[media-credit id=22 align=”alignright” width=”206″][/media-credit]A day after most NASCAR drivers firmly stated they weren’t in favor of Bruton Smith’s idea of mandatory cautions, NASCAR chairman Brian France stood with them.
Speaking to the media Friday at the Daytona International Speedway, France quickly made it known that NASCAR wasn’t in the business of making the sport scripted. Smith had said last week that they needed to start throwing cautions to spice up the racing and keep the fans interested. But for France, that’s unnecessary.
“It’s a very clear line to us,” said France. “What we’re not going to do are gimmicky things. I’ve heard we out to throw a caution every ten laps. That’s nonsense. We won’t do gimmicky things. But we’ll do things that are incentivize performance, incentivize wins. That we are open to.
“The wildcard does that. It does it in an authentic way. Double file restarts get us better racing action. Anything that gets something better on the track and doesn’t employ a gimmick, we’d be reasonably open to.”
For as much grieve as France and other NASCAR officials receive about the racing, they’ve continually done the best they could to please all parties. That included implementing double-file restarts to give all lead lap drivers a fair chance to race each other instead of lapped cars.
There was the creation of the ‘Lucky Dog’ award for the first driver a lap down. When racing back to the caution flag had been eliminated and the field immediately frozen, NASCAR realized they need something to help those stay in the game. The wave around rule quickly followed.
But with complaints about boring races, the field too strung out, lack of passing and much more, the never one to hold back Smith offered his suggestion. It hasn’t been widely received, although Jeff Gordon said on Thursday that he would be in favor of TV timeouts.
“I don’t see why we shouldn’t have some TV timeouts; I’d rather have that then some mysterious debris cautions to be honest,” he said. “I don’t know, the integrity of racing and to me what’s it’s all about is letting the race play out and sometimes that can be challenging.
“If you are going to do it obviously it’s got to be something that is planned in advance and you take a break and you know it going into it. I’m not totally against it, but I’m also more leaning toward just let the race play out the way it’s supposed to.”
He seemed to be the only driver on the fence. Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick – who simply replied, “same guy that ruined Bristol” when asked about it – Matt Kenseth and teammates Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards all said it was ridiculous.
“This is an entertainment business,” said Biffle. “Fans are sitting in the grandstands and watching at home and restarts tend to create a little bit more excitement and a little more action. We know that from sitting in the car, but, there again, now you’ve got to talk about how you would you ever do that?”
Edward seemed to take the strongest stance. Spending an extended period of time on the subject and saying that while he’s never been a race promoter and doesn’t understand how ticket sales are going, auto racing is auto racing and there won’t always be a Game 7 moment.
“That’s what makes some races great,” said Edwards. “To me, if you start affecting the competition like that, that is analogous to stopping a basketball game if the score gets too far apart and putting the score back even. To me, that is not what auto racing is about.
“If you let these races play out naturally and let the racing be racing, sometimes there are some wild things that happen and things happen that are unexpected. And that’s what makes that true, real drama that happens every once in a while. That’s why it’s so appreciated in our sport, and once you try to create those things, it’s my humble opinion that that takes something away from the sport.”
He further went on to say that if a driver goes to win by three laps, then that’s what was meant to happen. Sure, it may not be what people wanted to see, but that team and driver worked hard to perform better than anyone else. Why would anyone want to take that away?
Biffle pointed out, this is not World Wrestling Entertainment. Racing is live, whatever happens happens. In following Smith’s idea, it would be flirting with that line of controlling what takes place on the racetrack. While cautions do reset things, for Edwards it’s about staying away from artificial things. Double file restarts are fine, green-white-checkered finishes are fine. Fake cautions are not.
“The idea of a mandatory caution is completely different,” Edwards said. Then asked if it was the theory that once the green flag waves the only time that action should be stopped is when there is a condition on the track that makes it unsafe to continue.
“So that tells me I should do a couple of things,” he continued, “I should prepare to run the whole race. I should prepare to run the whole race under green. I should plan my pit strategy to run and I should only change it when I see something that happens on the race track, like a wreck, oil or debris – something like that.
“Those are the rules. That’s the way I understand auto racing to work.”
France agrees and says there are no plans to change that anytime soon. Whatever happens on the track, good or bad, exciting or boring, is what makes NASCAR what it is. Beside, if the sport was to go about being changed then Edwards said it wouldn’t be fair to the competitors who go out and build a big lead only to have it taken away.
So, he could argue that when the race was restarted it should restart with the drivers in the same position. That includes distance on the track from each other when they stopped. Edwards says that would be the only way to keep the racing alive and competitive.
But going about changing the sport would have everyone bringing many different ideas to the table. And sometimes, it won’t be about the actual racing anymore, just the show that some want it to become.
“I just think when we start using cautions to make the race ‘more exciting’ I think that’s going down a slippery slope,” stated Edwards. “I don’t think it’s good for the sport.”