NASCAR Cup Series driver Chase Elliott looked to have the O'Reily Auto Parts 253 won at one point, but was on the receiving end of an unlucky caution due to rain. Officials threw the caution to give teams a choice to put rain tires on the car, and Elliott's team decided to pit.
This forced Elliott towards the back of the field, leading to questions among fans about why the sport would throw the caution for rain in the first place. In fact, with a lot of other series forcing cars to pit for rain tires under green, and waving localized yellow flags to keep the action going, it begs the question why NASCAR can't do the same.
"When you have those late-race cautions like that, and you have a mixed bag of who stays and who goes, it’s a bit of a gamble, either way, I felt like,” Elliott said after finishing 21st. “I thought tires was the right move. Tires won the race, so I think it was the right move."
With many feeling that NASCAR's most popular driver was robbed of a win as a result of a caution, it has brought added credibility to the idea of a rule change. Of course, a lot of fans would be against such changes, especially with a good portion being happy about Elliott losing, but the legitmacy of this issue is becoming hard to ignore.
What does NASCAR want?
The problem with this proposed rule change, however, is how it goes against a spate of other changes in recent years that were seemingly designed to add increasing amounts of randomness to areas that were previously straightforward. Not only is that evident by the chaotic 16-driver playoff system that determines the champion every year, but also the sport's implementation of stage racing to add in more cautions, and subsequently, the chaos that often unfolds during the restarts.
Given that NASCAR has seemingly leaned more toward manufactured excitement, it's not wholly inaccurate to surmise that they would be against the rule changes being proposed. For example, why would they give 40 drivers that rarely race in the rain the chance to come down pit road under green whenever they want instead of making them all come down together under a full-course yellow? After all, it would negate the chance of bunch them all up for yet another restart.
Now, that doesn't mean Chase Elliott wouldn't have benefited had the race stayed green and let teams choose, but it would have created a huge disadvantage for those that made the wrong choice. Another problem is that while section cautions would be ideal when someone's favorite driver is ahead, it could create the idea of favoritism, based on how NASCAR plays it.
Safety concerns to keep in mind
Then there's the issue of safety. A section caution only works if drivers are able to get moving again under their own power, or be hauled away by a tow truck before the field cycles around.
Imagine the stress safety workers would be under to get a car hooked up to a truck and taken to pit road. What happens if crews can't get a driver away in time? Is the sport willing to risk finding that out the hard way? Then again, they could just throw a full course caution once the field comes back around, but that just makes the section caution useless at that point.
What's really interesting, though, is that people arguing for section caution don't seem to understand that it wouldn't have helped Elliott anyway. If NASCAR had just thrown a section yellow, it could have slowed Elliott down a great deal, denying him the chance to gain positions on the restart.
NASCAR ratings also a factor
We also need to think about it from a ratings standpoint. Bringing out a caution, even for something like rain, allows for a more exciting show. Everyone gets to come down pit road, try different strategies and line up for another chance to come out on top. The sport even goes to commercial during caution to bait fans into watching the restart.
Whether fans want to admit it or not, this is the current state of NASCAR, and rules like the one being proposed aren't going to be popular here. It just robs them of too many exciting opportunities, and pretty much creates a situation where they are just like every other autosport in the world.
And that's not something that NASCAR wants; to take away from the action unique to the sport. Under these kinds of rules, there would be more runaway finishes that favor the leaders, and a constant array of fuel strategies that leave fans questioning the legitimacy of a win.