All-Access with Alanis: NASCAR’s Caution Woes

Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose on the last lap of the Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen Photo- Getty Images

As we’ve all experienced, NASCAR sometimes seems to throw meaningless cautions, yet when the track is truly unsafe, they withhold the caution flag. By definition, a caution is “used to signal an accident, debris caused by contact of mechanical failure, or weather-related issues”. Wouldn’t an oil leak from Bobby Labonte’s car fall under the category of “mechanical failure”, making the condition of the track unsafe to race on? Though we agree that the last few laps of the race at Watkins Glen were some of the most exciting of this season, would they have been any less exciting if NASCAR would have thrown the caution and ended in a green-white-checkered finish?

NASCAR claimed to not receive any confirmed reports of oil on the track, though drivers reported it and the news reached Twitter well before the end of the race, causing confusion as to why a caution was not thrown. Drivers were slipping and sliding around the oil-slicked track, causing spins by Dale Jr., and the dominant car of Kyle Busch, who  had a large lead over second-place Brad Keselowski before hitting oil. 
So, realistically, if NASCAR throws cautions for the most irrelevant pieces of “debris”, etc., why not throw a caution for a truly hazardous situation, such as a completely oiled up track? Sure, it created some exciting racing… about as exciting as it would be if rain dampened the entire track and the race stayed green. But, does that happen? Ever? No. A caution is thrown well in advance, to keep from racing in unsafe conditions. Shouldn’t it be the same in this case?

In any case, if the track is made unsafe, a caution should be thrown. NASCAR is known to be inconsistent with calls, but when conditions are hazardous and driver safety is in question, the correct procedure is to put the race under caution… no questions asked.

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