, the racing would resume with enough laps left to run to settle the race fairly among the fastest cars at the front of the pack.

Since NASCAR seems fond of cute nicknames, I’d call my end of race procedures “The Dirty Dozen.” Yes, cautions breed cautions, so not every race is going to end spectacularly, and some drivers will still likely end up furiously angry with other drivers over slights real or imagined.

The Dirty Dozen rule would get the weekend off at road course events. Recall Elkhart Lake, for example, is over four miles around, which means adding 12 laps would add more than 48 miles to the advertised race length, which is a bit too much.

I’d also love to see NASCAR adopt the system most modern racing series use for caution flags at road courses. Rather than displaying a general yellow flag around the entire course, a “localized” yellow is displayed prior to the segment of the track where the incident actually took place and caution is warranted. One errant driver who got his play-pretty caught in a sand trap shouldn’t mean racing has to cease around the entire circuit, especially one of epic length like Elkhart.

I’d also hope that the potential new rule would not apply to the plate tracks ;Talladega and Daytona. For drivers racing at those two tracks, they are in enough danger as it is (ask Joey Logano and Ryan Newman), and the goal is to get the race over with as soon as possible before someone gets badly hurt … or worse.

Random Notes:

Should NASCAR be hosting races on Mother’s Day? I suppose the TV ratings, which should be released early this week, will tell the tale. As I noted a couple weeks ago, NASCAR’s experiment with running the second Winston at Atlanta way back in 1986 was a disaster both in terms of attendance and TV ratings.

My guess is that the ratings for Sunday’s race will be on the low side, but then lower TV ratings are par for the course as of late. So why take the risk rather than schedule the race for Saturday evening? Darlington does have lights after all. FOX’s Bill Wagner was pretty blunt about it. Typically, Sunday afternoon Cup races draw 20% to 25 % higher ratings than similar Cup races run on Saturday evening.

Speaking of the TV networks, it seemed that the truck race Friday was given an overly optimistic time slot to get the entire race in on FS1. The race went into extra innings, which I’m sure enraged some fans of The Spring League’s Blues and Sea Lions, presuming such people exist when their game was moved to FS2. FS2 is one of those triple-digit cable channels in these parts, one that few people have committed to memory or even quite sure they get.

NASCAR fans might face some rescheduling woes of their own after this season. The NBCSN channel, which has carried a fair amount of NASCAR programming, is being taken off the air entirely by year’s end. It would seem the movement lately is toward streaming TV and electric cars. NASCAR is saying that even the new “stock” cars debuting next year will eventually be powered by hybrid drivetrains in an attempt to lure new automakers into the sport. I may not know how many fans will attend or even watch a Mother’s Day race even at Darlington, but I do know that practically no NASCAR fans are going to pay to watch races with quieter race cars, especially if they are in Hyundais.

If NASCAR could just find a way to lure Dodge back into NASCAR racing, all would be well. There’s gotta still be a lot of gearheads running around at Dodge. After all they’re building a 700-plus horsepower pickup truck for sale to the public.

I’m surprised that nobody chose to do a “Throwback” tribute to Junior Johnson’s “Yellow Banana” 1966 Ford, the most infamous cheated-up car ever to compete in a NASCAR race. Bill France had asked Johnson to bring the car to the track to help break the 1966 Ford boycott of NASCAR racing that year. It wouldn’t have mattered if they built it with a Mustang, Camaro or even Camry body. It would have looked as much like a 1966 Ford as Junior’s race car did that afternoon.

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David Edwards

Dodge back in NASCAR? With Sergio’s death maybe there is more of a possibility. Still it seems like Hyundai is more of a possibility. Of one of the European manufacturers.
But we shall see.

Bill B

You lost me with this line: “Recall Elkhart Lake, for example, is over four miles around, which means adding 12 laps would add more than 48 miles to the advertised race length”.

