By admin | July 7, 2008
By Richard Allen
After the Aaron’s 499 in Talladega I wrote a blog that asked, ‘Why not race back to the line on the last lap?’ Well, after another restrictor plate race I find myself again asking the same question.
In the previous article I stated my case that on the last lap of a race drivers should race back to the finish line if a wreck occurs behind the lead pack.
In the 2007 Daytona 500 NASCAR did exactly what it should have, they let Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin race to the line. That line is called the finish line for a reason. It is where the race is supposed to finish, not coming out of turn 4 or in the middle of turns 1 and 2.
Now, I realize that NASCAR dug itself into a bit of a hole by creating the loop scoring system then seemingly not abiding by their own rule in the 2007 Daytona 500 but look how many times that finish has been replayed. It was exciting to see those two cars captured on film crossing the finish line inches apart.
NASCAR did throw the caution in that race when the car of Clint Bowyer flipped and had a flash fire. That is what they should have done then and it is what they should do every time if such a situation occurs again.
However, in the Talladega race there was nothing of the kind going on, but the caution was waved and we had to rely on replays with a crew of announcers in the television booth suddenly pretending to be race officials determining when the yellow light came on and who was ahead at that moment.
A finish line is absolute. The first car to cross it is the winner. There is no guess work. There is no questioning whether a light came on and when it came on.
In Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 the same thing happened again. In turn 1 of the last lap with Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards running side by side a wreck occurred behind them. What could have been another heart stopping photo finish was again turned into a television crew pretending to be officials and acting as if they had the power to determine race winners.
When this subject is brought up people often act as if those who argue in favor of racing back to the line want the race to go on even when lives are hanging in the balance. Of course, that is not the case. In any situation in which a driver may be in jeopardy NASCAR should put the caution flag out and get the safety crews to the scene as quickly as possible, no matter what the lap.
But that was not the case in Talladega and it was not the case in Daytona.
NASCAR allowed racing to the line during all cautions for over five decades. That practice was stopped, and rightfully so, after an incident in New Hampshire.
However, in a video discussion on the same topic after Talladega I heard one person say that NASCAR quit racing to the line because Dale Jarrett was T-Boned in New Hampshire. Jarrett’s car did sit in a dangerous spot but he was not T-Boned, or even slightly hit.
I would not disagree with the practice of slowing cars immediately and freezing the field when an incident occurs at any other point during a race, but on the last lap NASCAR needs to hold on to the caution flag unless they see someone in obvious danger. Otherwise, all races need to end where they are meant to end, the finish line.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
*Video of Dale Jarrett’s New Hampshire crash. http://youtube.com/watch?v=lfJneG9Urbc
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