The differences between entertainment and racing couldn’t have been any clearer to me this weekend as NASCAR once again used timely caution flag to manipulate a finish to make it more “Exciting.”
In this weekend’s Grand Prix of Bahrain Esteban Gutierrez made contact with Pastor Maldonado, went airborne, smashed through a complete 360 degrees before crashing back to the track and came to a rest two or three feet from the racing line, and it didn’t bring out an immediant full course yellow. Gutierrez got out of the car, and the safety car still didn’t come out. A lap or so later, and only it was determined there was no way of removing the car safely, did Formula One bring out a safety car. You can watch the video here.
On the third-to-last lap of the Duck Commander 500 Kurt Busch blows a tire, gets out of the racing line and has a tire explode. Within seconds of his tire blowing there is a full course caution. Why? Because Joey Logano was feet seeing the white flag. Even Darrell Waltrip said, “Well geez guys, I don’t know,” live over the Fox broadcast.
It worked out for everyone but Brad Keselowski who lost 14 positions. It wasn’t horrible race tampering because no one crashed and the rightful winner won, but it’s still race tampering.
There was probably no reason for that caution. There’s no reason for half or more of the cautions NASCAR throws. In fairness I suppose someone could have cut down a tire on some of the sheet metal coming off Busch’s car, but I imagine the NASCAR race control guys were watching Busch with eager eyes just hoping something would happen to allow them to toss a yellow flag out before Logano reached the start finish line, and they got what they wanted. From the broadcast it wasn’t clear how much time passed between Busch’s blowout and the yellow flag, but it couldn’t have been much.
I used to watch NASAR races, but I’ve largely stopped, and shenanigans like this are part of the reason why. I can’t think of a race, or more accurately a part of a race, where there’s either a phantom caution flag or one for a spin that doesn’t result in contact. The only reason I decided to watch the last 35 laps is because I was going to take a nap, and NASCAR races makes great white noise.
NASCAR doesn’t care about the credibility of its product anymore. A single car spins down off the racing line, doesn’t hit anything and keeps going, in NASCAR that’s a caution sometimes. It’s a caution if it serves the show. If a single car spins during the middle of the race when the field is spread out and cars are being lapped, it’s a caution flag. If a single car spin happens when a popular driver is making an out of sequence pit stop, or there’s a two-car battle for the lead with eight laps to go, not so much.I just find it funny because they once penalized Robby Gordon for throwing something out of his car to cause a caution, if I remember right, and now they routinely throw “Competition cautions.” Like if there was a light misting over night there’ll be a planned caution flag at lap 25.
To me the Bahrain Grand Prix and the Duck Commander 500 illustrates why Formula One is a sport and NASCAR is entertainment. NASCAR clearly makes decisions to make the race more exciting, and while Formula One seems to embrace more gimmicks every year they haven’t started using full course yellows to manipulate the on track product, and as a racing series your credibility is all you have.