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Did they bend the rules for Dale Jr.?

Whether NASCAR are Junior fans or not, the way it played out without a caution was perfect for TV ratings and stole headlines even from the dramatic end to the Indianapolis 500 a few hours earlier. Either they would get a hugely popular Earnhardt victory (which would wipe the Indy 500 off the back pages on Monday in the stockcar nation heartland) or else they got what actually transpired - last corner heartbreak and high drama as Harvick swept past to steal the win.

Either way, in terms of marketing it was a great success for NASCAR - which demonstrates a long-standing tension in motorsport: whether to err on the side of safety, or of entertainment.

It's not just NASCAR that wrestles with this balance of course: the officials at Indianapolis were also criticised for not bringing out the yellow flag the moment JR Hildebrand crashed on the last corner of the race, but instead hesitated and allowed Dan Wheldon to pass by the wreck at high speed before bringing out the caution with the chequered flag.

If the yellow had come out straight away - as would happen at any other time in the race- then Panther may have had grounds to challenge the race result based on Wheldon having overtaken Hildebrand's wrecked but still moving car under yellow which could have been breaking the rules. Instead, the race steward opted to keep the track green for several crucial seconds despite Wheldon having to pass by a potentially dangerous accident site.

The Indy 500 caution delay was a matter of seconds; the Coca-Cola 600 was almost two whole laps. And that coming when NASCAR are notoriously quick to bring out a yellow at the drop of a single piece of debris on the track even when TV cameras can't find anything, coincidentally just when it's convenient to close up the field and make for an exciting restart at a key moment of the race.

"A reputation for phantom debris cautions during boring stretches works against NASCAR here," agreed Associated Press writer Jenna Fryer. "It doesn't help, either, that Harvick himself questioned a debris call earlier in the race when he grumbled over his radio he didn't see anything on the track and that NASCAR makes those calls to benefit the chosen ones."

It all gives rise to the suggestion that NASCAR race/safety directors are becoming rather too interchangeable with entertainment and TV directors, trying to choreograph the night's action and storylines to the best advantage for fan consumption rather than looking out for the health and safety of the competitors.

"The pressure is on," NASCAR President Mike Helton had acknowledged an hour before the race, conceding that the previous week's All-Star Race at the same venue had been a bit of a snooze-fest. "Hope tonight is good." No undue pressure there from the boss, then.

But no one is perfect, a decision has to be made, and often the situation required that decision to be made in split-seconds - right or wrong.

"The one thing I have learned over the last two or three weeks is there has to be a judge," race winner Kevin Harvick said. "There has to be somebody making those decisions, and there has to be somebody who's going to say, 'Yep, there's debris on the track. I see it and there it is.' There has to be somebody making the calls, and I'm glad I don't have to make them."




Related Pictures

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Kevin Harvick crosses the finish line after passing Dale Earnhardt Jr on the final lap to win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. [Picture credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, celebrates with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for the pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, celebrates with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for the pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, races during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 3M Chevrolet, talks to his crew chief, Alan Gustafson, on the grid prior to qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fourth position Friday, April 17, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Harvick leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, lead the field to the green flag for the running of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 11, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, races the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 11, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Panasonic Chevrolet, drives through the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 10, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the # 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s ChevroletSS, qualifies for second position Friday, April 10, 2015 for Saturday night`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Joining Harvick on the front row will be Pole winner Kurt Busch, driver of the # 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the # 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, won the Pole Friday, April 10, 2015 for Saturday night`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Joining Busch on the front row will be Kevin Harvick, driver of the # 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS who qualified second. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the # 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, won the Pole Friday, April 10, 2015 for Saturday night`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Joining Busch on the front row will be Kevin Harvick, driver of the # 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS who qualified second. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, finishes in ninth place racing with Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmer`s Insurance Chevrolet SS who finishes in eleventh place Sunday, March 29, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet SS, finishes in eighth place Sunday, March 29, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, finishes in sixth place Sunday, March 29, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #17 Fastenal Ford, is involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, qualifies for third position Friday, March 27, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Truex, Jr. is third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fourth position Friday, March 27, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Gordon is 22nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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vio - Unregistered

June 02, 2011 3:28 PM

The main problem is consistency. You can't throw cautions for stupid stuff all day and then not throw one when there are cars sliding around the racetrack. Nascar's antics are similar to those in professional wrestling (WWE).



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