NASCAR executive on calling late-race cautions: ‘If we can race back … we’re going to do that’


NASCAR executive Steve O’Donnell explained Monday the decision not to call a caution at the end of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, telling SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” that officials try to end a race under green instead of caution.

“I want to be clear,’’ said O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, on the show Monday morning. “If we can race back and we don’t believe we’re putting the competitor in harm’s way, we’re going to do that, but we’ll always err on the side of safety.’’

O’Donnell said Sunday’s finish at Auto Club Speedway was different from the end of last month’s Daytona 500 – when NASCAR called a caution on the last lap. Sunday, Greg Biffle drove away after his frontstretch incident. At Daytona, officials called a caution for a wreck behind the leaders because Kyle Larson did not drive away.

“We have to look at the incident and the safety of the drivers first and foremost,’’ O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “When we looked at that incident and Kyle Larson hitting the wall at a high rate of speed, we felt we needed to dispatch the safety equipment immediately. That was despite where we were in the race. We needed to do that.

“If that were the case in Daytona where Kyle may have just glanced the wall and drove off, we would have raced back. What you saw (Sunday) was one of those instances where a driver was able to get set and race off in time where we knew we had some time to make the decision. The decision was made to let them come back to the checkered flag.’’

O’Donnell reiterated what Richard Buck, Sprint Cup director, said after Sunday’s race – that officials in the flag stand did not see debris from Biffle’s incident on the track, thus the decision was made to allow the cars to race back to the finish.

O’Donnell also explained what led NASCAR to call the debris caution, which extended the race beyond its 200 laps.

“The process of calling any caution involves multiple people,’’ O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We’ll obviously scan the drivers and spotters, and if we hear anything, we’ve got corner workers, we’ve got folks on the flag stand. We’ll survey all of those folks once we hear that there may be something on the track.

“If it’s not moving, we’ll confirm that that piece is not moving and we’ll assume, candidly, that it’s metal. If it’s in the groove, obviously, that becomes a safety issue, we’re going to throw the caution each and every time when that happens.

“If someone would have run over that and it affected a tire and that driver had an incident, we’d be hearing it on the other end as well. That’s something we’ve got to deal with it. That’s our job to make the call. We will always err on the side of safety if we see something out there and can’t confirm that it’s moving or not. When it’s not moving, in most cases, it is a piece of metal or something heavy that is going to affect the race car.’’