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.