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Caution, Confusion Reign at NASCAR Tracks

June 20, 2004|From Associated Press

LONG POND, Pa. — Races marred by long caution periods. A driver forced back in the field because a pit road official didn't understand a new rule. Some of the slowest speeds in decades.

It's been a confusing and controversial few weeks for NASCAR, filled with mistakes caused by the stock car sport's persistent attempts to tweak already complicated rules nearly halfway through the season.

"It's difficult for us as drivers being in the cars to understand what is going on 99 out of 100 times," driver Tony Stewart said.

Last weekend at Pocono Raceway, NASCAR president Mike Helton was forced to apologize -- twice -- for gaffes that largely centered around the elimination of the racing back to caution rule. Timing and scoring issues have also caused headaches.

Even some fans have shown their frustration, throwing debris onto tracks following races that have ended early or under a caution flag. A backup flagman at Pocono was hit with a cooler, but he wasn't hurt.

"We're big boys, we have made some mistakes and our president has apologized, and I can tell you our president is tired of apologizing," NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said Wednesday. "It's time to get it right.

Hunter said NASCAR will do what's needed to correct their mistakes, even if it means rewriting the rules -- again.

"We're going to do everything we can to restore whatever credibility we've lost with competitors and fans," he said.

Perhaps the biggest issue is scoring and position on the track when the caution is out. Unlike some racing bodies, NASCAR does not revert back to the order of the last completed green-flag lap.

At the MBNA 400 at Dover two weeks ago, drivers ran 24 laps under caution in a 400-mile race that lasted 4 hours, 47 minutes while NASCAR officials struggled to figure out the correct order of the cars.

That led to the first apology from Helton and prompted NASCAR officials to begin using a new electronic timing system full time -- starting a week later at Pocono. The human system in the control tower will be used as a backup in case of electronic failures.

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