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As fans see red, NASCAR debates a green guarantee

By DUSTIN LONG, The Virginian-Pilot
© June 26, 2004

SONOMA, Calif. — It’s the night of Aug. 28, at Bristol Motor Speedway. The caution flag waves three laps from the end.

In years past, that would have been the end of actual racing, with cars parading past at 35 mph under the yellow and, later, the white flag.

But that may not be the case this year. Series officials are looking to find a way to finish races under green.

What would fans likely see? Especially in a two- or three-lap shootout at a track like Bristol?

“Chaos,’’ says Ricky Rudd.

“A disaster,’’ says Brendan Gaughan. So why change? Four of the last seven Cup races, including the last two, have finished under caution. Fans were not pleased. At Talladega, they littered the track with trash.

The Craftsman Truck series has a rule which states that races must end with two laps of green-flag racing. The Busch Grand National and Nextel Cup series do not have such a rule, although officials are hinting that a change could come before the Nextel Cup series’ 10-race championship stretch run.

In light of some of the wild racing Rudd has seen this season, he wonders about a rule change that could increase the chances of a go-for-broke crashfest. Rudd isn’t the only one.

“It’s not that someone is going out and driving stupid all the time, but it’s like football, you see a lot of these Hail Mary passes that don’t work ... and we end up with a lot of bent cars instead,’’ Ken Schrader says.

Jeff Gordon says the fans deserve an effort by NASCAR to race to the finish.

“I don’t think it’s right for the fans to have to go through the traffic and money they pay to be at these events, to stay in their seats for hours. I think they need to see a green-flag finish,’’ he says.

Greg Biffle, who spent three years in the Truck series, doubts that a green-flag finish would guarantee wild driving.

“The green-white-checkered finishes in the trucks weren’t a big deal,’’ he says. “Not a lot of times did positions change.

People are reluctant to pass. You can lose a spot just as easily as you can gain one.’’

History backs Biffle. Since 2002, 11 truck races have been extended because of late-race cautions. Only once did the lead change.

But all it takes is one driver to make a wrong move and anything can happen. That’s what some drivers fear. So, they say, why change?

“I think the fans for 50 years have had great races,’’ Gaughan says. “Some of them end under caution. I don’t believe it takes anything away from it.’’

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