Welcome to the Frontstretch Five! Each week, Amy Henderson takes a look at the racing, the drivers and the storylines that drive NASCAR and produces a list of five people, places, things and ideas that define the current state of our sport. This week, Amy has a few rules she’d like to see NASCAR consider.
1. Yellow-flag consistency
NASCAR needs to find a way to be consistent with caution flags, particularly late in races. Whether that’s in the form of a hard-and-fast rule or simply reviewing recent races and making a call with officials, it doesn’t really matter, but something needs to be done. NASCAR needs to face the fact that no matter what it does in these situations, some fans will be dissatisfied with the outcome. And knowing that, there need to be guidelines that will keep drivers safe.
Yes, that might mean fans don’t get to see the final half-lap run under green, and that might lead to an unpopular winner. On the flip side, it might lead to a popular one in Victory Lane and allegations of fixing the race. You can’t please them all. There needs to be a guideline of some sort, something that can be applied easily. The caution should fly when an engine expires, even if the driver gets out of the groove quickly, because fluid on the track is dangerous. As for crashes, a decision needs to be made to either throw the caution immediately when a driver spins or tags the wall, or wait and see if he can get going immediately and without danger. Right now, it seems to be a mix of the two and that’s confusing to fans and does teams no favors either. In the Cup Series, the tendency is generally to flag it right away, while in the Xfinity and Truck series, they often wait a bit. That’s not necessarily the wrong way to go at some tracks, but it is a bad idea at others, and that should be taken into account as well. What’s good at, say, Homestead might not be safe at Daytona.
Debris cautions will always be a source of debate, and there’s no answer that will satisfy. Fans need to understand that a small piece of metal, hard to spot or identify from a distance, can cut a racing tire easily, and in turn a driver could be hurt. What looks harmless might not be, and it’s hard to determine that when the cars are running around and over it at speed. Sometimes, slowing them down is the way to go. If NASCAR is throwing debris cautions to tighten the field and keep the crowd interested, that needs to end. If the sanctioning body wants the field to be tighter, it needs to find a car and tire that race better. The cautions don’t fool fans. Still, if there is any question of real debris, NASCAR needs to make a call to keep drivers safe.
2. Real consequences for post-race infractions
NASCAR’s current policy of tacking on additional point penalties for infractions found after a race was a good idea in theory. However, in practice, it’s not quite so fair. Before it was reduced, Ryan Newman‘s team was docked 50 points for a post-race tire infraction, and an additional 25 points for the fact that the illegal tire was found after a race. 75 points is more than a driver can earn in one race, where the maximum points a driver can nab equals 48. So, in essence, some of the points taken are ones the team earned running a legal car in another race. That’s not quite right.
So what is? It’s easy. If an infraction is found, NASCAR should strip the team’s finishing position and disqualify them from the event. If they really want to get serious, once they’re disqualified, don’t allow them a Chase waiver, even if they win a race later on.
NASCAR has long held that stripping a finishing position, especially a win, would confuse fans, who should know the finishing order when they leave the track. That’s weak; if anything, allowing a win to stand when the driver had an illegal car over someone whose car passed tech is confusing. It’s time to make punishments fit the crime, and taking away finishes would do just that without punishing a team excessively by taking points from races that were never in question.
3. Actual pit-road speed
I’m with Jeff Gordon on this one. Instead of having pit road divided into segments and timing each individually, simply penalize anyone who goes over the speed limit at any time. The current rule allows teams to gain an advantage by selecting certain pit stalls because they can gain a lot of speed in that segment because their stop balances the time. Simply clocking actual speed (with the digital dashboard, a speedometer would be easy to use) would be easier for fans to understand and put all teams on the same plane on pit road. That’s a win-win.
4. Chase waiver parameters
I said this last week, but it bears repeating. The handing out of Chase waivers like candy is ridiculous. Either give anyone with a win in the top 30 a Chase bid regardless of the number of races, or come up with actual rules governing who gets a waiver. That should include both the reason for the driver’s absence and the number of races he can miss. And for goodness sake, don’t give waivers to drivers who are suspended, no matter how many races it’s for or if the suspension was given prematurely and probably should not have happened. For that matter, a suspension should negate the other requirements as well.
Overall, the waiver is a good thing; it keeps drivers healthy and safe by giving them a way to stay out of the seat when they’re not 100%. But giving them to one and all, regardless of reason or length of absence defeats the purpose. In theory, an already-qualified driver could claim a sniffle and sit out a couple of weeks at tracks like Sonoma, Indy or Watkins Glen, and that would be a disservice to fans and sponsors.
