The single most depressing thing to see at a race track is rain. It halts everything, it puts people in a bad mood, it prevents events from running on time and it pushes back all the other plans that fans and competitors have as they wait for activities they came for to take place. When the time comes that an event is officially postponed, fans have to decide if they are going to stay for the next day or simply go home. Depending on plans, they might have to call in sick, book extra hotel rooms or schedule an extra night of dog-sitting. In some cases, they have to do all of those things, losing valuable money in this modern economy they’ll never recover.
Whatever the case, the people who are able to stay deserve to see a full race, if at all possible. The last thing those fans deserve is to be rewarded with a farce. Yet that’s exactly what happened in Texas Monday, a green and yellow start that still leaves me scratching my head over why or how it transpired.
After eight hours of fits and starts on Sunday, the decision was made to postpone the race until Monday. Starting at 5:30 AM, according to Tony Stewart via the FOX television booth, Texas track staff worked non-stop until the race was ready to get underway at noon. When the time came to fire the engines, roll the cars off pit lane and start turning pace laps, there were still some places on the track showing moisture. Whether they were weepers (sections where water is pushing back up through the track due to the amount collected in the earth underneath) or simply damp spots is open to conjecture. However, the simple fact remained the track was still not completely dry. The cars rolled away while there were still jet dryers encircling the oval, cleaning its surface and the complications ensued from there.
The exhaust on Cup cars can get quite warm and having 43 of them on the track at one time can speed up the drying process extensively. That is why, at times when it begins to rain during races NASCAR throws the caution flag but keeps the cars circulating around the track. The temperature will keep the asphalt dry if the amount of rain is minimal. In 2008, 104 Late Models took to the track at Martinsville Speedway and dried the surface in 25 minutes in order to facilitate a practice session after a full day of rain. The point is that cars can dry the racetrack, just like the Air Titan and there is nothing wrong with utilizing them.
The problem with what occurred on Monday at Texas Motor Speedway was that the decision was made to have jet dryers and cars on the track at the same time, as well as throwing the green and yellow together to begin counting laps even though the cars weren’t “competing.” With the jet dryers still active, the field passed low below them on the back straight. The high velocity, combined with the voluminous amount of air rushing into the wheel wells of the cars filled the engine compartments and had to evacuate somewhere. The end result was the hoods on cars blowing upwards, along with cowl flaps opening. On some cars, the flaps just had to be pushed back down and tethers put back under the hood. In Brad Keselowski’s case, the hinge was damaged on the left side, requiring Bare Bond to hold the hood down and maintain the aerodynamic integrity of the car.
That lone was ridiculous enough. But on top of cars being damaged by track drying equipment, the decision was also made to “start” the event. The green and yellow flags were thrown together, allowing for laps to begin counting even though no racing was actually taking place. Now NASCAR, in recent years has always maintained they will not start a race unless they think they can complete the entire distance. For whatever reason, NASCAR felt the need to begin the race by running laps under the “chartreuse” condition rather than either completing the drying process or letting cars continue parade laps until the surface dried from the exhaust heat. After 21.5 hours of delay, what would another half an hour have really mattered?
If the danger of weather was still in the area, to the point that NASCAR was afraid it would impact the race, then they should have waited to start the event to make sure it would run the full distance. If the decision was made just because it was 21.5 hours after the race was supposed to start, race control turning too impatient to wait out the drying process and delay the precious television broadcast any longer, well… shame on them. The fans who stayed and made whatever concessions they had to in order to see the race live, in person, deserved better.
Once a race is underway, they don’t throw the green and yellow together. They let the cars circulate under caution. You can’t run under caution if the green hasn’t flown yet, so apparently that is why they go under the “chartreuse” condition. But it doesn’t matter what the logic is behind the decision: it is always wrong. The fans deserve better, the competitors deserve better and the sport itself deserves better.
The basic premise of auto racing is barely controlled chaos. Contestants are running vehicles on the edge of control in an environment where, if any one of thousands of variables go wrong, that control will be lost. That loosely managed beast that is a race car on the verge of catastrophe is what puts fans in the seats. Continuous parade laps labeled as genuine competition are as far from that philosophy, as unworthy of charging admission to as playing a live game of tiddlywinks. Hopefully, the people who made the decision on Monday are listening and will realize the farce that the first ten laps of that race were should never, ever happen again because the fans won’t pay for such nonsense.
It’s as simple as that.