October 12, 2009
Looking to make a few extra bucks? Here's a plan for your next NASCAR race party. Start a "phantom caution" pool with your buddies. Everybody throws in $10, and everybody picks a lap in the last 20 percent of the race where you think the "phantom caution" will come. Closest to the lap without going over wins the pot. (If the camera shows actual debris, you only get half the pot.)
The great thing is, somebody's guaranteed to win! There's always a phantom caution!
The phantom cautions are a farce that everyone accepts because it's a quick-and-dirty fix that makes for better racing. It's the easiest way to cut down on the competitive imbalance and/or the poor track design that allows one car to get ten seconds ahead of the rest of the field.
But the cautions are, obviously, designed to bunch up the field -- and when you bunch up the field, troubles can happen. See, for instance, Sunday afternoon at California, when Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle collided, sending Kahne and Biffle spinning into the infield. Then, just a few laps later, Elliott Sadler collided with Dale Earnhardt Jr., setting off a huge wreck that took out Kahne once and for all. Here, check it for yourself, and be sure to hang around for Kasey's post-wreck comments:
Afterward, Kahne was justifiably furious:
"We worked hard all day, got ourselves in a good position. I think it was going to be a good points day, and NASCAR threw a debris caution for no debris, which caused Kurt Busch to hit the wall, which caused me to go to the grass and Greg Biffle. And from there, that caused the whole next wreck on the front stretch. It's disappointing that we had a bad race because of a caution to put a show on for the fans. That's a good part of the sport, we have to keep the fans excited, but sometimes it ruins people's days, and today it was our day."
He'll get a fine for that, surely, but he should pay the fine by throwing it out the window during Saturday night's race. At least then there'd be visible debris on the track.
Look, it's obvious that something needs to be done to keep the racing competitive. But the phantom cautions are a Band-Aid when NASCAR's on-track racing needs major surgery ... or maybe a bulldozer.
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