Opinion: The clock has run out on NASCAR's overtime experiment

It’s time NASCAR ended an experiment that has proven to be an abysmal failure: the idea of extending races in order to achieve an orchestrated result.

Opinion: The clock has run out on NASCAR's overtime experiment
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet; Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet; Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Race winner Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Race winner Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, the field parked on pit road for a rain delay
Kurt Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Turn 1 start
Start: Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford lead
Start: Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford lead

Notice I didn’t not say “predetermined result,” but rather an “orchestrated” one.

And that is exactly what utilizing the overtime line – or green-white-checkered finish or any other scheme to extend the length of a race – has become.

Of course, NASCAR’s stated goal is a laudable one – “to ensure a green-flag finish.”

But that statement assumes that every race is supposed to end that way and anyone who has spent any time following motorsports knows that’s not the case.

So, any method created for the sole purpose of “ensuring a green-flag finish” is done so to orchestrate the finish of a race in a way other than how it would naturally play out.

Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the final straw for me. The race went into overtime when a wreck developed and the caution was displayed before the leader reached the overtime line.

With darkness approaching thanks to a late start time and nearly two-hour rain delay, the race went into a second overtime when – again – a wreck developed and the caution was displayed before the leader reached the overtime.

In the second overtime, just after Kasey Kahne cleared Brad Keselowski for the lead, yet another wreck erupted behind them and well before either had reached the overtime line. Yet this time, NASCAR held displaying the caution for several seconds until after Kahne reached the line, which effectively ended the race.

NASCAR's explanation

After the race, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, was asked whether if the goal is to end under green, would it not make sense to have a quick caution trigger before the leader hits the overtime line?

Here was his answer, “No, it wouldn't, because again, like we’ve said, we want to make the attempt. But we want to do that under the regular regulations of how we call (the race). So, we look at that as our last attempt. We look at each (overtime) as our last attempt. If it can play out, it can play out.”

The problem is this: If the object is to allow the race to play out to its natural conclusion, then why have the OT rule (or any other similar scheme) in the first place?

And why proclaim the idea that there can be “unlimited overtimes” if your intention is to try to make each one the last one?

And yes, darkness may have legitimately ended the race before the third overtime could start. But, so what? If the race was called for darkness, Kahne would still be the winner.

I don’t for one minute believe NASCAR officials sit in race control trying to find a way to manipulate the result of a race for a specific purpose.

However, the decision on when to call a caution is an arbitrary one to begin with. Creating a system that forces NASCAR to make more of those decisions just increases the arbitrariness of the finish.

There is no simple solution here because there is always some element who believes they are entitled to see a specific result – “a green-flag finish.”

But there is one solution that comes as close to having a race play out to its natural conclusion – ending the race at its advertised distance.

Webster’s defines a race as “a contest of speed” and also “a set course or duration of time.”

That idea worked for NASCAR for almost 60 years.

It’s clear what we have now simply doesn’t.

Click on image to watch Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer explain after the race: 

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About this article

Series NASCAR Cup
Event Indianapolis
Location Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Author Jim Utter
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