I thought you were proposing that the red flag be thrown whenever there is less than 12 laps left in the race and then the race resumes with whatever amount of laps were left when the caution flew, but that line makes it sound like if there is a caution with 3 laps left, the laps remaining gets reset to 12 laps (how else would 48 miles get added). This seems stupid because if there is another caution then you have to add another 12 laps, etc. or you end up in the same boat as we are today. I could buy into a steadfast rule of when there are less than 12 laps a caution worthy event is always red flagged and caution laps are not run. This would also help with times when fuel mileage becomes an issue due to the race being extended.

I am not sure how I would feel about electric cars but I am pretty sure it would be negatively. I guess that would make the “crank it up” segment obsolete.

Joshua W Farmer

I believe that NEWERS fans need to be drawn into NASCAR and having many different makes on the track, including something like a Honda, Nissan or Hyundai would help. As an old-guard fan, I am in favor of unlimited overtime finishes in the sport today, however, I still prefer to see a race run in it’s entirety without stage breaks so that strategy by the smartest crews and drivers can play out. I don’t care if a race ends under yellow but your above “Dirty Dozen” idea is kinda cool. Kill the out of bounds rules at the plate tracks and unrestrict the engines. Let the teams figure out speed. Racing will always be inherently dangerous and most of NASCAR drivers know this. We shouldn’t water down thes for short attention spans (people that can’t get off their cellphones long enough to take a restroom break). I have fond memories of full Sunday afternoons, BBQ cooking and quick naps in the middle of the race (but I also was running my own 1:64 scale 15 race seasons with stats and all on racetracks made with electrical tape). I had one scaled down 3.2 mile track named Thunder Valley and I kept stats and points and still have all of them today. 100 seasons of playing with actual diecasts and then 20 that I simulated via NASCAR 2003 with all of my actual cars done in the paint shop. As for Mother’s Day, there are many reasons fans don’t tune in anymore and it’s generational. In our world today, getting a license isn’t an onus anymore as most states have laws that make 18 the age for a full license (so why get a car anyway when you have Uber and Lyft and public transportation)? Plus, we have had several bad NASCAR movies that portray it as a redneck sport and young people today are diverse and want diversity (thank God for saving our country). Corporate America spends more money on advertising online in our world today, as well–why sponsor a race car? Electric cars will sound the same, as Steve Phelps said in an interview. I imagine they would use glass pack exhaust or Flowmaster, something of the sort. I’ve been to recent AND old races and noise reduction isn’t really a thing. The Next-Gen car is going to be a huge boon. Reading the specs released by Ford, Toyota and Chevy, the car is going to be a handful and that’s the way it should be. I am in favor of big networks broadcasting the races instead of channels like FS1. I miss ESPN, NBC and ABC’s Wide World of Sports. The ESPN opening race music was classic. Bowyer, Gordon and the legendary Mike Joy are good together but I also miss Dr. Jerry Punch, Glen Jarrett and others. Fact is, passing was up at Darlington by about 30% over the prior race. I am no fan of fair-weather fans with negative comments (go watch something else). The stands were sold out at Darlington with social distancing in place and Dover is sold out, as was the Bristol dirt race, etc. Finally, I miss seeing the “winnings” of the drivers, as that added legitimacy to the their lives being in the hands of fate. I love baseball, but how hard is it to control a tiny little ball? How hard is it to control a 3400 lb car? My point. Great article again from Frontstretch.

Echo

Whew, feel better now !!!

DoninAjax

Is there an implication that NA$CAR would stoop to manipulating the ends of their examples of Brian’s product? Why would anyone think that?

Jo

Some cheese with that whine, Matt? Losers always find excuses.

Echo

What are you talking about Jo ! Lost me.

Bill B

Yeah, I must have missed the whining as well.

WJW Motorsports

I think back in the day Matt must have hit Jo’s dog with his El Camino.

