"Was that invisible debris?" and "I think the officials may be hallucinating in those hot helmets this year" seem to be common laments of NASCAR fans, giving way to conspiracy theories galore about NASCAR throwing flags just to spice things up. So show us: what are the most bizarre caution flags thrown in racing?
Last night's NASCAR Sprint Cup race in particular gave way to a million angry, generally all-caps conspiracy theories from Kurt Busch fans: ZOMGGGG LATE RACE DEBRIS CAUTIONS WERE JSUT [sic] TO SCREW OVER KURT!!!1!
Let's explain this bizarre series of events, and where the root of the conspiracy lies. It all starts with the caution flag on lap 185 where Busch was able to snag the lead. Matt Kenseth was in the lead, but his car broke an axle in the pits. Harvick and Busch moved to the front of the pack on the restart, and being right next to Harvick let Busch fly on through.
That's some tiny, tiny debris there. NASCAR really can't take any chances in case it's a potentially tire-blowing chunk of metal, but I can see how fans and drivers could have missed it.
"We got ourselves in a position really nicely and there's a debris caution and you can't find debris anywhere," Kenseth said, as quoted by USA Today. "I didn't see any [debris] that caution or the next one, so that's always disappointing."
I could spot it on the broadcast, but it wasn't like a car spun out and sat on the track for a while (...more on that later).
The conspiracy theories really kicked into high gear with a debris flag that was thrown with two laps to go for another miniscule piece of debris:
Apparently, it was a coffee lid. Again, I understand the need to err on the side of safety, but perhaps NASCAR needs to invest in some high-power binoculars or zoom lenses before they wave a debris caution for a flimsy piece of plastic that probably blew over from the pits.
Some poor crew guy probably had cold coffee after that. Thanks for nothing, wind.
Still, Kurt put two tires on and rejoined the pack near the front, quickly moving on through to the first position again.
The last debris caution is what killed Busch's lead, though. This one was a bit more obvious, Tin-Foil Hats: Kyle Larson's rear bumper cover flew up into the air and onto the track.
Brad Keselowski opted for four new tires when he, Busch and many of the others rolled into the pits during the previous caution. Keselowski's four fresh tires allowed him to shoot past everyone else up front, including Busch.
Tire strategy, guys. It's a thing.
Busch would have been the Cinderella story of the year if you ignore all of Busch's off-track drama and/or believe he's been wronged by the legal system, or a complete travesty if you believe the other side of that story. Busch had been on suspension for an alleged domestic assault. A protective order against Busch was put in place, but NASCAR allowed Busch to race on probation after criminal charges weren't filed for the offense. Regardless, coming out of a suspension to take a win in his second race of the season would have been impressive.
Busch drove the wheels off that number 41 car for this race. The past couple races feel like he's been trying to re-justify why he's here, but unfortunately, he couldn't pull off the win.
Despite all the coffee lid caution, the strangest yellow caution flag of them all was the one that wasn't thrown for Greg Biffle's huge last-lap wreck:
Biffle was stopped on the main straight of the track for a while, but no yellow flag was thrown. Biffle got moving again before race traffic caught up to where he sat, but many were concerned as to why debris flags weren't thrown by the officials.
"I don't know why the caution didn't come out when they're wrecking on the front straightaway, but whatever," said Busch crew chief Tony Gibson to USA Today.
The "PARSH 911s were an inside job!!!!2!" set will say that NASCAR would have lost their chance to let a driver who was not Kurt Busch take the win had they yellow-flagged the race immediately when Biffle spun.
NASCAR maintains that they always try to finish with a green last lap, even though that totally contradicts their tendency to err on the side of safety for the smallest chunk of stuff on track.
Sprint Cup Director Richard Buck told NBC Sports that officials didn't see any debris on the track from Biffle's spin, so they opted to let the race finish under green.
Biffle's car facing the wrong direction while stopped on track is a pretty big piece of "debris" that they're missing. According to USA Today, Sprint Cup officials were convinced that Biffle would be able to restart his car before the leaders took the finish, which he did, but I'm not convinced that assuming a parked car can restart is a good strategy, either. Sure, they can see what's going on in the cockpit with all the cameras NASCAR uses, but there's no way to determine what might have failed on impact just looking at the cameras' views of the car.
That lack of a flag was made more for entertainment purposes than for safety, pure and simple. Sorry, I've had my car totaled while stopped on the track before and there's zero way that you can convince me that a stalled car anywhere on or just off a racing surface doesn't merit whipping a yellow flag out immediately. Throw it for only one turn of the track* if you're really determined to have some final moments of racing, but the other drivers need a heads-up that there's something big to hit on the asphalt. That is a safety issue.
There were a few head-scratching flags in that race, but having no flag thrown at the end was the biggest weirdo of them all.
So, show us in the comments: what are the most bizarre, inexplicable or just plain odd instances of yellow caution flags in motor racing?
*I'm not sure if this would work on NASCAR's ovals given their super-short lap times, but hey, I'm throwing the idea of a local yellow out there. Throw a yellow until the stopped car is clear from the track.Any yellow. Period.
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