Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Did NASCAR Make the Right Call at End of Daytona 500?

The 2024 Daytona 500 had all the makings of a memorable race.

The last two times a rain-delayed 500 fell on a Monday we were left with the indelible images of an exploding jet dryer and the harrowing scene of Ryan Newman’s car being struck in the roof at speed.

As darkness fell on The Great American Race, we had the Big One and were preparing for another superspeedway classic as the cars approached the white — or was it yellow — flag. Compounding the confusion was FOX’s decision to promptly exit coverage for…TMZ Investigates.

The immediate moments and reaction on social media were seemed to run the gamut. Did NASCAR make the right call to end the Daytona 500? This week Wyatt Watson and Stephen Stumpf hash things out in this week’s 2-Headed Monster.

NASCAR Didn’t Do Itself Any Favors with the Ending

For the record, I personally had no issues with how the Daytona 500 finish played out. But when millions of fans are tuned in to watch the finish of NASCAR’s marquee event, you can’t see Monday’s finish, stick your head in the sand, plug up your ears and pretend that everything’s great.

The reality is that the Daytona 500 finished under caution for the fourth time in five years, and the only reason it wasn’t a perfect five-for-five was because the field wrecked in the tri-oval upon taking the checkered flag in 2022.

See also
Dropping the Hammer: More of the Same & a Late Winning Shot

Finishing under caution aside, most of the confusion about the finish came from the fact that FOX didn’t have a definitive replay on hand that determined the moment of caution and the winner. The fans were left anxiously waiting for any indication of a final result, and Alex Bowman‘s onboard camera showing the No. 48 seemingly in front when the speedway’s caution lights turned on only served to amplify the confusion.

Below is the screenshot that — according to NASCAR — determined the moment of caution. The frame clearly showed William Byron ahead of Bowman.

The moment of caution also gives insight to what race control was looking at.

Both Ross Chastain and Austin Cindric had spun, but the caution wasn’t thrown until Cindric’s No. 2 car was pointed toward the track and ready to reenter the racing groove. In this case, I don’t fault NASCAR for throwing the caution when they did.

What I do fault them for is the inconsistency.

Just one season ago in this very race, Daniel Suarez spun off of turn 4 as the field was approaching two laps to go. Suarez wasn’t pointed toward the track and wasn’t in danger of clobbering the inside wall, yet race control wasted almost no time in throwing the yellow.

While the caution was ultimately warranted as Suarez got stuck, there were plenty of moments after the caution where it looked like he had a chance of pointing the car in the right direction and returning it to pit road.

Why were Chastain and Cindric given the opportunity to spin through the tri-oval without throwing out a yellow, but Suarez wasn’t? Your guess is as good as mine.

If the goal was to end the 2024 Daytona 500 under green, the caution should’ve waved the moment Chastain and Cindric started spinning. There were roughly two seconds to throw a caution from the moment they spun to the moment that Byron took the white flag, and NASCAR held the yellow flag for three.

The extra second of delay was the difference between another restart and the Daytona 500 ending on the spot.

And if the biggest race of the year has the power to be decided by a yellow, what justifies that freeze frame as the precise moment to end the race? Bowman had a full head of steam on Byron, and if NASCAR waited an additional second or two to put out the yellow, it’s Bowman who ends up in victory lane instead.

Such a scenario isn’t a new occurrence. The 2021 Daytona 500 ended under caution as well, and throwing the caution the moment NASCAR did was the difference between Michael McDowell winning and Chase Elliott losing.

To avoid the controversy of the finish, the caution should’ve been thrown the moment Chastain and Cindric started to spin. Instead, hesitating for a few seconds caused the biggest race of the year to be determined by a moment that wasn’t mile 500 — again.

With that said, the aforementioned 2023 Daytona 500 ultimately went into double overtime after Suarez’s spin, and the race ended under caution anyway after a last lap crash — on lap 212. If the caution did get thrown in time on Monday (Feb. 19), there is no guarantee that the field would’ve taken the eventual checkered flag under green.

