Monday, March 23, 2015

COMMENTARY: Consistency At All Costs

NASCAR elected not to throw the caution flag yesterday when Greg Biffle crashed on the final lap of the Auto Club 400 in Fontana, California. Just a few weeks earlier, the sanctioning body threw a caution for Kyle Larson’s crash on the white-flag lap at Daytona International Speedway, allowing Joey Logano to win the Daytona 500 without being challenged down the stretch.

What’s the difference? Well, there are lots of differences. And that’s the whole point.

At Daytona, Larson spun out of the pack and slammed the inside retaining wall at an estimated speed of 130 mph. His car left the ground on impact and spun nearly 360 degrees in the air before landing in a smoking, twisted heap. Less than 24 hours after a similar crash left Kyle Busch with a compound fracture of his right leg, everyone in the house feared for Larson’s safety.

In comparison, Biffle’s crash at ACS Sunday was downright pedestrian. He impacted the outside wall at a much lower speed, doing only moderate damage to his Roush Fenway Racing Ford. After a short period spent sitting on the track apron – with his fellow competitors long gone and far away – the Washington native simply re-fired his engine and drove away.

With virtually no common ground between the two incidents, there was virtually no reason for NASCAR to react identically. In fact, Biffle’s crash bore more resemblance to a spin by David Ragan on Lap 24 of Sunday’s race, when NASCAR elected to throw the caution flag.

Why? Because the old saying is true.

Timing is everything.

A caution on Lap 24 doesn’t usually impact the outcome of a race. Yesterday’s Lap 24 stoppage didn’t change anything. Unfurling the caution on the final lap, however, would have robbed race fans of the exciting finish they paid to see. It’s like ordering Linda Vaughn through the mail and having Phyllis Diller delivered.

Disappointing, to say the least.

Believe it or not, NASCAR officials are people, too. Like the rest of us, they prefer to see a green-flag finish, whenever safety reasonably allows one to occur. Sunday, with Biffle fired up and rolling more than a mile ahead of the leaders, NASCAR had no real reason to throw the caution flag. Biffle was clearly uninjured, and the officials in the flagstand – almost directly above the scene of the crash – were able to confirm a clear, debris-free race track.

NASCAR allowed the racers to do what they do best Sunday, and the results were eminently satisfying. Especially if you’re a Brad Keselowski fan.

Why does NASCAR insist on making late-race rulings on a case-by-case basis?

Simply because every case in different.

NASCAR fans – some of them, at least – seem to crave consistency above all else. They want the sanctioning body to make the exact same call, every single time, despite the fact that no two incidents are ever completely alike. If NASCAR is forced to cast aside common sense and make every ruling the same way, fans will be forced to accept yellow-flag finishes on a much more frequent basis.

Based on the level of unhappiness that followed this year’s Daytona 500, most fans will not welcome that change.


  1. Well said. I really don't understand why people don't get the very simple rule NASCAR seems to hold itself to "if they can finish in safety then no yellow otherwise yellow". Simple and it seems NASCAR has been consistent about that.

  2. Anonymous5:03 PM

    I for one of many say the flag for the disappearing whatever it was is plain BS. Its 2 laps to go. It was talked about for maybe several laps. The flag comes out and its gone. How do you justify that. If it was there they all saw it for a couple laps and had no problem with it being there. It sure as he-- could not have been bad enough for a flag. Nascar put yourself on probation! JMO

  3. One thing that makes NASCAR seem cynical (but they are consistent in this) if they were in the middle of green flag pit stops they will avoid throwing a caution. but the same debris on the track with 10-20 laps to go will always get a caution (at least that's the appearance) but i do agree with everything you said

  4. Anonymous8:27 PM

    As always, the voice of reason. Ain't nobody got time for that! Haahaa. Thanks for doing what you do Dave.

