Saturday’s XFINITY Series race from Richmond International Raceway was a good one overall – but few will remember that.
The main takeaway from the event was not the Dash 4 Cash, the close, multi-groove racing, or even the exciting late-race restarts. Instead, the focus was on the race-ending caution during a NASCAR overtime attempt.
A crash with two laps to go, shortly after the leaders crossed the overtime line, initiated a caution flag – or at least in theory. The caution lights illuminated, signaling that the field would be frozen to determine the finishing order of the race, but the flag stand never displayed the yellow until well after the leaders took the white.
NASCAR argued on Monday that the field should know to slow down when the caution lights flash, contradicting statements from previous years that have led people to believe that the flag stand always overrules the lights. Specifically, this way of thinking has come up in moments when the caution lights are accidentally triggered, which happened in 2014 at Bristol. In that instance, NASCAR did not freeze the field until the flag stand reacted to the mistake.
The finish was a mess and part of the blame falls on NASCAR’s officiating. However, the confusing nature is only a portion of the overall issue. Simply put, the overtime rules need an overhaul.
NASCAR has gone to extreme lengths to produce exciting racing. From constant playoff and points changes, to race format updates, to regular rules package alterations, hardly anything ever stays the same to reach this goal.
Yet, despite NASCAR’s efforts to stand out in a competitive entertainment industry, races still end under caution. Every week, the part of the race that is supposed to be most exciting can also be the most anticlimactic.
Fans are asked to tune into three or four hour races – arguably too long to begin with – and are sometimes rewarded with the field taking the checkered flag at 50 mph. Something with this logic does not add up.
The overtime line was developed under the suggestion of the driver’s council, proving that the stars of the sport can sometimes have too much power and what is best for them is not always ideal for the fans.
An argument NASCAR frequently makes is that having unlimited attempts at overtime would create endless restarts and force races to drag on for too long. Yet, many in the NASCAR industry also enjoy making fun of ARCA drivers for constant crashing, yet that series guarantees a green flag finish each race and has no issues effectively and reasonably providing fans with just that. If drivers from a lower level of stock car racing can do it, certainly NASCAR’s best are capable of such a feat.
Even if they were not, and there were multiple attempts at finishing the race, at least something exciting is happening and the sanctioning body is letting it play out to completion. If there is any part of the race that needs shortening, it’s the middle portion, not the closing laps, which can be the most thrilling.
Fans invest a lot into a race, whether it is time, money or both. The least the sanctioning body can do is provide them with a finish.
If a caution is absolutely necessary as the leaders are in turn four coming to the checkered, throw the yellow. But, after that, line them up and go for it again.
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