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25th of September 2017

Automotive



NASCAR drivers concerned about timing of late cautions in playoff races

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Each week leading up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, league officials repeatedly told teams in the weekly drivers meeting to let races play out naturally.

In other words, it was a message against manipulating the results to get a driver into the playoffs or unfairly eliminate someone from contention, as was the case back in 2013. But should NASCAR officials take a sip of their own medicine after last weekend at Richmond Raceway?

Completely ignoring the wayward ambulance incident, NASCAR suffered two other notable race control miscues on Saturday, and both slightly changed the dynamic of the playoff picture heading into the weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

The first was for the caution on lap 86: NASCAR called for a yellow flag when Matt Kenseth locked up the brakes, creating a puff of smoke. The caution occurred right before the end of the stage break and likely cost Martin Truex Jr. the playoff point he would have gained for passing Kenseth.

The final caution took place with two laps to go, just before Truex was set to take the white flag. It came out because Derrike Cope brushed the wall but didn’t generate debris with the contact. Kyle Larson beat Truex off pit road and won the race on an overtime restart.

That’s six playoff points that Truex was unfairly stripped of, and it has left the 37-year-old skeptical about NASCAR’s ability to police races during the chase for the championship.

"The biggest problem I have is every year in the drivers meeting, (NASCAR says) let it play out naturally (because) we don't want anybody screwing with the race," Truex said. "Then they go and make the wrong call? It's frustrating, but show me (that you’ll do better.) We'll see what happens."

NASCAR vice president of competition Steve O'Donnell took to the airwaves on Monday morning to discuss the various race control incidents. He admitted that NASCAR needed to do a better job during the final 10 races.

"As for that last caution, that's not something you want to see happen either," O’Donnell said. "I've been back and forth with Martin, and he's obviously upset. I think that's fair. It's something that we have to look at as we go forward. We need to be consistent and that wasn't our best effort. As we approach the playoffs, we're going to regroup and have a bunch of meetings and get it right."

So did Truex get the explanation he wanted from O’Donnell in their private meeting?

"Well, I heard what I wanted to hear," Truex said. "It did not change anything. So, you know, don't just tell me, show me. I'd like to see it play out the right way."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has expressed similar concerns in the past and believes a questionable debris call cost Carl Edwards the Cup Series championship last season. He also said that may have played a role in his impromptu retirement back in January. 

Last year at Homestead a questionable late yellow cost a driver the championship. Same driver announced his retirement a few months later. https://t.co/T3oruuS8oo

— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) September 10, 2017

Earnhardt and Truex aren’t the only drivers with reservations, either. Brad Keselowski says he’s a cynic about everything but the United States moon landing and that often includes second-guessing NASCAR race control.

"I look at everything that goes on and always say that’s probably not right, not just limited to NASCAR, so that’s why it’s good for them to have transparency and to have some consistency to go with their transparency so that nobody feels that way," Keselowski said. "But I think it’s very natural, especially when you’re negatively impacted by those events to be frustrated by it, so I can completely understand where Martin is coming from.

"I felt like the same thing has happened to me at times in my career. There’s no way to prove or disprove it, but that’s how you feel, so it becomes reality."

Debris cautions are down drastically this season compared for much of the past decade, and a large part of that is the introduction of stage racing to the weekly NASCAR dynamic.

Larson was the beneficiary of the late caution on Saturday night and was willing to cut the sanctioning body a break on such decisions.

"I think if you look at it, I know a lot of people are talking about funny cautions and stuff recently, but I think NASCAR has done a great job this year of letting races play out," Larson said. "They've done a good job of not throwing debris cautions.

"Saturday night wasn't a debris caution, but they're put in a position where they have to make a split-second decision. It's easy to blame them."

So with all that said, does Truex have confidence in NASCAR race control over the next 10 weeks?

"Ask me after Homestead," he said.

Opinion A way too early look at the NASCAR playoffs

By Matt Weaver

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