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Seeing yellow: Drivers look for less caution

Published June 13, 2004

Ryan Newman caused it, but didn't think the penalty was just.

Mark Martin benefited from it, so he wasn't going to complain.

Among the 19 drivers involved in a wreck after a laborious 24-lap caution at Dover last week, there was plenty of bitterness about lengthy, seemingly unnecessary caution periods, scoring confusion and NASCAR's inability to sort out yellow-flag messes in Nextel Cup.

It started with 79 laps to go in the 400-lap event, when Newman clipped the cone at the front edge of the commitment line while beginning a green-flag pit stop. NASCAR officials needed 24 laps to determine the running order, eventually placing several cars a lap down and setting in motion the events that caused the pileup. Newman was penalized a lap for spinning out and sending water over pit road. He finished 24th.

With 53 laps remaining, two after the restart, 19 cars were involved in a massive wreck at Turn 3, including Jeremy Mayfield, who led during the caution, and Jimmie Johnson, who is second in the point standings and at the time was in a position to take over the top spot from Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NASCAR officials exacerbated the situation with the scoring, said Johnson, who finished 32nd. Only five cars finished on the lead lap.

"What kind of provoked that whole incident was Newman spinning out coming to pit road," he said. "I'm shocked that with what happened there that a caution was brought out.

"And then that caution had all the confusion of who was on what lap. And then you put all but three cars down a lap and then other guys multiple laps down and have the leaders start at the tail end of the field - you have the recipe for a huge pileup, and that's what was delivered."

NASCAR president Mike Helton promised change on Friday at Pocono Raceway.

"The 24-lap caution that occurred is unacceptable," Helton told the Associated Press. "We can't go back and change that. All we can do is work through it and go forward with every effort possible to avoid that happening again."

The situation has mushroomed despite technology that should simplify matters. Lengthy cautions have angered drivers in several races this season. Though NASCAR cars are dumbed down technologically, by rule each carries a transponder that allows officials to determine its track position. Helton said transponders alone will determine scoring position today at Pocono Raceway.

"We feel like we can eliminate the human element that led a lot, in part, to the extended caution last weekend, and score the race and determine who is in what position, in what lap they're in, electronically," he said.

Drivers said some change is sorely needed. Despite 16 fewer caution periods than at this time last season, Nextel Cup has run 75 more yellow-flag laps. NASCAR has averaged an extra 10.5 caution laps per race since it eliminated racing back to the yellow flag and began fixing fields by running order in September. Helton said the extra lap of caution run this season to allow the top car amongthose a lap down to join the lead lap will be eliminated to maximize green-flag racing.

"I think when they added the not racing back to the yellow rule, that just put a different dimension in it, and they have to do a lot more looking and a lot more investigating where people were when the caution did fall," said Jeff Green, who was involved in the 19-car wreck. "From that point on, I think that was at Dover in the fall, I think the cautions got longer because of the scoring. The caution is for a reason, and if they can't come up with a reason, then they shouldn't have thrown it."

The frustration for drivers is they are forced to circle under caution as officials sort things out in the scoring booth. Though Johnson said he is patient as NASCAR finds a "happy medium" between quick results and caution, he isn't happy running meaningless laps.

"When we're riding around and the track surface is totally clean and there isn't even a safety vehicle on the track or a clean-up crew on the track and we're running 10 or 15 laps behind a pace car, regardless of what it is - if scoring is messed up and they need to get that ironed out - then stop the cars," Johnson said.

"We need to race as much as we can under green-flag racing. Just to log laps and whittle the race down, I don't think it is the right thing. I'm not sure what the answer to that is. But there were a lot of laps when we rode around without even a clean-up vehicle or safety vehicle, and we were wondering what they were doing."

Oddly, NASCAR missed oil on the track later in the race that caused leader Kasey Kahne to wreck with 17 laps left. The gaffe prompted a 20-minute red-flag period and helped Martin win for the first time in more than two years while Kahne finished 21st.

"I think that was the biggest joke of a race as I've ever been involved in," Jamie McMurray said. "I couldn't believe that. It was kind of ridiculous, all the cautions and the oil on the racetrack.

"It kind of looked like an ARCA race, I thought. That's pretty bad."

[Last modified June 12, 2004, 23:37:23]


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