An Odd Day

Having been around the sport for almost nine years, I’ve seen some pretty strange decisions by NASCAR.

Saturday, however, has to go down as one of the most bizarre ones of them all – and one of the most bizarre days I’ve ever come across.

Wet weather, of course, has hampered the entire race weekend at Darlington Raceway. Qualifying was rained out on Friday for both the Busch Series and the Winston Cup Series, but the Winston Cup drivers were able to get in two practice sessions on Saturday morning.

The start of the Busch race Saturday was delayed by an hour and a half. Then began the weird part.

With the rain letting up a bit, NASCAR decided to put the Busch cars on the track. Instead of throwing the green flag, however, NASCAR decided to run the first four laps under the green AND caution flags.

Gotta say that’s a first for me. Green and caution at the same time? Hmmm.

The rains came again, and for the next two and a half hours, everyone sat and waited, and waited, and waited. Finally, the rains let up again and racing got under way.

Not surprisingly, pole sitter Greg Biffle led the first 44 laps, and not surprisingly, Jeff Burton, started from the 33rd position, had made his way up through the field and took over the lead on Lap 45.

After he got the lead, Burton checked out and built up as much as a six-second lead until Lap 69, when Jamie McMurray hit the wall, bringing out a caution flag. The halfway point of the 147-lap race, mind you, was 74 laps. Five laps under caution and the event is history. Let’s all go home.

But then something happened that never would have crossed my mind. I would never thought it would happen in a million years.

The pace car led the field past the start/finish line to complete 73 laps, and led the cars all the way down into Turn 4. All of a sudden, approximately 1,000 feet before reaching the flag stand, the cars just stopped. The red flag was displayed, and the race was halted again for rain.

Just 1,000 more feet and the race would have been official at 6:21 p.m. ET. The skies were already dark, and the forecast wasn’t going to get any better.

NASCAR, however, “was hoping that the rain would stop,” and we would get more racing in, which would have been highly unlikely. Had the rain stopped at the point, it would have taken another hour and a half to dry the track, and by that time, it would have been too dark to race.

More than 40 minutes later, NASCAR finally decided to crank the cars back up, cross the finish line and award the victory to Burton. Here’s my quandary:

NASCAR Spokesman Jim Hunter was quoted as saying, “Technically here, halfway is half a lap. If you look at completing the halfway distance, we were on the 74th lap, and all they had to do was cross the start finish line. So, they had started the 74th lap and, regardless of where we stopped them on the race track, the race was going to be official when we cranked them back up to move them wherever we were going to move them. So, it became a moot point. We were still hoping at the end and we were going to get in some more green flag racing, and as it turned out, we didn’t.”

By what Hunter said, the race was official, no matter if the cars had been re-fired and crossed the finish line. By NASCAR rules, however, a lap isn’t completed until cars cross the start finish line, and a race isn’t official until the halfway point, which in this case, was 74 completed laps.

We haven’t had a really good on-track controversy like this since the first two races of the season, when NASCAR made calls to red flag races late at Daytona and Rockingham. So, I guess we were due.

Granted, NASCAR was in a no-win situation Saturday. They’ve always said they wouldn’t start a race with the intention of just running to the halfway point. That, of course, is admirable because it would cheat the fans and the competitors.

But then had they halted the race completely prior to the halfway point, competitors and fans alike would have been forced to come back perhaps Monday morning to complete the event, which would have taken a little less than an hour and half, in all likelihood.

Two more nights of hotel rooms, two more nights of being away from the family, all for just a few laps. Thank goodness it didn’t happen.

“I like racing and I applaud NASCAR for doing everything they could to get the thing in, and racing, not under caution,” Burton said. “I agree with that 100 percent, but I was thinking, gosh, ‘we have to bring all these people back on Monday for 300 feet (1,000 feet, in reality.) That was pretty tough.”

Scattered showers were in the forecast throughout Sunday for the Winston Cup race as well. Hopefully there won’t be a repeat of Saturday’s fiasco.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2002

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