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Was the finish of the Martinsville race legitimate?

By admin | March 30, 2010

By Richard Allen

The final laps of the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 in Martinsville provided some of the best action in recent NASCAR history. Denny Hamlin’s three-wide slicing through the field along with the fender banging by Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon made for a memorable race. That type of action is exactly what NASCAR needs much more of.

However, with that said, one has to wonder whether some of that action should have even taken place at all.

As the cars raced toward the white flag, Kyle Busch got spun and smacked the wall in turn three. The caution flag flew just as leader Jeff Gordon was crossing under the flagman’s stand. If the #24 car actually crossed the line to take the white flag before the yellow flag waved the race would have ended as soon as he returned to the finish line once more.

“We were within just a few feet of winning the race,” Gordon said in reference to the timing of the caution flag.

Of course, after the restart the action was intense as Kenseth and Gordon bumped and banged their way around the track all the while allowing Hamlin to get around both of them on his way to victory.

Here are some of the issues with the way the final laps played out. Was the final caution flag for Busch’s spin thrown at the right time? Did television replays definitively show exactly where Gordon was on the track at the moment of the caution?

As far as the timing of the caution the real problem is with the consistency, or lack thereof, shown by NASCAR in these type situations. Remember back to the 2007 Daytona 500 when Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin raced to the finish line of ‘The Great American Race’. As cars began to spin wildly coming out of turn four NASCAR held off on throwing the final yellow until after the leaders had crossed the line. That did allow for one of the most often used highlights in NASCAR promo clips.

But by holding the caution NASCAR opened a door to be criticized in future instances. Had the final caution been held for just an extra second or two Gordon would have crossed under the white flag and been declared the winner. In that 2007 race the sanctioning body set a precedent for holding cautions until after the eventual winner crossed the finish line.

So, which is it when an incident occurs as the leaders approach the line to end a race? Is NASCAR going to hold onto the yellow flag until the leaders have crossed the line as in the 2007 Daytona 500 or are they going to throw it quickly so as to not allow the leader to cross the line in an attempt to create green/white/checkered finishes?

And what of the television replays? Surely with all of the camera angles available in the coverage of a NASCAR race there was one that showed where Gordon’s car was at the very moment the caution lights flashed on.

Gordon himself said he was within feet of being across the line so I guess that will have to do.

I am not saying NASCAR did anything wrong in their handling of the ending of the Goody’s 500. I am merely asking some questions because NASCAR has left it open for those questions to be asked with their past decisions.

I for one am very much in favor of exciting racing. I love the double file restarts and support the decision to use multiple green/white/checkered finishes. However, consistency is crucial. Without it, the accusations will always be there and conspiracy theorists will always have their ammunition to fire at NASCAR.

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Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.

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4 Responses to “Was the finish of the Martinsville race legitimate?”

  1. mkrcr Says:
    March 30th, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    How about this? Now that NA$CAR has mandated the GWC, perhaps the flagman no longer has to wonder “if” he should throw the flag. Rather it frees him up to actually control the race as he should. There was a wreck on the track and a caution should have been thrown when it was. As I saw it, the reaction time from the wreck to the flag looked proper. I think there would be a bigger stink if the flagger would have held it longer. You know, Hendrick/Chevy favoritism and all that.

  2. Steve Says:
    March 31st, 2010 at 10:17 am

    mkrcr, the problem people have with the way it was handled is that all during that race guys were hitting the wall and Nascar would wait to throw the yellow, if they threw it at all. Personally I have no problems with this and it was a refreshing change from years past where they would throw a yellow for everything.

    The way the end of the race was handled though, is inconsistent with the way they handled the rest of the race and it looked very much like they wanted an exciting finish. Were the yellow not to come out, Gordon would have won easily and Nascar apparently want an exciting finish. I’m not a Gordon fan, but he has a legitimate gripe in this situation.

    Until Nascar gets consistent with all their rules enforcement (not just yellow flags) they will continue to have credibility issues and will never receive the benefit of the doubt from fans

  3. Ruckus Says:
    March 31st, 2010 at 11:47 am

    The problem with the quickness of the last caution is just how long they were waiting to throw cautions the rest of the race. The incidents with Montoya and Speed were cases were they easily could have thrown a caution but did not. However, the delay in throwing the caution for the Elliot Sadler spin makes the hair trigger for the Busch spin look especially suspicious. Sadler was a few split seconds from crashing head on with the leaders they waited so long to throw the flag.

    And then there’s the interesting little tidbit that Busch is Hamlin’s team mate. Busch had been going 3 wide for several laps. At the last possible instance he came down on (I think) Mendard and spun out. Merry Christmas, Denny! Did Busch do that on purpose? I guess probably not. But it is a heck of a coincidence that with all the rough driving on the last lap the one guy to wreck was the team mate of the driver who needed the caution the most.

  4. mkrcr Says:
    March 31st, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    Ok,Ok…I didn’t have the benefit of watching the whole race due to fortunate employment. But if you’re going to hold your breath for NA$CAR to be consistent you’ll suffocate. Perhaps I should be turning blue believing my prior comment.