    Becki from New Jersey ��

  5. Anonymous1:31 AM

    How does J Gordon get a free pass for spinning D.Regan

  6. Anonymous2:21 AM

    I say there is always going to be some gruffness as to when a caution was waved or not especially at the end of the race, Logano did have than win in the can, nobody was able to catch him or was going to at that speed in that short amount of real estate. Because it was "rare" at a plate track nefarious things were afoot (in some minds) despite the clear indication from the radio chatter and anybody with glasses the lead cars raced to the finish, despite the frozen field a short distance away from the checkers. I don't recall a moan or complaint when it happened to Junior, I am sure there is a hundred reasons from nuts as to why it was "different" for him.. Given the nature of the calls over the years Nascar has put themselves in this position...this weekend of fan outrage. Although I clearly do not believe this was some super plot to deny Kurt, nobody seems to realize his crew chief made the call for 2 tires, not 4..that sealed the deal, whether the haters like it or not. Brad admitted he stole one, which is more that many did over the years when they were in the same situation. You win one sometimes that way, and you lose one that way..the life of racing. Nascar does need to clean up it's act, they need to prove fans wrong when they question a caution, but then again, there always could be Brian France stumbling out of a track VIP area and his martini glass finds it way on the track, no easy answers..but they better come up with something. Kurt however was not robbed, as I did not know he was guaranteed to cross the checkers first.

  7. Anonymous5:13 AM

    You misunderstand why fans are upset, again.

  8. Anonymous7:00 AM

    They had a great segment on Race Hub Monday illustrating how Brad passed all those cars on the final two restarts to get the victory. Never mind Cautiongate, just how many other drivers in the field do you think could have pulled that off given the same circumstances? Not many I suspect. It was very similar to the Nationwide race at Homestead in 2013 when he went from 11th to 1st in a lap and a half.

    Kurt Busch will win soon and very likely this weekend in Martinsville. A few years down the road what would more people likely remember, Kurt crossing the line under caution for the win or what actually happened Sunday at Auto Club Speedway? In my mind it's no contest. Thanks for the show Brad.

  9. Anonymous10:24 AM

    As a former official at a local track I can say with absolute certainty that many calls are judgement calls that must be made without time for deliberation. It took a long time for me to live down the yellow I called for a piece of metal in the groove that turned out to be a tear-off...

    Better to be safe than sorry, even if you have to submit to abuse from 'fans'.

  10. Anonymous11:17 AM

    Well please explain the race from the week before. A tire rolled out away from the pits. NASCAR waited several laps until AFTER Logano had pitted so that he would not benefit from the caution.
    So, was the tire dangerous or not? If so, then how can you wait to throw the caution. If not, then why throw the caution at all.

  11. Anonymous12:05 PM

    What if a Roush driver had been leading the race and Biffle suddenly couldn't restart or move his race car? It would bring out the yellow and fans would scream he did it on purpose which we couldn't disprove. Now Roush hasn't been leading laps so it is a big if. Say Jr is leading and the #5 car spins and doesn't get off the track? See where I'm going with this? If you throw the yellow flag all the time in this instance it will protect the integrity of the sport.

  12. Anonymous2:57 PM

    Don't worry dave...your press credential is still good at Nascar events...Guess Nascars got em all scared

    1. So scared YOU have to remain Anonymous? HAHA LOL

  13. Anonymous11:15 PM

    I listened to your show for most of your time today.....I am still amazed at the number of people who call in about the conspiracy factor. I have almost kicked my TV in by cautions, by wrecks and other situations....but I can't think of a time I thought it was a staged event or the cautions where thrown by NASCAR to help the ending of a race. I do think drivers will do anything to bring out a caution when they need it....Jimmy Spencer would quickly come to mind....a little black roll bar padding out the window cost him a visit to the trailer if I remember correctly...but who can blame him. I listen to the NASCAR officials during the race from time to time....I do not envy their job.....but I do believe they do it with integrity. I would love to hear David Hoots on Up to Speed interview or something like that....he is an interesting man.....but I wouldn't want to be on his bad side.