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From the Marbles

NASCAR says no to the idea of mandatory cautions

Bruton Smith's suggestions at Kentucky served as almost a week's worth of NASCAR fodder. And according to NASCAR president Mike Helton, that's about as much impact as they'll have.

On Saturday before the race at 1.5 mile Kentucky, a track that Smith's Speedway Motorsports Inc. owns, he brought up the idea of mandatory cautions to potentially break up long green flag runs -- like the long green flag runs that have become common so far in 2012.

From the Associated Press:

''NASCAR fans want the event to unfold unartificially,'' Helton said at Daytona International Speedway. ''The racing that goes on on the racetrack under green is as exciting as any in motorsports. Sports is a true reality show as it unfolds ... you have to be careful when you think about artificially creating the outcome of that.''

And that's the right move. For NASCAR to give any validation to the idea that another form of "competition" cautions should be added into the mix to create more excitement would be foolish, dangerous, and even outright absurd.

Smith does have a point -- with the current configuration of the cars and the type of intermediate tracks that dominate the Sprint Cup schedule, there have been times that the racing isn't what you would call visually compelling, even if drivers on the track would argue otherwise. However, preplanned cautions to bring the field closer to together, and by default, create more action and passing, would be like renovating a skyscraper with a crumbling foundation.

Instead, there are a couple logical solutions. The first is to continue to find ways to make the product on the track produce more side-by-side racing through changes to the tires and the cars, like what NASCAR did before Kentucky in adjusting the sway bar and side skirt requirements. Yeah, those rule changes didn't look like they had any effect on the parade-like atmosphere at Kentucky at times, but it's a much more sensible step than just tossing out additional yellow flags. Another is to find a tire that has significant wear, forcing drivers to manage their tires significantly more. While durability has been a non-issue, the increased durability has also meant a harder tire compound.

And as the long green flag runs have been proliferating, the number of commercials shown during a green flag run has as well. I'm no TV executive, but I do understand commercials' purpose in the live-sports business model and that more green flag racing equals more green flag commercials. But, what if NASCAR incorporated the "TV timeout" model into its current caution structure and deliberately lengthened the length of caution flags to make sure that broadcasters were able to cram in as many commercials as possible during a yellow?

Through the first 17 races of the season, Sprint Cup races have averaged 5.5 cautions a race, with the most coming at Daytona (10), and the fewest at California (1, when it started to rain and the race was eventually called). Four races so far have had three or fewer cautions.

A caution flag lap at a 1.5 mile track (assuming the caution car is going 50 MPH) is approximately 108 seconds per lap -- or a little more than three 30 second commercials. According to CawsNJaws, 58 of the 183 minutes of the Kentucky race broadcast were commercials. The race featured four cautions for 24 laps. (Though 10 of those laps were in the final caution flag because of a long cleanup.)

If a network used a lap at the beginning of each caution period to show pit stops and discuss strategy, and a lap at the end to catch viewers up on the running order before the green, that left 16 caution laps at Kentucky for commercials -- or almost 29 minutes. If each intermediate track caution flag was extended two laps, that would have allowed another 12 minutes or so of commercials, leaving just about 17 minutes of commercials during green flag racing at the Kentucky race ad ratio.

It's likely not a foolproof plan; extending cautions for commercials at the end of a race with fuel mileage implications would be dicey at best, and like I said, I'm not a TV executive, so there's likely something I'm overlooking. But I'm willing to bet that for most fans, a purposeful increase in caution flag lengths for more commercials would be a worthy tradeoff for more viewable green flag racing. Especially if that racing is fun to watch.

Thoughts? Do you like the idea of mandatory cautions? Should NASCAR reconsider? Drop us a line below.

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