Debate: NASCAR's burning questions
Fallen Cable Hurts Fans, Halts Coca-Cola 600
Our panel of experts weighs in on four of the biggest questions in NASCAR this week:
Turn 1: The Indianapolis 500 ended under caution, something many fans seemed to think was as it should be, but many others seemed to dislike. Should the IZOD IndyCar Series adopt a rule that races must finish under a green flag when possible, as NASCAR adopted nearly a decade ago?
Terry Blount, ESPN.com: I have mixed feelings about this one. Heck, even Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan said Monday he has mixed feelings about it. This Indy 500 was a fantastic race, so having it end under caution was a big downer. In this case, the right guy won. How could anyone feel bad about seeing Kanaan finally get his Indy victory? The crowd loved it. This was the best feel-good story in a major race since Dale Earnhardt won the 1998 Daytona 500.
However, I believe having a G-W-C is the right thing to do. Two important aspects of pro sports are competition and entertainment. Neither idea is served when a race ends under caution. I know some people feel it's a gimmick and goes against tradition. I've never been one to go overboard with tradition, especially when it stifles improvement that makes a sports event better.
Ed Hinton, ESPN.com: No way. That's one thing that remains sane about IndyCar, while it otherwise chases the NASCAR showbiz that is draining the notion of "sport." But I guess I'm not the one to ask, because I disliked the G-W-C the first time I saw one, and my opinion has only gotten worse. A team can work all day to win a race and then lose to some wild thing flying out of nowhere. That's wrong. Kanaan's two-lap parade, beneath the sustained roars of the Indy crowd, was a thing of beauty and a statement for sensible tradition.
Ryan McGee, ESPN The Magazine: Finishing under yellow is always like someone spilling spoiled milk all over the last half of a great sandwich. It's no fun. But I have always felt much different about green-white-wreckers in NASCAR than I have in IndyCar. In NASCAR, they are nuts and fun and I don't usually worry about people getting killed. In open-wheel, they would be nuts, perhaps fun, but I would spend the whole time worried about that killing-people part. I know that a lot of people had a hard time swallowing the Indy finish, but I didn't. And I don't think long-time IndyCar fans did, either.
Mark Garrow has the wrap up of Kevin Harvick's Coke 600 win. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin discuss the fallen cable that injured ten fans.
David Newton, ESPN.com: No. While I love green-white-checkered finishes in NASCAR, there would be too much mayhem in IndyCar, particularly in the 500. Plus, no race on the planet has more history than the 500, and as a traditionalist I wouldn't want to see that race change. There was enough drama Sunday -- as there is in most IndyCar races for the final 10 laps -- just because you never know when the race might end because of a wreck, so everyone is racing as hard as if it were a green-white-checkered. If there were 68 passes for the lead in NASCAR -- as there were at Indy Sunday -- with the chance there might be one over the final 10 laps, which there seldom is, I might even vote to abolish the G-W-C finish in NASCAR.
John Oreovicz, ESPN.com: I'm an old purist, so not surprisingly, I say no way. It's too bad the fans didn't get to see a genuine race to the checkered flag. But NASCAR ran races for decades without resorting to contrived G-W-C finishes that sometimes produce an unsatisfactory result -- and more often than not, end up with thousands of dollars worth of wreck damage. I'm all for keeping the competition as pure as possible, and if that means Lap 200 falls under a yellow, then so be it. There weren't too many people who were unhappy with Tony Kanaan winning the 500; would the race have left such a feel-good vibe if, say, Carlos Munoz had prevailed after one or two G-W-C restarts?
Marty Smith, ESPN Insider: No. If there had been a green-white-checkered at Indy, no one would have lifted or given an inch, nor should they. Immortality is at stake. The prospect is too dangerous in those cars.
Turn 2: When cars were damaged by the loose overhead camera cable at Charlotte on Sunday, NASCAR officials decided to allow the teams a 15-minute period in the pits to inspect and repair their cars. Was that the right call? Why, or why not?
Blount: Absolutely the right call. It was a highly unusual situation that required special circumstances, which meant going against the rule of not working on cars during a red flag. Some people on our chat suggested NASCAR should have allowed Kyle Busch to go to a backup car. That would have been a terrible decision, opening a huge can of worms. Anyone with a dent from the incident could have asked to do the same, just to go to a car they felt might run better than the one they had.
