Race Weekend Central

Monday Morning Pit Box: What Constitutes a Caution?

Welcome to the latest edition of Monday Morning Pit Box, where we break down the crucial calls that shape the outcome of each week’s race. We take a look through the minds of those on pit road and, at times, call atop race control as well.

As noted above, there are times in this space where we dig into calls made during each week’s NASCAR Cup Series race from within race control.

Easter Sunday is one of those times.

During Sunday night’s (April 9) race on the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt, the caution flag officially waved 14 times. But over the course of the race, the timing and decision-making of what constituted a yellow flag thrust open the door for debate.

In one instance, a solo spin would keep the field green as nobody impacted a car in distress. At the same time, another very similar crash, again for just a single car, would bring out the yellow.

See also
Christopher Bell Survives Bristol Dirt For First Win of the Season

For example, over the course of one five-lap period, Joey Logano broke an A frame, smoking heavily in the middle of the dirt racing groove. AJ Allmendinger also hit the wall during this stretch while Michael McDowell did a full 360, spinning out and coming to a complete stop. Despite each of these instances, the caution flag was not thrown until lap 102 when Ryan Preece lost control and spun out on the backstretch, pointing in the opposite direction.

What made the difference here? Only one small group of people knows the actual rationale for what should constitute a caution at this level of racing: NASCAR officials sitting in race control.

Was there a desire to avoid a race being marred by caution flags all over again? Two races ago, the back half of the race at Circuit of the Americas became a Demolition Derby on restarts; 17 of the race’s 75 laps were run under the yellow. Of the seven races before Bristol this season, four have had at least eight caution flags, several of them forcing races to unexpectedly end in NASCAR Overtime.

Series officials cannot be blamed for not wanting numerous caution flags to overshadow the racing on the track. But while it was a welcome sight for a mere spin not being a cause for caution, the lack of consistency was head-scratching. In the end, it was a judgment call; until the sport computerizes in-race decisions with a robot, or makes clear, detailed rules on what causes a yellow, the human element of officiating will leave them open to criticism.

Bell the big winner from staying out

The dirt surface was not the only uniqueness Sunday’s Easter race brought, as it was also a departure from the norm of what you see on pit road. For the only time all season, there were no live pit stops. Instead, teams had the option under a stage-ending red flag to make adjustments, take tires and take fuel without gaining or losing any positions. Otherwise, a driver only pitted under caution or green if they had damage or a mechanical problem.

The lack of live pit stops meant there was no option of taking on two tires, for example, in order to gain the upper hand on pit strategy.

Those rules reduced a degree of crew chief creativity atop the pit box. But that didn’t mean hands were totally tied for these mechanical masterminds up and down pit road. You absolutely saw that at the end of stage two, with a group of around 10 drivers opting to stay out and try to make it to the end on fuel.

It was a mixed bag of results for them in the end. While Aric Almirola, Josh Berry, and Ross Chastain ended up 25th or worse, the big payday came to Christopher Bell, who used the track position he gained to stay near the front and hold off all challengers to get the win. Chase Briscoe also used strategy to emerge from traffic and finish fifth in the final stage while Todd Gilliland came back from a lap down to finish eighth after staying out.

About the author

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Brad joined Frontstretch.com in 2020 and contributes to the site's 5 Points To Ponder column and other roles as needed. A graduate of the University of Georgia's Henry W. Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communication, he has covered sports in some capacity for more than 20 years with coverage including local high school sports, college athletics and minor league hockey. Brad has received multiple awards for his work from the Georgia Press Association.

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janice

whatever na$car wants it to be.

DoninAjax

The 15 spins out and no caution. The 8 spins out and the caution is out before he comes to a stop. That is NA$CAR now!

Mike Kalasnik

I go back and watch a lot of races from the 90s, and most times when a car just spins and recovers or even hit the wall and keeps going, no caution. It seemed like back then NASCAR would wait to be sure the car was in danger or would be a danger. Now it seems like the yellow comes out for anything and everything.

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