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."