Not every auto race is a barnburner. The thrilling races are the memorable races. People remember the battles or the crashes or the rivalries. When none of this happens – particularly in the NASCAR world – people not only get upset but they seem to lose interest.
Whereas Formula One races often play out with no such “safety car” periods, NASCAR has built its excitement over the last few years on late race double file restarts. These often provide the moments necessary to make a race memorable. If this naturally happens the NASCAR nation has no problem with it and welcomes it, however conspiracies abound about the validity of many a late race caution.
This takes us to the Saturday night race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. A race televised on ABC, NASCAR needed an exciting finish. The race had been rather anticlimactic as Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne ran away from the field. It appeared the two were heading for a one-two finish.
With 28 laps to go that mysterious Frenchman “Jacques Debris” caused the late race caution NASCAR needed. As the fans in the stands cheered and welcomed the yellow flag, Twitter blew up with conspiracy. The validity of said debris was questioned greatly. ABC did not show the debris those at the track did not see it in replay on the big screen or on the track where it was said to be. The crews and drivers questioned it as well – particularly Johnson’s 48 team.
The yellow changed the complexion of the race. The final restart allowed strategy to play itself out and led to a great late race duel for the victory between Kahne and eventual race winner Brad Keselowski, who ended a long winless drought.
As a fan sitting in the grandstands the final battle somewhat saved the race. Without that yellow it was going down as a rather forgettable event. We appreciated it. NASCAR will tell you they always err on the side of caution when it comes to debris as they do not want it to affect the outcome of a race. They also know that besides being a valid racing series, they are also providing entertainment. Where is the line crossed on the validity of debris cautions?
To us, providing an entertaining race is important but the so called ghost cautions often turn off racing fans who think it is more about the show than the racing. There is ultimately a simple solution to this that would make the conspiracy theorists among us not have to question NASCAR anymore.
Simply throw a competition yellow every 100 laps if one does not occur naturally or have a reset at the 75 percent mark of the race. If people know going in that it is done for entertainment they will not complain when the ghost cautions occur.
As a fan who wants excitement we always appreciate the late race caution, whether it is valid or not, but the purists among us do not and their reasoning is sound. For now the black helicopters will continue to circle NASCAR as long as they keep throwing debris cautions that do not seem exactly necessary.
Then again, maybe they just want to keep people talking, speculating, and having opinions. No one really knows the answer except NASCAR themselves. You be the judge.