NASCAR & Auto Racing

NASCAR must protect integrity of race results

With a new championship format debuting this season, NASCAR can ill afford any confusion or uncertainty in regards to the race results.

That is exactly what occurred at the conclusion of Sunday night’s Food City 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. But it may not be for the reason you think.

Yes, the caution lights inexplicably came on with two of 500 laps remaining, slowing Carl Edwards’ run to victory – and then securing it once a downpour began and NASCAR declared the race over.

It was an awkward moment, as no one – competitors, media or fans – appeared to know why the lights came on. The miscue was eventually blamed on a flagman, who inadvertently triggered a manual override switch for the lights in the flagstand.

Mistakes and accidents happen, despite every conceivable precaution. The lights coming on was not the most confusing issue, however; it was the explanation.

Those who remember – and I was among those who covered the race at the time – know NASCAR faced a similar issue 10 years at Charlotte Motor Speedway in a Truck Series race.

In that May 2004 race, Edwards was leading but slowed when he saw the caution lights come on, allowing Dennis Setzer to pass him. The race was never stopped and Setzer went on to claim the win.

After a thorough review of the incident, NASCAR President Mike Helton announced the sanctioning body had taken control of the switches for the caution lights away from the flagstand. The switches, he said then, would only be located in the control tower during races for NASCAR’s three national series.

Which brings us to the larger issue Sunday night. How, then, was there an override switch in the Bristol flagstand?

After checking with NASCAR officials this week, it was confirmed the sanctioning body did not change its policy – the decision to activate caution lights in NASCAR races still originates in race control. The flagman has the ability to throw a caution himself in extraordinary circumstances, but if warranted, it is done so by waving the yellow flag.

As it turns out, there are several tracks that have switches in flagstands which activate caution lights, in part because many tracks have activities other than NASCAR races. Legends car races, driving schools and races not sanctioned by NASCAR may all require the use of caution lights at times, without staffing race control.

No conspiracy, but it’s still another area of concern NASCAR must address going forward.

“We will take every precaution with the race tracks to make sure that everything in the flagstand area is properly secured and protected,” NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said.

It is necessary because in NASCAR’s premier Sprint Cup Series, the stakes have never been higher. Efforts to ensure the integrity of the results need to be just as high.

NASCAR penalizes Nationwide team

Chris Rice, crew chief for the No. 99 Nationwide Series team driven by James Buescher, was fined $10,000 by NASCAR and placed on probation until Dec. 31 after improperly attached weight became dislodged from the car during last weekend’s race at Bristol.

The team’s car chief, John Guerra, was also placed on probation until Dec. 31.

Pistone joins NTS Motorsports

Chase Pistone, the grandson of retired NASCAR driver “Tiger” Tom Pistone, will make his debut with NTS Motosports in the March 29 Truck series race at Martinsville, Va.

Chase will drive the No. 9 Chevrolet and will compete in 14 Truck races this season.

K&N West race at Irwindale

Complementing the Cup and Nationwide races at Auto Club Speedway this weekend is the second NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race of the season, taking place Saturday night at nearby Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway.

Greg Pursley won the season opener Feb. 27 at Phoenix.