Brad Keselowski had quite a night at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday (Aug. 26). Pushing his teammate to his third win in five races and further solidifying his own position in the playoffs, Keselowski has returned RFK Racing back to being the top Ford team in the Blue Oval stable in the last two months.
During a red flag on lap 96, Keselowski smelled smoke and proceeded to start driving around to prevent the fire from spreading – understandable given the pony’s penchant for bursting into flames the first year and a half with the Next Gen car.
But rules are rules, and the car was moving under the red. Should Keselowski have been penalized for breaking one of the most black-and-white rules in the book? This week Chase Folsom and Mark Kristl hash it out in 2-Headed Monster.
Rules Are Rules – But Fire Can Be Fatal
As we all saw on Saturday night, Keselowski was in a unique situation while the Coke Zero 400 was under a red flag after a crash at the end of stage 2. After the field was stopped under the red flag on the back straightaway, Keselowski suddenly caught the eye of everyone watching, including the other drivers, as the race leader started driving in circles on the back straightaway.
As we now know, the No. 6 was on fire, and Keselowski took the initiative to drive in a circle while under the red condition to put the fire out. However, that had lots of fans, drivers, and team owners alike wondering why Keselowski wasn’t penalized, and whether or not he should have been.
Ultimately, I don’t fault Keselowski at all for what he did, and I think NASCAR did the right thing by not penalizing him.
There are a few reasons why I believe no penalty is the right move. So let’s start with the most important one: safety.
As the cars sat on the backstretch under a red flag, Keselowski said he started to smell smoke and knew that something was burning. The Next Gen cars have a fire suppression system in the front part of the cars that will go off as soon as fire is detected. Almost all of the safety workers were all the way over on the exit of turn 4, tending to the massive pileup that had caused the original red flag to begin with.
That left Keselowski with two options: Sit there and catch on fire, or take matters into his own hands to put out the fire. It would have been a very avoidable safety hazard had Keselowski chosen to sit there and catch on fire, and thankfully he did not. On top of that, had the fire gained any bit of significance, the fire suppression system would have gone off, and Keselowski would have been parked as the system is required to be on the racetrack.
Another reason I believe no penalty is the right call is that none of the other cars on track were put in danger or at a competitive disadvantage, all while Keselowski did not gain a competitive advantage. Had Keselowski come close to making contact with another car, or a safety vehicle, then yes, a penalty is warranted, but he did not, he got out of harm’s way. At the same time, it would have also been unfair and gained a competitive advantage had Keselowski driven the car around to pit road under the red flag to have the fire put out or driven around the racetrack in general.
Another aspect that I think adds to this is that the fire is no fault of the teams.
Although the race was not under green conditions, race-altering events can happen under yellow or red conditions, and some are just unfortunate circumstances that are part of the sport. For example, if a driver runs over a piece of debris under caution and cuts a tire, well nothing can be done about that it, is just an unfortunate situation. Here’s where those two situations are different.
The cause of the fire is believed to be build-up on the rocker panel, which funny enough, is the same NASCAR-sanctioned part that caused Kevin Harvick’s fire and DNF in last year’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. With the part being a part provided by NASCAR, and it being illegal to modify, that means that the fire was no fault of the race team. The fire was additionally caused by the cars stopping for the red flag, which meant cool, fresh air was no longer passing over the hot part to prevent it from catching on fire.
The difference between this and the example of debris under yellow is simple. NASCAR doesn’t make you run over a piece of debris that causes a flat tire, therefore there isn’t any responsibility on NASCAR. However, NASCAR is making cars stop under red, and if a fire is caused because of that and NASCAR-sanctioned part, that is not the responsibility of the race team and therefore they should not be punished.
In the end, Keselowski’s mini-race on the backstretch was definitely something we hadn’t seen before. There have been plenty of other comparisons being thrown around like Sterling Marlin in the 2002 Daytona 500, although Keselowski didn’t get out of his car so those aren’t nearly the same thing. In the end, NASCAR did the right thing by not penalizing Keselowski and should look into preventing future fires to make sure those never come up again. – Chase Folsom
Lack of Communication Should’ve Led to a Penalty
Red means stop.
However, under red flag conditions, a driver is allowed to move their racecar if series officials instruct them to do so. According to NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Elton Sawyer, that was not the case.
“You got to give Brad a lot of credit there and creativity there,” Sawyer told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “So he just starts doing circles and we look up from the tower and it’s like, ‘What is going on?’ And as that all unfolded, you think about, ‘Ok, is there a penalty there?’ And you think, ‘Well, he’s not advancing his position.’ And all in all, I just give Brad a lot of credit. And as we sat there in the tower saying, ‘No, there’s no penalty there. He hasn’t advanced his position. Obviously, he was completely away from the incident where we had safety vehicles cleaning up and attending to drivers. We looked at that as no harm no foul.”
There is a lot to unpack there. First, according to Sawyer, no fire was spotted under the No. 6. So unless Keselowski or one of his RFK team members told NASCAR what was unfolding, then theoretically he could have been driving in circles to clean off his tires. As crazy as it sounds, drivers will do anything to gain an advantage, no matter how small the gain.
If Keselowski started driving in circles without telling NASCAR his thought process or what was happening, then that’s problematic. Red flag conditions mean drivers park their cars on the racetrack behind the pace car, not drive in circles.
Because I wasn’t piloting the No. 6, I’ll give Keselowski the benefit of the doubt that there indeed was a fire under his No. 6. Because he did not want to drop the window net and climb out of his racecar, thereby resulting in a DNF, he opted for his second-best option: driving in circles.
Driver safety is paramount so it was acceptable for Keselowski to start driving in circles. But nobody informed series officials.
Sawyer commented how Keselowski didn’t advance his position. That remark sets a bad precedent.
What happens if there’s a multi-car wreck that necessitates a red flag and a driver needs to clean off the grill of their racecar? If the driver is behind a teammate, all they must do is drive quickly enough down the racetrack toward the inside wall so the driver can bump the teammate to knock off the debris. Neither driver has advanced their position but now they have taken advantage of the opportunity to improve their racecar.
That’s not what a red flag caution period is for. It is for safety crews to attend to drivers, clean up the racetrack, repair any damage to the racetrack, etc. Not for drivers to improve their racecars.
If that were the case, then why not allow the drivers to climb out of their racecars for a few moments to hydrate, stretch their legs, etc.? Sometimes series officials will bring drivers water under the red flag; why not allow them to climb out of the racecar too? Remember, none of the other drivers knew what Keselowski was doing!
It is a bad precedent, one that NASCAR should’ve remedied on Saturday night.
I propose NASCAR should have penalized Keselowski two laps. The two-lap penalty would’ve been for failure to properly communicate with the NASCAR officials as to what he was thinking and doing, not for driving his racecar as he was keeping himself safe.
Under my proposal, Keselowski would not have wound up with a DNF. He would have been two laps down but with the penchant for cautions at Daytona, who knows? Perhaps he would have received the lucky dog to regain one if not both of his laps.
The lack of communication is the key, especially under a red flag. Red means stop, not drive in circles. – Mark Kristl
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