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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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Series championship contenders Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, take part in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Former racing driver Mario Andretti, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton pose during pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
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Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
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Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fifth position Friday, November 20, 2015 for Sunday`s Championship 4, the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Gordon will be joined by Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS to compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Sunday will be Gordon`s last race as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
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Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, races to victory Sunday, November 15, 2015 in the final round of the Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona. Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS advances to the Champion 4 with his second place finish. Harvick is joined with Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Pepsi Chevrolet SS to the Sprint Cup Series Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida next Sunday. (Photo by Garry Eller/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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