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Did NASCAR Shorten the Cup Race At the Right Time?

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Joshua Lipowski

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Around the scheduled halfway point of the NASCAR Cup Series race on the Streets of Chicago, NASCAR made the call to shorten the race from the scheduled 100 lap distance to only 75 laps. Some drivers who pitted under a previous caution flag such as Justin Haley, Chase Elliott, and Austin Dillon benefitted while other drivers such as Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick were forced to pit, losing track position.

Unfortunate timing for drivers who were the fastest drivers in the early parts of the race, and ended up with less than stellar results. Adam Stevens, crew chief for Christopher Bell, went so far to say, “NASCAR f****d us.”

Shortening the race itself made sense, but the timing of it is up for debate. Did NASCAR make the right call to shorten the race when they did, or should they have done it earlier? Let’s play devil’s advocate and take a look at both arguments?

Side 1: NASCAR’s Timing was RIGHT

NASCAR has a sort of unwritten rule that they do not race unless they reasonably feel that can complete the full race on it’s scheduled date. If not, the race is run on Monday. The race started around 5:30 local time with sunset at around 8:30.

Under normal circumstances, with lap times around 90 seconds under green, NASCAR could, theoretically get to the full distance in about 2.5 hours, giving them about 30 minutes or so of buffer for yellow flags and slower speeds on wet tires.. Why would NASCAR shorten the race if they did not have to?

If they did shorten the race and there was still 20-30 minutes of daylight left, then NASCAR would look foolish. They have an obligation to run as much of the race as they can. Given daylight at the track, they went literally as far as they could go, running 78 laps, meaning NASCAR fulfilled their promise to the best of their ability.

It’s also not unprecedented for NASCAR to shorten races due to darkness. Most recently in 2021 at New Hampshire, Aric Almirola won a race that was shortened with 18 laps to go from 301 laps to 293 laps. NASCAR did it once, so they can do it again in extreme circumstances.

As for the pit strategy, while, yes, it is hard to swallow for guys like Bell and Reddick, most at the race track assumed that the race would have be shortened given the pace of the event. Guys like Justin Haley knew that, and pitted under a previous caution estimating when the race would be shortened. Others did not, and, when the race was shortened, got burned.

It is the crew chief’s responsibility to take these things into account on the pit box. If they do not, then that’s their own fault. Also, the race winner, Shane Van Gisbergen, was in the same boat as Reddick and Bell, and he drove to the front with fresher tires on his own.

Side 2: NASCAR Was WRONG

Why now? Why not under the previous caution? Everyone at the track seemingly knew that NASCAR was going to have to shorten the race, and, if they had just told everyone earlier, then the playing field would be even.

It’s just hard to swallow that Christopher Bell, the one who led the most laps, was stuck in a hornet’s nest purely because of when NASCAR decided to end the race. Sure, his crew chief could have employed a smarter strategy, but why would he? The assumption is always that the race goes to its full distance until NASCAR says otherwise, so why should Stevens have treated his strategy any different?

Sure, NASCAR has shortened races before, but they know when sunset is. They easily could and/or should implement a rule to make sure that the race is run within the time slot that the weather delay offers.

Formula One has the rule that a race must be no longer than two hours within a four hour window, and IndyCar has a clause in their rulebook that allows them to move races to a timed race rather than based on laps if needed. Sports car races are based on time, not laps. This all means that, in unprecedented circumstances, teams in these series are able to adjust their strategies well in advance because of these special rules.

NASCAR should have known from the get-go that the race needed to be completed by sunset. Why is there not a rule like this in NASCAR for these kinds of situations. It’s all “wait-and-see,” which can make for a headache for teams.

If NASCAR would have told teams from the get-go that there was a time clock for this race rather than a set number of laps, maybe teams would have felt better communicated with. Maybe those at the front would have handled their strategies differently, and the outcome would have been more fair for all.

The situation is unique, sure, but NASCAR has to prepare for these types of situations. They did not adequately prepare, and it directly effected the outcome of the race.

Conclusion

It was not an ideal situation for anyone involved. The rain, the start time, the new track, it was strange for everyone. NASCAR was 100% right to shorten the race, but as for how they went about it, that is controversial.

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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