5. A better plate package
Part of the blame for Sunday’s lackluster race lies with the current race car package. It looked as though cars could not close up enough to really get a run, and it also seemed to take at least half a dozen cars working together to make any headway. The instability of the cars in the air also led to a pair of spins last week at Talladega. That’s not good.
I’m not suggesting that NASCAR alter the cars in a gimmicky attempt to manipulate the racing. But from a safety and a racing standpoint, there’s plenty of room for improvement. The cars need to be able to push and be pushed in order to make a run, and they need to be stable enough not to snap around if they’re caught in the middle.
About the author
Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.
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NASCAR has dug their own hole with their inconsistencies, regardless of the white flag, caution or no caution. And knowing what NASCAR has done in the past and present and the obvious desperation NASCAR feels towards EARNHARDT family (past SR and present JR) as their only bread and butter (besides media revenue), it is not illogical to question their decisions. Despite Junior being the guy who walks on water no matter what, and if you question that narrative you are a “hater”, he did win it, should be case closed. A white flag is white flag, a yellow would have froze the field and guess who was in front, kinda like Daytona but the whiners still whined..it wasn’t Jr. or a Bowtie…hypocrites.
Good points all, but before any of them can even be considered what NASCAR needs are CONSISTENT rules. Any rules. Rules that do not change week to week based on whatever the whims of the current France wearing the crown. Given that since inception the rules have been manipulated to keep the “Show” interesting I cannot see that happening. Can you?
So you want NASCAR to write their rules in ink and then enforce them accordingly? We all do. Good luck with that.
Every decision NASCAR makes is based on Brian asking himself “How much will this cost me?” Or in the case of certain caution flags or no caution flags “How much will this make me?” A while ago he noticed that he had four sets of templates for the cars and realized that if there was only one set he could save 75 per cent and he gave himself a pat on the back and declared “I am a genius.” His toadies agreed to keep their jobs. How has that worked out?
Consistency? from NASCAR? When pigs fly! the fans aren’t “confused” by any of this stuff other than the fact that NASCAR seems to believe that what they do is logical or in the best interest of the sport. Of course that’s because this isn’t a sport any longer, it is “entertainment” and the “product” is the name of the game.
Except that the product, IMO, is not that great. If this was a tv show, it would have been cancelled for poor ratings.
if an announcer mentions the chase they should be fined 25.000 dollars if its before
I really like the idea,,,I would add a mandatory 5 race suspension with no appeal…….might actually eliminate the Waltrips and Larry Mac from the booth…..and while we’re at it, add the terms Goodyear Tires, Sunoco Race Fuel, and the famed “Competition Caution,” with a cost of somewhere between $10-15000.
I think the chase waiver exists so the same car can’t get two drivers in the chase. Example would be if next year instead of retiring, gordon ran 1/2 the races in the 24 and elliot ran the other half. Without the waiver, it would be possible for both to have a win and be in the top 30 and hence be in the chase.
NASCAR continually claims that driver (and fan) safety is priority 1. With that in mind it should be very simple…..if an incident would cause a caution on lap 1,15, 164 or whenever, then it should cause a caution on the final lap of a race, PERIOD! Anything less is hypocritical. I also say do away with the ridiculous lucky dog, wave around and GWC finishes. If a driver has performed well enough to be in the lead at the end of a race then no matter what happens he should be the winner when the true race distance ends. That stuff is completely bogus and has gone a long way in eroding my love of the sport….or what used to be a sport. Now it’s just an entertainment vehicle.
We know how the caution flag works. If the field has been stretched out for a while, throw a yellow to bunch them up. If the leader takes the white flag then NASCAR tries not to throw the caution unless they absolutely have to for safety. NASCAR sees it as a show rather than a race. But, we still get to see racing so it’s not the end of the world.
Regarding the waiver. I don’t see why it’s needed in the first place. Stipulating the driver must be in the top 30 in points to be Chase eligible eliminates a road-course ringer or other part-timer from qualifying. Why complicate with a waiver?
The Cup rules package does need some tweaking. There were times where the action was good but the end was painful to watch. Even by lap 30 they got in line for a while. The reason the bumpers to don’t fit is NASCAR doesn’t want them to tandem. Same reason they went to the small rear spoiler to make the cars get too squirrely if they try to push. The boys in the booth said this version of the car doesn’t side-draft as well so it’s tough to make things happen.
I don’t mind the heavy points fines for certain infractions. There are some things you don’t mess with in NASCAR. Tires and large engines are a couple of them.
Since the first caution flag flew, NASCAR has used the yellow as a way of controlling the race. That will never change.