Bristol Takeaways: How in the world did Chase Elliott cause a caution and get the free pass?

NASCAR’s rules surrounding the free pass are pretty clear. Or so we thought

According to NASCAR rules, the first driver a lap down gets his lap back when a caution comes out. These are the only two caveats in the NASCAR rule book.

“A vehicle is not eligible to receive the ‘Free Pass’ until the vehicle has started the Race or in the judgement of NASCAR, the vehicle was involved in, or the reason for the caution.”

Pretty straightforward, right? If NASCAR deems that you’re involved in the caution that allows you to get the free pass, you don’t get the free pass.

It’s apparently not that straightforward. On lap 214 of Sunday’s race at Bristol, the caution flew when Matt Tifft spun off the bumper of Chase Elliott. Per NASCAR’s scoring both during and after the race, the reason for the caution is listed as an incident involving both Elliott and Tifft.

Here’s where it gets complicated. Elliott was the first car a lap down when the incident happened. And he still got the free pass.

Yahoo Sports reached out to NASCAR for an explanation during the race and has yet to receive one at the time of publication. While it’s true that Elliott didn’t go spinning to cause the caution, he was judged by NASCAR to be involved in it — hence why he was listed as being part of the incident that led to the caution.

By that justification, NASCAR had very little wiggle room per its rulebook to say that he could have the free pass despite being involved in the caution. It’s hard to see any way that Elliott deserved to get his lap back.

Yet he did. And he ended up finishing 11th. While Elliott’s receiving of the free pass would be a bigger deal if he won the race or finished in the top five, it’s still an important example of the seeming ambiguity of NASCAR rules. It takes an extremely generous interpretation of the NASCAR rulebook to justify that a car listed as being involved in a caution is deserving of the free pass because it was not involved in a caution.

[Kyle Busch spins early, still wins at Bristol]

To pit or not to pit?

When the caution flag flew with 22 laps to go, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski were running in first and second. They, along with teammate Ryan Blaney, elected to pit while six cars, including eventual race-winner Kyle Busch, stayed out.

With the benefit of hindsight being 20-20, pitting turned out to be the wrong call.

“I think so,” Logano said when asked if the decision to pit or not to pit from up front was a no-win situation. “The last thing you want is a caution with 15 to 20 to go at Bristol and you’re the leader because you know everyone is gonna make their decision off of what you do. If you stay out, you’ve got to expect half the field is gonna pit, maybe more. If you come in, five or six stayed, so it’s just part of the game.”

Logano finished third while Keselowski was 18th after he got black-flagged for a scoring snafu. Keselowski was frustrated after the race about NASCAR’s scoring but said that he understood the sanctioning body’s position after a meeting.

NASCAR said it had warned Keselowski’s team multiple times that it was in the wrong position before the race went green. Keselowski was lined up on the outside of the track (the preferred groove) and should have been on the inside of the fourth row.

Daniel Suarez lost a lap because of a close call

Daniel Suarez had a fast car throughout Sunday’s race. But he lost a lap because of a very close call on pit road.

A crew member was pulling a piece of tape off the grille of Suarez’s car as he left his pit box. Suarez’s car was just over the pit box line as the crew member was pulling the tape off. Because of that, Suarez was assessed a one-lap penalty for pitting outside his pit box.

It was the right call by NASCAR. It was a clear-cut violation of the rule. But the consequences that come with the rule are too punitive. A lap penalty for that when a speeding penalty under yellow only sends a driver to the back of the field on a restart?

NASCAR would do well to thin the rulebook when it comes to pit road penalties. Or, at the very least, make some penalties have far lesser consequences.

Clint Bowyer struggled on restarts

Bowyer, who finished seventh after hitting the wall with a flat tire, had problems on restarts all day.

He stayed out during a caution near the end of the first stage but got beat to the green-and-white checkered flag by Ty Dillon (!) for the stage win because his car didn’t take off.

The inability to get up to speed became a pattern later in the race.

“You could see that on restarts,” Bowyer said. “I couldn’t take off worth a damn, but I could really come on strong on the big end of a run.”

The race was eventful and enjoyable

At the risk of being perceived as negative if this wasn’t mentioned, Sunday’s race was entertaining and enjoyable. There actually were crashes. There was some strategy at the end. The first stage was so unpredictable that it was won by Ty Dillon.

The race featured 21 lead changes. It was the fifth Bristol race since the start of 2014 with 20 or more lead changes and the third with exactly 21 lead changes. Drivers like Chris Buescher and Matt DiBenedetto ran up near the front of the field for long stretches.

Maybe the entertainment will carry over to Richmond next week. The Virginia short track has been a nighttime bore lately.

Mike Joy flubs the end of the race

Yes, Kyle Busch won Sunday’s race even though Fox play-by-play announcer Mike Joy said “Kurt Busch” before recovering to note that Kyle Busch was the driver that actually won.

Joy has recent company. NCAA tournament play-by-play man Brian Anderson messed up the call of Virginia’s Elite Eight game-tying shot at the end of regulation last weekend.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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