Calling it a “rough night’’ Saturday for NASCAR officials in the control tower at Richmond Raceway, Steve O’Donnell said the sanctioning body would review how it handled multiple cautions to avoid repeating such mistakes in the playoffs.
O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief racing development officer for NASCAR, made his comments Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
O’Donnell called the second caution in Saturday’s Cup race — the cause officially listed as smoke after Matt Kenseth braked hard — “a quick trigger, it was a mistake.’’
O’Donnell said the ambulance that parked at the commitment line to pit road was told as early as the backstretch to stop and didn’t heed multiple orders to do so.
O’Donnell said he has been in touch with Martin Truex Jr., who was upset about the final caution that sent the race into overtime. Truex was on his way to winning before the caution and crashed in overtime. “He’s obviously upset, and I think that’s fair.’’
O’Donnell said series officials would examine each incident.
The issue with the ambulance could have impacted who made the playoffs. Kenseth ran into the back of Clint Bowyer‘s car as drivers slowed with the ambulance blocking a lane to pit road. Had a driver not yet in the playoffs won Richmond to qualify, they would have knocked Kenseth out of the postseason.
“We had a rough night ourselves in race control and that certainly put a damper on the night for us, and I think, luckily, we were able to see the same 16 guys on the Monster Energy Series make it through, but tough night for the guys up in race control,’’ O’Donnell said. “I think if you’re a race team you talk about wanting to put that behind you and move on to Chicago, and we’re certainly going to meet and make sure we put our best effort forward heading into Chicago.’’
“Anytime there is an incident and a vehicle stops, we’ll dispatch our chase vehicle, an ambulance and usually a tow truck,’’ O’Donnell said. “In this case, all three of those are dispatched and then if a vehicle ends up rolling off, there’s communication to each one of those individually.
“I think in this case, I want to say the safety truck was a little ahead of the field, and so we asked them to kind of stand on the gas, get ahead of the field. We asked the tow truck and ambulance to stop and that probably would have been about midway through the backstretch. Tow truck did.
“Unfortunately, there were multiple communications with the ambulance and it just didn’t happen. It stopped at a really bad place. Ultimately, that is on us. We have a lot of folks who work hard at the race track, but we’ve got to do a better job of communicating. If we go back and look at it, could we have thrown the red light on the pits (to close pit road) or would that even have been worse with cars coming down, that’s something we’ve got to look at.’’
O’Donnell said officials will work to ensure that they’re not as big a factor in the next 10 weeks when championships will be decided in NASCAR’s top three national series.
“We don’t want to be a part of the story, as we’ve always said and I said Saturday before the drivers meeting,’’ O’Donnell said. “We’ve got a great group of drivers out there battling hard and got a great group in the playoffs, and we want it to be about those guys.’’