Hinton: If anything, NASCAR should have given them longer. The situation was unprecedented. I supposed you could look at it as similar to pieces of pavement chunking up and damaging cars, as has happened in the past. But this time, what happened was so unexpected that NASCAR had to make a seat-of-the-pants call for the sake of fairness. Maybe NASCAR's call seemed weird, but it was right.
McGee: It was. They had to do something. But I totally understood what Jeff Gordon said to me during his postrace interview. He said he understood why NASCAR did it, but also issued a Pandora's box warning, half-joking that now a precedent had been set and that every team was going to start pleading their case each and every weekend as to why they need a 15-minute exemption to work on their cars. I see his point. But unless someone else has something fall from the sky and attack their car, I think NASCAR can pretty much do away with precedent.
Newton: It was. I know Matt Kenseth sounded opposed, comparing it to Jeff Gordon having a piece of Martinsville Speedway come up and ruin his day in 2004. But this was different. This was a situation that had nothing to do with the track that actually is a part of the event. This was a special circumstance that needed to be treated specially. By allowing teams to fix the cars, the outcome of the race wasn't impacted by what happened. Cheers to NASCAR on this one.
Oreovicz: Yes it was the right call, because at the time, officials had no idea what had actually fallen on the track that could have caused damage to any of the cars. As long as the time period for repairs was the same for all competitors, the ruling was fair and a good call for safety's sake.
Smith: Without question, not only was it the right decision, it was the only decision. I'm not sure I can properly articulate why I feel this way. Folks want to compare Cablegate to the Daytona pothole or the Juan Pablo Jet Dryer fiasco. Though all are odd, head-scratching situations, they're not comparable in terms of reaction. The television cable was an extraneous variable that had no bearing on the race -- yet directly impacted the potential outcome of the race. It did not need to be there. It was an amenity. Granted, I understand it stunk no less for Jeff Gordon at Martinsville in 2004 than it did for Kyle Busch on Sunday when their respective cars were destroyed by variables not of their own doing and out of their control. But one is a compromised competitive surface, the other has nothing to do with competition. To me they're different. I know this doesn't really jibe, but it's almost like Wendell Davis, the former Chicago Bears wideout, who destroyed both knees on the crappy Veterans Stadium artificial surface in Philadelphia while simply running a pass route. He fell victim to a bad track, just like Gordon. He didn't trip on a television cable, as Busch did.
Turn 3: AJ Allmendinger ran well at the Indy 500, leading 23 laps and finishing seventh, but many fans identify him more as a NASCAR driver than as a former race-winning open-wheel driver in the Champ Car World Series. Should he pursue a full-time career in IndyCar, or try to return to NASCAR?
Blount: This was another feel-good story from Indy. Dinger went through hell over the past year with the substance-abuse suspension and losing his Cup ride at Penske. But he did all the right things and earned his way back. And it says much about Roger Penske as a man when he gave AJ another chance. Dinger was outstanding in his first Indy 500 start. I hope it earns him a full-time spot in the series. But don't give me that baloney about this proving any so-so NASCAR driver can run up front in IndyCar. Dinger was a talented open-wheel racer, winning five times in Champ Car, before he came to NASCAR.
Hinton: I've thought of him as an open-wheel specialist all along, and he told me the other day the only reason he went to NASCAR in the first place was to get a job during hard times for his first-love form. He never seemed able to close a deal, a win, in NASCAR. Sunday, he drove like a veteran in IndyCar, even on his first outing in these cars at Indy. He contended to win, and but for a cut tire and some other glitches he very well might have. Here's hoping Roger Penske can find sponsorship to run Dinger full-time in IndyCar. Trouble is, economic reality always pushes drivers toward NASCAR.
McGee: IndyCar. And I don't think he's going to have a hard time finding job offers. If people think of him as a NASCAR guy first, then they are clearly just stock-car fans. I think anyone who follows all forms of motorsports -- certainly the people in the NASCAR garage -- have always thought of him as an open-wheeler first.
Newton: If he wants immediate and maybe even long-term success, stick with IndyCar. He proved before coming to NASCAR -- and Sunday -- that his talent is better suited for open-wheel. I'm not saying he can't succeed in NASCAR. But if he can keep a top ride at Penske Racing and compete for wins in IndyCar, he's got a much better chance of making a name for himself there than he does in NASCAR, where he'll still struggle to get a quality ride. Basically, he should go where the money is for him.
