On lap 51 of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, the first caution flew. Was it for an incident on the race track, or a blown engine, or a large piece of debris? No, it was thrown for a tire that got loose on pit road.
Many fans on social media felt that was worth a caution, and it did change the complexion of the race given that it was during a pit cycle. Should NASCAR have thrown the caution flag? Here, we look at both sides of the argument?
Why NASCAR Should Have Thrown the Caution
A tire sitting in the middle of pit road is definitely a dangerous thing. If hit by an oncoming car, it could damage the car that hits it, and it could fly in whatever direction. Whether it ends up on the race track or, worse, headed towards a bit box, that tire could seriously injure someone.
NASCAR undoubtedly had to do something. Doing nothing and just letting the tire sit on pit road is not an option, and, in the middle of green flag pit stops especially, a decision needs to be made quick. Sending a guy out there under a green flag condition to retrieve a tire is not a good idea, and cautions have been thrown for this before.
NASCAR cannot close pit road under a green flag. What if a driver runs out of gas, flattens a tire, or has a mechanical failure forcing them to pit. If that were to happen, NASCAR’s options are to either throw a caution for a tire or throw a caution for a limping race car on the track.
The safest scenario for that tire to be retrieved was under a caution flag situation where NASCAR could close the pit road and safely let a crew member go out and retrieve a tire. The tire was safely retrieved, and the race continued on after a brief caution period.
Why NASCAR Should NOT Have Thrown the Caution
Yes, NASCAR throwing a caution was the safest solution to get that tire retrieved. However, did they really need to throw that caution flag? The tire was not even on the race track, it was on pit road, where cars are going slowly.
Pit road was not exceptionally busy during this time, and just sending a crew member or an official out there for maybe 10-15 seconds to retrieve a tire could be done safely given a clear pit road. NASCAR could even make the decision to throw a “Local yellow” around that part of the race track to make sure cars going down the frontstretch would go slowly and not risk a bad accident. Even if someone was on pit road, it’s not that hard to simply avoid the tire given that Sonoma is a relatively wide pit road.
Sonoma already has a pit wall, and its pit entrance is all the way back around turn eleven. Because of this, the risk of a car sliding out of control into the pit lane is almost nothing. If this was at a track with no pit wall, then this caution would have been more warranted.
The tire needed to be dealt with, but why did it warrant the entire race being slowed to retrieve it? If NASCAR would have just grabbed the tire under green when no-one was on pit road, then the race could have gone on with no problem. No one would have batted an eye if that tire was retrieved on a clear pit road.
Honestly, this is an argument that I could see both sides of. The bottom line is that NASCAR had to do something, and fast. This was right on the cusp of green flag pit stops, and pit road was about to be a very busy place.
If it were up to me, I would have to get a full-look at pit road at that time to see if NASCAR should have or should not have thrown a caution. If there were cars anywhere on pit road, then a caution definitely should be thrown. If pit road was completely clear, then I could potentially see that race staying green.