Jo

No, he didn’t hit my dog, but he probably hit somebody else’s dog with his Ford Taurus and then blamed it on somebody else.

Jo

All the general whining about cautions, especially the Kansas race. It seems like Matt is here mainly to complain about anything that isn’t like it was in his “good old days.”

Granted I didn’t read the whole article. I just checked in to see what flavor of “wine” Matt was serving this week.

Bill B

So you are basically whining about Matt whining.
Good job.

Jo

I simple don’t see Matt’s purpose in contributing here anymore. He should step aside for those who aren’t living in the past.

Plus, he’s an overall arrogant prick

Bill B

Hahaha.
So you want writers that will spoon feed you what you want to hear? I’d say the easiest thing to do is just ignore his columns. There are one or two that I usually avoid just because, who needs the aggravation.

But I bet what really burns you up is that most weeks his stories are in the top 3 for most comments.

Jo

His comments are up there, but all from the same handful of old codgers, including me. FS is where old race fans go to die.

Bill B

Earth to Jo. Earth to Jo.
The same handful of whatever you want to call us leave comments on all the articles here at FS. The only difference between Matt and the others is that he is one of us.
And you just can’t stand that. Seeing people happy when you feel differently just eats away at you, doesn’t it?

Jo

Bill B, none of you seems happy in the least, unless your definition of “happy” is bitching and whining all day every day.”

Bill BB

Yeah, I realized “happy” wasn’t the right word after I hit the button.
A better way is to say, “Seeing people in agreement when you feel differently just eats away at you, doesn’t it?”
I think that’s more accurate.
BTW, your posts don’t reek of happiness either.

Jo

I have a medium level of satisfaction with the current state of NASCAR racing. As for my personal “happiness,” NASCAR is irrelevant to that.

Jo

Bill B may be “one of you,” but I am proud to say I am not in that group. Until he was forced to change his avatar, he proudly displayed the Confederate Flag which is really all anyone needs to know about this guy. So, if he is “one of you,” I wonder do you all buy your white sheets and crosses from the same distributor?

Bill T

Just a thought, and maybe this would help with the end of race. I know many are not fans of the G-W-C method of deciding a race. It does add to the ‘excitement’ from a viewership. But it does cause drivers to lose their minds and drive with reckless abandon, because they have such little time to make their move and get to the lead. What if it becomes a G-G-G-G-W-C?? 5 laps instead of 2?? There might be less desperation to make the moves that causes wrecks, and/or give the best car a chance to get back to the lead, and/or add a new pit strategy of coming in if you think you have time to get back to the front.

DoninAjax

Back in the day the ASA (Martin, Wallace, Trickle, Kulwicki, Eddy, Howe, Hanley etc) rules stated that the last five laps had to be run under green. The laps stopped counting if the caution came out with five or fewer laps remaining and they finished with five racing laps. They were ahead of their time.

Echo

Or heck, just use the all star format every weekend and confuse the heck out of fans and drivers alike. Still think Brian snuck that in there.

wildcatsfan2016

I was surprised that the “Mother’s Day” race wasn’t on Saturday night. It certainly has been in the past. I actually looked for it on the schedule on Saturday and finally realized that it was on Sunday instead. I did watch some of it.

I can tell you that I don’t plan to pay for streaming. I already pay for cable and IMO that’s already too expensive. I like NASCAR but I no longer love it so if the races aren’t available on TV, oh well.

Jo

This season I have been able to read several books while “watching” the racing on TV on mute. And I didn’t miss a thing in the book or in the race.

The only interesting part of any NASCAR race is the restarts after cautions. And at the tracks with low tire wear, the pit strategy is interesting to watch. That’s why Darlington was a complete dud. No one was bold on pit stop strategy because the tires wore too fast. The car doesn’t seem to matter. NASCAR just needs a competition caution every 50 laps or so and one with 10 to go. Then the whole Kansas thing would be a moot point.

Echo

Bill B.- lmao, good one

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