By admin | April 28, 2008
Why not race back to the line on the last lap?
By Richard Allen
The last lap of the Aaron’s 499 could have been a spine tingling thriller, but it was not. Instead, the field was frozen when a 10 car crash occurred well behind the lead pack.
At the moment of caution NASCAR freezes the field so that cars will slow immediately in order to create a safer situation for drivers and track safety workers.
For years, cars were allowed to race back to the start/finish line when a yellow flag was displayed. However, during a race in New Hampshire in 2003 the car of Dale Jarrett was sitting in a prone position on the front straightaway with cars racing for the line in an attempt to unlap themselves.
Shortly after that race NASCAR instituted the policy of field freezing. This policy applies to any and all cautions, including a caution that might occur on the last lap.
It did not take long to see that NASCAR had managed to paint itself into a corner with its new policy. The problem came when cautions flew in the last laps of races and fans were deprived of seeing cars race to the finish line. Instead, the winners of races were determined by the running order at the time of caution. It was a bit disappointing to say the least for fans who had paid high ticket prices and traveled long distances to have the outcome of a race be decided by a computer.
In an attempt to remedy the situation NASCAR introduced the green/white/checkered finish system to the Sprint Cup division. The system had been used in the Craftsman Truck Series prior to its inception in the Cup series. However, due to NASCAR’s insistence on a one time only G/W/C restart there still remains the possibility of having the final finishing order of a given race determined somewhere other than the finish line.
So, why not race back to the line on the last lap? Doing so would give fans the opportunity to see what they came to see, an exciting finish. Also, it would take ammunition away from conspiracy theorists who argue that NASCAR picks who it wants to win in the field freezing situations. It seems to be the only way to actually determine the winner of a race.
If the only concern is for safety then there seems to be little to worry about. In the case of Sunday’s race in Talladega safety workers did not get to those wrecked cars any faster just because the field was frozen.
The leaders could have raced unimpeded on their way back around the track and would have slowed down immediately after crossing the finish line. Any wrecked cars and their drivers would not have been in any more danger just because the race was allowed to continue to its rightful ending.
Obviously, NASCAR would have to use their best judgment in some cases. If there were a crash between the lead cars and the finish line it would be imprudent to allow cars to race by at full speed. In an instance such as that NASCAR could throw an immediate caution and freeze the field.
Perhaps such a scenario would be too confusing. Maybe it is not worth the risk but it is very frustrating for fans, and no doubt for drivers as well, to have a race ended on the backstretch because of a wreck that occurred almost a mile behind the lead pack.
NASCAR did its best to allow the race to finish as it should in Talladega. They seemingly ignored the fact that the #00 car of Michael McDowell had spun while coming to the white flag. However, the final pile up forced the sanctioning body to put the caution flag out and thus end the race about one mile prematurely.
The Talladega race could have produced a finish that would have had fans talking for years to come, but instead, there was only an anti-climatic coast to the finish line and a check of the last scoring loop.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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