By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
NASCAR has a new set of rules for their green-white-checkered finishes in 2016 and one race into the much-hyped ‘overtime’ rules, we’re already seeing a continuation of a recurring theme – anticlimactic finishes.
The Sprint Unlimited was a fiercely contested race. All night long drivers were weaving in and out of traffic, spectacular crashes ensued and all along the way the suspense built toward what seemed to be an epic battle for the win between Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and a whole host of others.
This truly looked to be the start of a new exciting era for NASCAR finishes, yet as the field of drivers drove wildly heading into turn one on the final lap calamity ensued, and NASCAR threw the caution flag thus ending the race with half of a lap to go.
To be fair, I usually like to see NASCAR err on the side of caution, because I don’t ever enjoy seeing a driver injured. However, I believe the sanctioning body’s call in Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited finish was absolutely the wrong one. The carnage of the final lap melee was mostly cleared when the caution flag was called for, and by the time the field would have reached the finish line it appeared likely that the wrecked cars would be at the very least mid-way down the backstretch.
That would have left plenty of time and real estate for the roaring pack to woah down before they caught the damaged off-pace cars limping around.
It may, or may not have had an influence on the finish as Hamlin led 39 laps on the night and was dominant in the closing laps, but it would have left nothing to anyone’s imagination if the field were allowed to race back to the checkered flag.
NASCAR’s changes for green-white-checkered finishes this off season came after a controversial finish at Talladega Superspeedway last fall when Kevin Harvick caused a crash as the green flag was shown on an attempt to finish the race. Harvick’s car was limping with only high gear left to choose from, and he had a Chase berth on the line. He had to do something. NASCAR should have done something.
Perhaps the changes that NASCAR addressed on the finishes for 2016 weren’t really the underlying issue all along. The real problem seemingly ends and begins with judgement calls. Sometimes drivers are allowed to race back to the line, sometimes they are not.
Sometimes in the past drivers have been ‘allowed’ to pass under the yellow lines at Talladega and Daytona (Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Talladega in 2003) and other times they haven’t (Tony Stewart in the 2001 July Daytona race). Same story with the yellow-line force-out rule (Stewart versus Regan Smith at Talladega in 2008). Sometimes they don’t allow drivers to block and slam into others in the closing laps (Jason Leffler in the 2004 XFINITY race at Daytona) and sometimes they do (Harvick at Talladega 2015).
Sometimes they get to race back to the line for the win. Sometimes they don’t.
You get the point.
Judgement calls in NASCAR always seem to have an alternate outcome every time they pop up, to the point where it’s almost been comical over the years. In my opinion, as long as judgement calls are still involved in the outcome of NASCAR races there will always be the chance of a finish that leaves NASCAR fans feeling robbed of a fair finish to the start finish line, and that’s a damn shame. Especially in the case of the 2016 Sprint Unlimited which looked to be well on it’s way to whetting the appetite of the fans heading into the season’s biggest event — the Daytona 500.
Image: Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images