Why didn't NASCAR call a caution on last lap of Phoenix race?

Even after all the chaos of the Jeff Gordon/Clint Bowyer crash and ensuing crew fight on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, there was still more madness to come.

On the white flag lap of a green-white-checkered finish, Jeff Burton dumped Danica Patrick into the wall – which would have been a caution about 99.9 percent of the time if it occurred during the middle portion of the race.

But NASCAR likes to try and let the finish play out if possible, so officials swallowed their whistles – or caution flags, in this case – and let the race stay green as Kevin Harvick circled the track on the final lap.

There was just one problem: Patrick had put down oil all over the place and NASCAR didn't realize it. A bunch of cars drove right through it and then crashed coming out of Turn 4 in a big way – with Patrick's rear tires being completely lifted off the ground.

So why didn't NASCAR throw the caution? NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said officials thought the smoke was from Patrick's tires, not her engine (which would indicate the presence of oil).

"At the time, she came all the way around (to the frontstretch) and was out of harm's way," Pemberton said. "We didn't see any fluid or anything. She rode around on the apron and when she pulled up on the racetrack, there was smoke (but) it looked like tire smoke."

Pemberton came close to acknowledging NASCAR made a mistake by not throwing the caution, which is a rarity for officials. At Watkins Glen, for example, NASCAR continued to insist there was no oil on the track even though drivers said there was.

"It's easy to look back on it, obviously, and wish that you did something different," Pemberton said. "But at the time, it didn't appear like there was any fluid that was coming out of the car."

Will Jeff Gordon get suspended?

Per standard NASCAR procedure, Pemberton said officials won't make any decisions until likely Monday or Tuesday as to whether or not Jeff Gordon will face punishment for intentionally wrecking Clint Bowyer.

NASCAR's decision could be swayed by the fact Bowyer was a championship contender up until that point and Gordon ended his Chase hopes.

"We remind the drivers to be as fair and square as you can about those things," Pemberton said. "It looks like the tempers got away with the best of them out there today."

Why did the race keep going after the first white flag?

NASCAR rules state once the leader takes the white flag, there are no more chances for a green-white-checkered finish. But the flagman displayed the white flag to Harvick right before the Gordon/Bowyer incident and the race still continued.

So what gives?

Pemberton said Harvick never actually crossed the start/finish line before the caution came out, so it didn't count.

"The leader did not take the white flag at the line, so if you look at the replays, the caution was thrown before the leader...got to the start/finish line," he said. "You display the white, but it's not official until you cross the line."

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