Race Weekend Central

Red Light, Green Light–Everybody Loses During XFINITY Race

NASCAR did a good thing this year. They leveled the playing field regarding the issuing of pit road penalties with the inception of their new-fangled PRO officiating system they have used at all Sprint Cup events in 2015. The combination of cameras and motion technology manage to enforce rules making sure pit road crews don’t enter the field of play a second too soon. There’s no fooling the eagle eyes in the PRO trailer. All the Sprint Cup teams have learned that trying to pull one over on the camera system is pretty futile. And it holds teams with bargain basement budgets to the same standard as the elite stables. Fair is fair. Right?


It would seem so, unless you are on the other end of the officiating ladder. What happens when a radio communication goes awry and a NASCAR official fails to execute their expected job at the right moment? Apparently virtually the entire field pays a penalty for the error—not NASCAR. That does not seem fair.


On Sunday afternoon during the XFINITY Owens Corning Atticat 300, one of those bizarre NASCAR moments happened. The yellow fell on lap 151 for the No. 25 car spinning in Turn 2. On the following lap, the pace car had the field gathered and the tower called down to pit road, “Pit road will be open this time by.” Every spotter heard the transmission and conveyed it to their drivers. Crews leapt to the top of the wall, jacks and tires in hand. And then the guy who waves the red and green flags at pit entrance, and is also responsible for flipping the pit open light on, he did nothing. He apparently did not get the pit road open call. The light and flag remained red.


Nineteen lead lap cars rolled past the red light—including the race winner Erik Jones. Brendan Gaughan and Ryan Blaney swerved out of line and stayed out. What did NASCAR do? They made those nineteen teams go to the tail end of the field for pitting before pit road was open.


What? You might ask. How is it that fully half the field managed to screw up and it wasn’t an officiating error? Hardly seems believable. Well, the NASCAR rulebook says that the lights and flags determine if the caution is out or if pit road is open or closed—not a radio broadcast from the tower. Even though it is actually the race director in the tower who determines when those flags and lights should do those things they do. So, that gaggle of cars that drove past a red light—whether the light was supposed to be red or not was moot. They did not get to pass GO or collect $200.


Now, this minor fiasco was mind-boggling at the moment. How could you possibly penalize practically the entire field for an obvious error on NASCAR’s part? It’s going to affect the outcome of the race. Well, it didn’t. The No. 54 of Erik Jones was leading when the yellow dropped for the No. 25. He restarted in 10th after suffering the penalty. So many cars went to the tail that he didn’t have to restart that far from the front. In ten more laps, Jones was sitting in 2nd where he lingered through a series of late race yellows until he finally sailed off at lap 190 eager to take the checkered flag. NASCAR lucked out. The race result was not materially affected.


But what lingers as a bad taste in your mouth is that whole accountability question. With all them new fangled cameras we introduced this year, and a system I would expect to see at the XFINITY and Camping World series standalone events in the future, NASCAR expects the teams to hold themselves to a fraction of a second when timing their pit stops. Well, who gets to bonk the official off the head when he misses changing the pit open light for half a minute? Nobody? That just doesn’t seem terribly…fair. NASCAR is allowing for human frailty in their flag system when removing that option from the competitors’ vocabulary at the same time. What if the clearly dominant No. 54 car ended up in 25th? Would NASCAR so easily sweep aside this mess as merely adhering to an outdated system? I doubt it.


If the race director is truly in control of the race, then he should be calling the shots and changing the lights. Hoping that your radio broadcast isn’t eaten by static or talked over by the concession department ordering another tray of burgers for the suites is not a professional way to run a race. Perhaps (gasp and stagger) the use of flags and trackside light switches is something that ought to be retired if a tire changer having his foot slip off the top of the wall a second too soon can result in a penalty. Fair’s fair, after all. Isn’t it?


Sonya’s Scrapbook


1998 Save-Mart/Kragen 350


Long, long ago we had these guys called road course ringers. They would be hired by Winston Cup teams to kick the usual headliners out of their cars at tracks like Watkins Glen and Sonoma in order to hopefully snare a win. Jeff Gordon not only headlined the image of the new NASCAR driver when he invaded in the 90’s, he also led the charge of drivers who were willing and able to learn how to turn right when visiting some of the most diverse tracks on the circuit.


In 1998 there was no last second pass or a manufactured green white checkered finish, Gordon just stomped the field, plain and simple. How many top drivers on the current roster are unable to compete effectively at a road course? Very few. Times change, but somebody had to lead the charge.








About the author

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via