Does NASCAR have an entertainment caution problem?

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 21: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, leads the field on a pace lap prior to the NASCAR Cup Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 253 at Daytona International Speedway on February 21, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 21: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, leads the field on a pace lap prior to the NASCAR Cup Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 253 at Daytona International Speedway on February 21, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

NASCAR’s decision to throw a caution flag for rain turned Sunday’s Daytona International Speedway road course race upside down.

Sunday afternoon’s NASCAR Cup Series race at the Daytona International Speedway road course was going exactly like many road course races before it had gone: Chase Elliott dominating behind the wheel of his #9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

Elliott entered the race on a four-race road course winning streak. Not since June of 2019, when Martin Truex Jr. won at Sonoma Raceway, had a driver other than Elliott secured a points-paying win on a circuit with both left and right turns.

To put that in perspective, Darrell Waltrip was still in the Fox Sports booth for that race.

Elliott’s five road course wins are already the best among active drivers, and at 25 years old, he is just four wins shy of Jeff Gordon’s record.

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In fact, he entered Sunday’s race on a streak that ranks second only to Gordon’s six-race road course winning streak.

The reigning Cup Series champion dominated the opening stage of the race around the 14-turn, 3.61-mile (5.810-kilometer) road course in Daytona Beach, Florida, and he battled his way back to the lead early in the third stage following a not-so-smooth pit stop. He led 44 of the first 57 laps, and he was running away with the race, with only Christopher Bell hanging around in his rearview mirror. However, the race turned upside down for the #9 team — and really for most drivers in the field at that point.

NASCAR decided to throw a caution flag for rain, what many have since dubbed an “entertainment caution”.

So instead of the Elliott runaway victory that we all knew was coming, NASCAR got a less predictable finish, thanks to the ensuing pit stops/caution flags/wrecks.

It was certainly more interesting than it would have been.

However, therein lies the problem, and NASCAR fans everywhere were quick to point it out, especially given the “phantom” debris cautions we have seen multiple times over the years at interesting times during races.

Multiple drivers (not named Elliott) applauded NASCAR for their decision (shocking) to throw the rain caution as the sun shone over the Daytona track.

Here’s the funny thing: it clearly wasn’t “too wet to continue under dry conditions”, as the rule states, considering nobody actually went to rain tires.

And in areas where it might have been a bit wet (which, yes, was actually confirmed by multiple individuals at the track), it was by no means “too wet”.

Even funnier: none of the drivers who supported the decision actually went to rain tires.

Kind of ironic, isn’t it?

In a way, NASCAR basically violated their own rulebook.

Elliott among others came into the pits during this caution flag period. Not everybody came into the pits, but everybody who did change tires went to new slick tires.

Elliott’s #9 team, once again, had a poor stop, and they lost several spots. He came out fourth after pitting from the lead, miring him well outside the top 10 for the ensuing restart since many drivers opted to stay out on old tires.

After that, it was just pure chaos.

Oh, and somewhere in the world, it was probably raining. Just not here.

Elliott made contact with Corey LaJoie’s #7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet just a few turns after the first restart.

A caution flag came out shortly thereafter for a separate incident. After the next restart (and before the next caution flag), his #9 Chevrolet sustained even more damage thanks to more contact with the #7 machine.

Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch were both involved in separate incidents following the next restart, but no caution flags were thrown for either one.

Elliott, meanwhile, had somehow worked his way back into the top five, but then this happened.

Denny Hamlin, who finished in third place, was one of the drivers who said after the race that it was pretty wet. He also did not move to rain tires.

Elliott ended up getting the worst end of the deal, finishing in 21st place — thanks, of course, to the absolutely torrential downpour that caused Lake Lloyd to overflow and flood the track. Or not.

Fortunately, amid all the chaos, the race ended up with a deserving winner, to say the least, with Bell.

Bell, who was winless in 37 career starts coming into the race, had run second to Elliott for much of the opening and middle portions of the third and final stage, and he was the only driver who was able to consistently keep the pace with him and keep the pressure on him.

In just his second start as the driver of the #20 Toyota, he got the job done.

As for the rest of the field, disaster-filled days for Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski somehow ended up with them both in the top five, with Busch in fourth place and Keselowski in fifth.

This was, of course, thanks largely to their decisions not to pit during any of the late caution flag periods — but primarily the one that took place due to “rain”.

Joey Logano, for the second week in a row at this venue, lost the lead with under two laps to go to a now first-time winner. He finished in second place after his decision to stay out nearly netted him a victory. Fortunately for him, he actually finished this week’s race after crashing out of the Daytona 500 as the race leader with two turns to go.

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So does NASCAR have an entertainment caution problem? Did they handle this one as well as they should have? At the end of the day, there are always going to be questionable calls, but how this one made any sense, from start to finish, is yet to be determined.