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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

NASCAR made the right call by waiting to throw yellow

When it comes to throwing caution flags, NASCAR has a tight rope to walk.

On one hand, many fans are critical of mysterious debris cautions, and claim conspiracy when a caution comes out and they can’t visibly see the reason. So they must be careful not to throw a yellow flag unless it’s absolutely necessary.

On the other hand, their No. 1 job is to protect the drivers’ safety, and if there is any dangerous situation on the track, whether it is caused by debris or a spin/accident, they need to throw the flag.

A situation arose at the end of this weekend’s race at New Hampshire that drew some criticism … when A.J. Allmendinger spun on the last lap, but NASCAR decided to let the leaders race until they were very close to Allmendinger and a wreck could have occurred. Many have said it was a dangerous call, and alluded to the scary incident involving Dale Jarrett at New Hamphire years ago which led to the end of letting drivers race to the line when a caution came out.

While I understand the concerns that have been raised, I say NASCAR made the right call. When Allmendinger spun, he was all by himself and no other cars were near and in danger of hitting him. It appeared he would get back up to speed quickly and not be in the way of the leaders when they came around.

Also, it was the first race of the Chase, and it is in the best interest of the sport to have the leaders racing to the checkered flag, rather than having a yellow flag determine the winner.

As soon as the leaders cam closer and the situation became dangerous, the flag was thrown, when the drivers were just a few hundred feet from the finish line. If they hadn’t thrown the flag at all, I would agree with the criticism, as that would have put Allmendinger at risk for a bad wreck if a leader smashed into him.

No one likes to see a race end under yellow or early … just ask all the fans at those Daytona races that were shortened where fans were throwing things onto the track afterward in protest.

But Sunday’s incident at New Hampshire shows to me that NASCAR has the right idea when it comes to balancing the drivers’ safety against the excitement of the race. If the situation was critical, as it was when the drivers were ending that lap, the yellow should be thrown.

But if the other drivers are half a lap away, let them race.


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