Oreovicz: The fact that more fans relate to Allmendinger as a NASCAR driver owes more to Indy car racing's diminished status over the past decade than anything else. If the geniuses running open-wheel racing had gotten their act (and their competing series) together sooner, Allmendinger may have never felt the need to pursue a NASCAR career for job security. I always got the feeling that he never really wanted to go race stock cars, but the offer from Red Bull was too good to refuse, and to his credit, he built himself into a solid, if not spectacular, stock-car driver after starting from level zero six years ago. I think now, after running a few IndyCar races, including the Indianapolis 500, that if Roger Penske gives him the opportunity to go back to Indy cars full time, he'll say yes in a heartbeat.
Smith: Whatever opportunity offers him the most competitive ride, that's what he should do. He showed up to win Sunday. I'd love to know what he'd have done had his seat belt not come unhooked. What an impressive effort and tremendous redemption story. A lot of people left his career for dead last year. I loved this comment to USA Today: "I guess it's God's way of saying maybe you're not going to win it your first time."
Turn 4: You watched all three races Sunday. Nico Rosberg won his home grand prix in Monaco, an emotional Tony Kanaan got a popular victory in Indianapolis and Kevin Harvick won again for Richard Childress in Charlotte. Give the racing day a grade.
Blount: Indy wins this without question. It gets an A, and would have rated at A-plus if not for the yellow-flag finish. The restarts were high drama. The second car had an advantage with the draft even if the first car was faster. I don't care. It was just fun to watch all the passing for the lead.
I'll give the Coca-Cola 600 a B-minus. Not anywhere near the thrilling action at Indy, but the Charlotte race certainly had lots of crazy things happen that kept it entertaining, no easy task over five hours. Monaco gets a C. As usual, whoever starts first ends up first on this street circuit, which is what happened Sunday after Rosberg survived the crashes and the restarts. But this race is more about the glamour of the setting than it is about on-track passing, and it was cool to see the son of former F1 champ Keke Rosberg win F1's biggest event.
Hinton: Give it a B, and it scores above average because of the two open-wheel winners. A Rosberg, any Rosberg, on a winning tear in F1, is a delight. (I can't imagine dad Keke's party after Nico won Monaco.) Tony Kanaan was a delightful winner of an Indy 500 that looked better than it was. We purists talked about how the racing in IndyCar has gotten a little too restrictor plate-ish for us. Too much scrambling for scrambling's sake without much meaning to it. And the cars are too easy to drive, so that it's almost impossible to tell the good from the lucky. EasyCar or not, the 500 transpired so smoothly and gracefully that the 600, with all that demo-derby wrecking, seemed oafish, clumsy, clunky by comparison.
McGee: I give it a B-plus. The Indy 500 was one of the best ever. I had a serious, lengthy discussion with a group of writers in the Charlotte media center about whether or not it was the best ever. Not the finish, but the overall race. Charlotte had its weirdness and, yeah, it was too long. But it's the 600, they are always too long. That being said, I'm not sure what else you could've wanted. Monaco was Monaco. It's always more spectacle than race. But that's also one of the great spectacles in all of sports and the genuine emotion that Rosberg showed was great to see. Still one of my favorite days -- and nights -- of the year.
Newton: B-plus. The day fell short of an A because the grand prix honestly put me to sleep as Rosberg dominated from the moment he unloaded. The 500 was compelling all day. Despite ending under caution, it ended with a popular winner. Great stories make for good grades. And the Coca-Cola 600 had more twists, turns and drama than the All-Star Race that is supposed to be the wilder of the two in Charlotte. The freak drama of the cable incident, while it lengthened the time it took to run the race, almost made it seem shorter. It ended with a great story in lame-duck Harvick beating sitting duck Kasey Kahne with older tires. Can't ask for much more.
Oreovicz: I give Monaco a D. Monaco has aura and mystique, but it's almost always a crappy car race and this year was one of the poorer Monacos in memory. Call me an IndyCar homer, but Indianapolis gets an A from me. It was the fastest Indianapolis 500 in history (that's 97 years worth of history) and it had a very popular winner. My grade for Charlotte is I, only because I didn't watch most of it. But from what I've read, it had all of the dull aspects of many Coca-Cola 600s and a fluke technical problem with a TV camera that injured 10 fans, damaged the leader's car and made what is always an interminably long night of racing even longer.
Smith: A. For Awesome. To repeat what I said Sunday morning: For racers -- and race fans -- Memorial Day Sunday is Christmas.
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