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Auto racing commentary: NASCAR call to throw caution isn't even a debate

Published: Monday, Oct. 21, 2013 11:50 p.m. CDT
Jimmie Johnson (48) leads a pack of cars through the tri-oval during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at the Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A day after a caution froze the field on the final lap at Talladega Superspeedway, a caller complained to SiriusXM NASCAR radio he’d been robbed of his right to see a race to the finish line.

The gripe could not have been more off base.

In a season that will be remembered for a rash of driver injuries, not throwing a caution would have been negligent of NASCAR.

Denny Hamlin missed four races this year with a fractured vertebra, and Michael Annett was out 3 months with a fractured sternum. Tony Stewart, who broke his leg in a sprint car crash, has been sidelined since August and underwent a third surgery earlier this month.

Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti was just released from a hospital last week after fracturing two vertebrae, his right ankle and suffering a nasty concussion in an Oct. 6 IndyCar race. A crash in Saturday night’s season finale left Justin Wilson hospitalized with a pelvic fracture.

So when Austin Dillon’s car went airborne Sunday, just when fans held their breath waiting for a mad dash to the checkered flag, NASCAR had no choice but to throw the caution after Dillon’s car came back down to the track and was tagged by Casey Mears.

“The safety for our drivers and our fans is the most important thing to us,” NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said Monday. “There comes a time when you see what happens on the race track to move safety equipment and attend to the drivers involved.”

That this is even being discussed, and there are people complaining about NASCAR’s decision, is appalling.

It was just a day earlier that the Truck Series race ended with a 12-vehicle crash that saw Miguel Paludo flip upside down and Kyle Busch take a massive hit to the inside wall at Talladega.

Darrell Wallace Jr. admitted afterward that the wreck “scared the hell out of me.”

“Man, it makes you want to go 10 miles under the speed limit in your regular car because pushing 200 or whatever we’re doing and wrecking it hard, I’d die [doing this often],” the 19-year-old said. “That’s scary. I’m freaking myself out again. I just couldn’t breathe.”

And what did Busch say after the race?

“You know when you see the checkered flag and you see things going on in front of you, you just keep your foot on it, and I drove it all the way to the start-finish [line],” Busch said.

He’s absolutely right. Drivers don’t get off the gas with the finish in sight, not even when another car is sailing over the top of them. It’s on NASCAR to back them down, and at Talladega, where the scramble to the finish line is always chaotic, NASCAR did the absolute right thing Sunday.

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