Innovation or manipulation? NASCAR clock sparks debate

9 Comments

CHARLOTTE – The introduction of a “caution clock” in the Camping World Truck Series prompted incessant debate Tuesday on the fine line between competition and entertainment always facing NASCAR.

While it isn’t slated for use in the Sprint Cup Series yet, the concept of scheduling breaks in the action to keep the field bunched and the competition closer has been bandied about for years, and some veteran voices remain torn on its merits.

“Look, I like innovation, but I don’t like manipulation,” Fox Sports analyst Darrell Waltrip said. “That’s one of the things our sport has thrived on is unpredictability. You just don’t know. If I’m going to have to stop for fuel with three to go, I hope everybody else does, too.

“But if there’s a caution and you can plan it all out, I’m not sure it doesn’t take a little bit of the element of surprise away. So we’ll just have to see. I’m skeptical but also open minded about it.”

Under the new rule, the caution clock will be set at 20 minutes and the start of each green flag. If a caution hasn’t occurred before the clock reaches 0:00, the yellow will wave (no free-pass to a lapped truck will be awarded). If a caution occurs before time expires, the clock resets with each green.

The clock will be turned off (regardless of remaining time) when there are 20 laps left (or when 10 laps are left at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Pocono Raceway). The clock won’t be used at Eldora, which has a unique format featuring heat races.

There were five truck races last season in which the clock wouldn’t have been used: Martinsville Speedway (October), Bristol Motor Speedway, Dover International Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway.

Waltrip said he called a truck race at Texas Motor Speedway that included a 48-minute period under green, and he thinks the rule, which has been used in other series, would be well-served in such instances – though he would prefer if NASCAR termed it a “competition yellow.”

“I’ll have to see how it works out,” he said. “It may be great. I didn’t like the Chase, and then they added eliminations, and I liked it, so we’ll see. But it’s different.”

But it isn’t unfamiliar to Waltrip, who fielded a truck team from 1995-97 and 2004-07.

“I remember (former NASCAR vice president) Dennis Huth, back in the truck days when it first started, Dennis would say, ‘Look, with 20 laps to go, there’s going to be a caution,’” Waltrip said with a laugh. “He’d tell them that at the drivers meeting.

“So, the (caution clock) is coming clean, I guess. We’re going to have a caution, and this is when it’s going to be.”