By admin | May 30, 2011
By Richard Allen
It has been claimed by a number of observers that, given the opportunity, NASCAR would do whatever it took to make Dale Earnhardt, Jr. a winner. There is little doubt that a win by the sport’s most popular driver would benefit the sanctioning body which causes those who have made the conspiracy claims to believe NASCAR might be willing to lend a helping hand to his cause.
On Sunday night in the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR had that very opportunity, but instead, allowed the race to play out to its full conclusion and thus saw Junior fall short in his bid to end a losing streak that dates back nearly three years.
The Memorial Day weekend classic at the Charlotte Motor Speedway turned into a fuel mileage contest in its latter stages as a caution flag that waved with just over 50 laps remaining allowed teams to pit their cars just inside, or outside, their window for making it to the end. Junior, who was one of the drivers with a chance to stretch his gas to the finish, appeared poised for victory when he restarted on the front row for a late race green/white/checker finish.
When the final green flag waved, Kasey Kahne, Junior’s fellow front row starter in the double-file alignment, was unable to get up to speed as his fuel tank emptied. Kahne’s dilemma created a bottleneck through the field which eventually resulted in several cars making contact and spinning to the track apron.
With Junior’s fuel supply almost exhausted, he shot to a sizeable lead over the scrambling pack behind him.
It was at this point where conspiracy theorists like ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser, who after Daytona qualifying claimed that NASCAR placed Earnhardt on the pole to garner more attention for that race, were debunked. Had the sport’s bosses really wanted to ensure that Junior would win, they could have turned on the yellow lights just after the 88 car sailed under the flagman’s stand to take the white flag. At that point, all the driver would have needed to do would be to coast around at slow speed to the finish line.
It would have been easy to claim that there was left over debris in the area of the earlier spin. Instead of doing that, however, NASCAR officials left the green lights on and allowed the cars to race back to the checkered flag. By doing so, the officials caused Junior to run full speed and thus empty his tank about one-half mile before the race’s conclusion.
Kevin Harvick had received a boost under the final caution when teammate Paul Menard pushed him around the track with the engine on the 29 car shut off. This legal strategy allowed Harvick to save just enough gas to bypass the coasting Junior and score the win.
Even though the sanctioning body may have gone a long way toward debunking one conspiracy theory, they opened the door for another criticism. In the race’s early stages there were at least two cautions for beverage cans on the track. On the last lap a yellow flag was not displayed even though several cars had spun. Inconsistent rulings in the late laps of races have placed NASCAR in the firing line of critics for some time now. And after Sunday night, that promises to continue for a long while.
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