Given the stakes, race control could have handled Monday’s finish better than they did. But at the same time, there’s only so much that can be done when the drivers are incapable of keeping their cars straight at the finish year after year. -Stephen Stumpf

NASCAR Made the Right Call in Short Order

2024 was arguably one of the best and most compelling Daytona 500s in quite some time, and although it finished under caution for the fourth time in five years, NASCAR made the right decision throwing the caution flag and ending the race when and how it did.

Imagine that you’re in NASCAR’s shoes coming to the white flag of the Daytona 500 and you see Chastain and Cindric spinning towards the grass away from the field initially. How would you handle the situation?

Now picture Austin Cindric veering back up into traffic – not unlike Harrison Burton was six laps into the event.

Think about what the potential consequences of a potentially multi-overtime restart could have been with the NASCAR Xfinity Series race to follow on what’s already been a long enough weekend thanks to the weather.

See also
Stat Sheet: Will There Ever Be a Normal Daytona 500 Finish?

Fans have in the past criticized the sport for these types of finishes, including last year when, coming to two laps to go, the caution was waived for Suarez spinning solo off of turn 4 and straightening up on the apron coming to pit road. I doubt that the sanctioning body wanted to deal with the same backlash from last year if both Chastain and Cindric ended up staying in the infield out of the way of the track.

Even though NASCAR made an acceptable decision at the end of The Great American Race, it is fair to debate if NASCAR could have waited until around the entrance of turn 3 to throw the caution or see what track conditions were after the spin instead of throwing the caution. If Cindric had not made contact with the wall, the pack could have tried to race it back to the finish line to decide the winner.

Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

Instead, NASCAR made a right call as soon as Cindric changed course and headed back up onto the track and made significant contact into the outside wall.

If they decided to race it back, who knows if there would be fluid on the track in the heat of the moment, and it’s NASCAR’s call if they felt like drivers behind the spinning Cindric would crash into the No. 2, causing even more of a mess exiting the tri-oval.

It was on NASCAR to make the safest call for the drivers racing back, and in that moment, there seemed to be doubt on if it would be safe to take the checkered flag.

As a result of this decision, the 66th running of the Daytona 500 will forever be remembered for two things: Hendrick Motorsports’ record tying ninth Daytona 500 as an organization and Byron’s first career Daytona 500 in Hendrick’s 40th anniversary as a team. This also broke a 10-year winless streak in the season opener for Hendrick.

The finish should also not take away from the racing product that the majority of the field presented on Monday. We got to experience the second most lead changes in the last 10 years of the Daytona 500 at 41 (first was 2022 at 52) with 20 different leaders throughout the race.

With strategy playing out differently over the course of the race and no big one until eight laps to go, the finish of the race should not in any way take away with the entertainment, thrill, drama and excitement of the Daytona 500. – Wyatt Watson

About the author

Wyatt Watson has been an avid fan of NASCAR since 2007 at the age of 8. He joined Frontstretch in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter.

Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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Kevin in SoCal

Fans are going to complain either way. NASCAR waited to see if they could race back without throwing a yellow – fans complain. NASCAR threw the yellow right away for safety – fans complain.

Brian

Bigger issue here is did NASCAR wait to throw the caution to guarantee a Hendrick win? NASCAR has a very real perception issue that it is in the pocket of Cheverolet and the past 30+ years Hendrick specifically. It is not a good look with some of the inconsistencies which is what fans ACTUALLY complain about.

Thunder66

Who cares how they ended it? Superspeedway racing jumped the proverbial shark years ago. These wreck fests should be exhibition races if they insist on going forward with the current way of doing things. I love Daytona and Talladega but I always feel dirty by the time these races are over. It’s disgusting.

Steve

I too question whether the yellow was thrown based on who was out front. It just happened to be a milestone win for Hendrick, which of course makes a great storyline. And Nascar has long been accused of these things happening conveniently at the right time.

The fact that the xfinity race was scheduled after the Cup race should have had no bearing on the decision at the end of the race. That is if you consider yourself to be a legitimate sport. If that actually played a part, Nascar is an even bigger joke than some people think it is.

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