Aftermath, Michigan: Debris Or Not, NASCAR Was Trying To Entertain Us


You know the feeling you get when you pack for a trip and feel like you've forgotten something? That's how I felt when I left Michigan International Speedway yesterday.

It seemed like something was missing from the race. So I replayed the events of the day in my head.

To sum it up: The race started, the Red Bull cars wrecked, Denny Hamlin had the lead, Denny Hamlin won.

Had I forgotten something? Typically after a NASCAR race the last couple years, there's some sort of water cooler topic to carry through to the next week.

So I got back to the hotel and flipped on ESPN to watch the race highlights.

ESPN's summary was the same as mine: The race started, the Red Bull cars wrecked, Denny Hamlin had the lead, Denny Hamlin won.

Yep. That was about it. Huh.

It turns out that Sunday's race was strange in that it just seemed completely unremarkable.

There was no major drama, no big wrecks, no exciting finish, no potholes or malfunctioning caution lights or rain, no controversial comments about firesuits or golden horseshoes, no nothing.

The best car won, the race finished in a tidy two-and-a-half hours and that was it.

Weird, right? The race was so normal, it was abnormal.

We've gotten spoiled, it seems. After the new car was introduced, there were a couple years of blah-blah boring races. But not lately, mostly thanks to double-file restarts and multiple green-white-checkered finishes.

Because of those rules that inject some action into the show, it seems something always happens. There's always something to talk about.

Hell, even POCONO gave us some interesting material.

But what are we talking about after Michigan? Not much.

Sure, Hamlin's story is interesting. But he just won last week, and we're in a middle zone right now where it's still too early to tell if certain teams' successes will last through the Chase. So it's tough to get overly enthusiastic about Hamlin's No. 11 team out-performing Jimmie Johnson's 48 just yet.

The race was a bit of a dud. At least you know NASCAR tried to make it better with that iffy debris caution.

Many fans say they saw the debris on TNT's online "Race Buddy" camera. And that's fine. But since several drivers said they didn't see it, I'll stick with calling it "iffy."

Don't agree? Well, let's talk about what a "caution" means. A caution in the traditional sense is for when there's some sort of danger to the drivers on the track where they need to slow down to avoid trouble.

Everyone knows NASCAR plays with cautions depending on the circumstances. The drivers openly talk about it, as Hamlin did after the race.

Officials will hold off on calling a caution for a crash on the last lap to try and get a good finish, but a piece of rubber will be three feet off the track during a long (read: boring) green-flag run and they'll say "Put it out!"

Purists may not like it, but as I've written before, I'm perfectly OK with so-called "show" cautions. All the other recent rules are made to provide for more entertainment for the fans (and have), so why not? They're not for sport, they're for the show.

If you want to argue that point with me, explain how a "free pass" after a car has been lapped is fair. That rule is there to keep more cars on the lead lap and, thus, provide more of a reason to watch.

But like I said, I'm all for the entertainment value. That attracts more fans and makes it worth watching. And NASCAR needs people watching right now.

Besides, when NASCAR throws these late cautions to bunch up the field, isn't that what most people tune in to see? A crazy double-file restart with action and controversy and excitement. That's the fun part as a spectator.

As long as officials don't play favorites with who wins, I'm OK with them maybe pulling a couple strings to entertain us.

The only problem I have is that calling cautions for non-threatening or non-existent debris is disingenuous. If NASCAR wants a caution to spice up the race, why not be public about it?

I've said this before, but NASCAR could call a competition caution to make a shootout with 10 or 20 laps to go (depending on the size of the track) at the end of every race.

Even that doesn't guarantee a memorable finish, as Sunday's Michigan race will be forgettable except for Adam Sandler and Kevin James' wild "Start your engines" command.

The bottom line is none of us can have it both ways. If you complain about boring, single-file racing, you can't turn around and criticize NASCAR for trying to make it more interesting.

Yeah, the late cautions aren't the most fair, purely sporting thing to do. But for the fans who paid for tickets or invested their time on a weekend afternoon, a good finish is a just reward.

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