Sunday, 22 May 2016
Confusion overshadows stellar finish in NASCAR's All-Star showdown
The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race featured excellent racing and battles for position. It showcased pit strategy as teams worked to figure out the best way to maximize the required pit stops to one’s advantage.
It also offered sometimes confusing developments on the track. A caution late in the opening segment kept Matt Kenseth from making a mandatory pit stop. Drivers lost laps without seeming to understand why. Drivers looked frustrated in on-camera interviews during the race, and sounded that way in their comments after it.
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It was truly an All-Star Race unlike any other — and one no one should soon forget, especially not Joey Logano who took home the $1 million winner's prize after contender Kyle Larson slammed into the wall with two laps to remaining.
After rain poured at the track and washed out qualifying, fans and drivers were simply hungry to get the race under way. But once things finally started — albeit a little delayed — the confusion started.
The first major blip came late in the opening 50-lap segment, when a caution came out and Kenseth was the lone driver who had not made his mandatory pit stop. The segment ended under the caution and Kenseth served a one-lap penalty for not meeting the requirement.
It was a scenario NASCAR and drivers had not expected.
More was to come.
From the time of Kenseth’s penalty — which came as he led the race — there was confusion over who was on the lead lap and who was not, as Kenseth had been the leader before being penalized. Tony Stewart said he found the ensuing chain of events difficult to comprehend. He and Kenseth would both race a lap down to the leaders, and crashed out of the race.
“I’m as baffled as everybody,” Stewart said. “I don’t know how in the hell we were scored a lap down after they stopped the 20 car (of Matt Kenseth) and then pit everybody together a lap down then lead lap and then lap down. It’s the most screwed up All-Star race I’ve ever been a part of. I’m glad it’s my last one. I’m all right. I’m just madder than hell because I don’t understand how the hell they’ve officiated this from start to finish.”
Drivers didn’t necessarily hold back in their criticism. Still, some seem to have tempered their questioning a bit by race’s end.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. expressed confusion during the race, but afterward he reasoned out how things could have gotten out of hand.
“I didn’t know what way up and what way was right and left,” he said. “Lap-down cars were pitting with lead-lap cars and wave-by cars were up front and in the middle. NASCAR did a good job of sorting the lineups out. Everybody was where they were supposed to be when we went back to green so you can’t complain. They were doing it unlike any other way they were doing it before. I’m sure they ran into some scenarios they weren’t really anticipating.
“That really was probably part of it; guys getting caught a lap down, (Kenseth) not pitting within the first 50 laps. They weren’t anticipating all that.”
Neither was Kenseth, who played the gamble and then got caught by the caution that ended his shot to make the required green-flag pit stop.
“I hope everybody understands this race better than I did from the cockpit because ever since the first tire pit in that first segment, I have no idea what was going on,” Kenseth said. “None.”
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Still, some just saw this as the product of a race with a new format — and with a completely unexpected development in Kenseth’s missed pit stop.
“I think there were some unforeseen things,” Carl Edwards said. “With all those guys going a lap down, I didn’t expect that. That wasn’t in our game plan. We didn’t know that could happen and also didn’t know that a guy could get stuck like Matt did at the beginning. I didn’t know that was a possibility so in a way, there were some things that happened and circumstances that maybe nobody foresaw.”
That seemed to be the case. NASCAR Vice President of Competition Scott Miller said that Kenseth missing his pit stop was not a scenario for which the sanctioning body had planned.
“We had, obviously, a format here that we’ve never done before,” he said. “We worked diligently, tried to come up with every scenario and an answer for every scenario that might crop up; this is not something that we do every day with this type of race. We ran into a situation where our race procedures didn’t give us the opportunity for a wave-around and it created a lot of confusion and it’s something that we certainly, if we continue on with this format, we have to look at.
“You have to expect that certain circumstances are going to happen in this type of race. We had one crop up tonight that maybe we could have been a little bit more ready for and weren’t.”
In the end, it’s sad that the confusion over procedures within the race competed with the battle for the finish in the end. After all, that was the kind of finish changes made to the format were designed to create.
Without the caution that led to the Kenseth infraction, and the confusion in trying to sort out what followed, things might have been viewed differently.
“You want everybody to walk away from here satisfied and happy and, again, we had a potential miscue there,” Miller said. “Don’t want that to overshadow the fact that we really did have good racing because we’re in the racing business.”