Long: NASCAR decisions lead to questions about what matters most – entertainment or safety

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When is it OK to follow the guidelines some of the time? Why is it OK to adjust those principles to avoid interfering with the result when that is exactly what it does?

What made Lap 24 – even Lap 200 – more important than Lap 209 Sunday at Auto Club Speedway?

NASCAR’s decision not to call a caution for Greg Biffle’s accident on the last lap of the Auto Club 400 was not a new tactic. Series officials often have said they’d prefer to have green-flag finishes. Truthfully, who wouldn’t?

But NASCAR also states that safety comes first. Just as it did when it called a caution for a crash behind the leaders on the last lap of last month’s Daytona 500.

So which is more important? Entertainment or safety?

It was safety on Lap 24 of Sunday’s race when David Ragan spun down the track to the apron. The caution waved.

It was safety on Lap 200 when a piece of debris series officials believed was metal brought out the caution. Sprint Cup Director Richard Buck said there were multiple reports about the debris, leading to the call. He also said the piece was struck after the caution flag waved, and he had not seen it when he spoke to reporters after Sunday’s race.

Had Kurt Busch gotten to the start/finish line before NASCAR unfurled the yellow flag, he would have won in just his second start since coming off a three-week suspension after allegations of domestic abuse.

Instead, Busch didn’t make it to the line before the caution and was left to lament what could have been.

“We were about 20 seconds away,’’ Busch radioed his crew, noting how close he could have been to his first Sprint Cup victory in nearly a year.

Busch, who remains on indefinite probation, was diplomatic after the race, saying: “We didn’t need that extra yellow at the end, and I just got outmuscled by (Brad) Keselowski.”

There will be those who suggest that the caution was karma for Busch’s transgressions on and off the track. There will be those who suggest NASCAR didn’t want Busch winning just yet.

Buck told reporters that’s not how NASCAR operates.

“We don’t have any favorites,’’ he said. “We try to keep every emotion out of it.’’

Fine, then what about Lap 209?

That was entertainment.

Biffle wrecked on the frontstretech. A replay shows Busch in the lead as tire smoke from Biffle’s sliding car can be seen in the distance. If the incident came earlier in the race, the caution most likely would have been called immediately.

NASCAR did nothing.

Biffle’s car stopped on the frontstretch facing the wrong way, as Keselowski passed Busch in Turn 2.

NASCAR did nothing.

Biffle’s car turned around and drove away with the leaders going down the backstretch. They were about a mile away – a distance they could cover in roughly 20 seconds.

NASCAR did nothing.

Buck said officials in the flag stand did not see any debris on the track from the incident, so officials allowed the field to race to the finish.

It helped that Biffle drove away. In an eight-car crash on the last lap of this year’s Daytona 500, all but one car drove away. Then it became a safety matter, leading series officials to call a caution and deny fans a run to the finish.

Some will applaud NASCAR for letting Sunday’s race end “naturally.’’ They’ll note how officials in other sports are prone to enforcing the rules less stringently late in a contest, so why not a race? A race is just entertainment, so give the fans what they want, they’ll say.

Yet, for every call – or non-call – officials make, they are determining what happens. Shouldn’t there be consistency from beginning to end not just in NASCAR but any sport? Or has it come to the point that fans must be catered to so they don’t run away like a spoiled child because they didn’t get what they want?

Shouldn’t it be about what’s right and fair?

If that means a race finishing under caution, then so be it.

Sometimes the right call isn’t the most popular decision, but that doesn’t make it wrong either.