Sunday, April 17, 2011

On muddled last laps at Talladega and Daytona

Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Talladega once again showed the several flaws in how NASCAR manages races and how they fail to keep the viewers at home informed of the most basic information at the most critical of times.

Now, before anyone jumps all over me for what I am about to say, please understand that I am all for being safety conscious. Although the drivers involved have accepted millions upon millions of dollars to participate in a dangerous sport for a living, which is more than a fair trade-off, I don't think anyone should be subjected to any preventable danger.

So let's ask this: what purpose does a caution flag serve on the last lap when no car will ever go through the scene of a crash at speed?

Regardless of the severity of Mike Wallace's crash on the last lap at Talladega, NASCAR made a huge mistake by throwing the caution flag.

Talladega Superspeedway is huge. A lap at speed takes about 50 seconds. The field had just taken the green flag a lap and a half prior to that and was still in a pack, so the cars weren't spread around the track. When Wallace crashed, the only cars behind him on the track were clear of him before his car actually stopped moving. The rest of the field could have - and should have - raced back to the checkered flag and finished the race under green.

If there was a pack of 10 cars just exiting turn two as Wallace was flipping going into turn three, the caution would have been justified. However, the track behind the incident was clear. Therefore, had there been a need for them to be dispatched, the safety crew could have attended to Wallace without worrying about any racecars passing them at speed since the race was over and the cars would have been slowed the next time they came around.

The only purpose that caution served was to confuse the finish, Which leads to the next point.

We've had the debate about showing pit road times whenever there is a penalty, but when are we going to hear the uproar about showing scoring as of the last timing line whenever there is a caution flag at a critical moment?

NASCAR timing and scoring should be connected live and in real time to the broadcast partners, and when the caution comes out and the field is frozen, that order should be somehow shown on the television screen as it happens. And to enhance the viewers' knowledge, all timing lines on the track should be clearly marked, just like they are on pit road. That way everyone knows exactly where the lines are, whether you're at home watching or sitting in the cockpit at speed, and whenever there is a caution everyone knows who crossed what line in what position when the yellow lights flickered on.

This would be made even easier if NASCAR allowed the drivers to race to the NEXT timing line instead of reverting to the PREVIOUS timing line when the caution comes out, because on the last lap they also take into consideration video replays, which of course can be left open to interpretation.

It's a shame that people invest three hours watching a race - a race, by the way, that was edge-of-your-seat exciting up until the muddled end - and they go away not really having any real understanding of who won and why. The audience should not need to have the broadcasters give any sort of confirmation on who won, they should have empirical evidence