DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bruton Smith has an idea how to create more excitement in NASCAR.
NASCAR president Mike Helton didn’t sound very interested in the billionaire track promoter’s suggestion to throw bogus cautions to bunch up the field. Smith argued last weekend at Kentucky that long green-flag runs are damaging NASCAR and floated his theory on creating mandatory cautions.
On Thursday, Helton said NASCAR fans don’t want manufactured drama.
“NASCAR fans want the event to unfold unartificially,” Helton said at Daytona International Speedway. “The racing that goes on on the racetrack under green is as exciting as any in motorsports. Sports is a true reality show as it unfolds ... you have to be careful when you think about artificially creating the outcome of that.”
The current state of racing has been hotly debated this season because of the scarcity of caution-causing incidents. It’s created a lot of green-flag racing that many fans have complained is boring to watch, and Smith seemed to agree with his mandatory caution proposal.
“You just can’t sit there and nothing is happening,” said Smith, owner of Speedway Motorsports Inc. “It ruins the event. It’s damaging to our sport. Look at some of your other sports — they have a mandatory timeout, TV (commercial) time and all these things, and that creates things within the sport.
“If you have (cautions) every 20 laps, I don’t care. It adds to the show. Someone once said we were in show business — if we’re in show business, let’s deliver. Let’s deliver that show. Right now, we’re not delivering.”
Smith’s suggestion was pretty much panned by several drivers asked about it Thursday, none more so than Carl Edwards, who warned mandatory cautions would send NASCAR down “a slippery slope.”
“When we start using cautions to make the race ‘more exciting,’ I think that’s going down a slippery slope,” Edwards said. “I don’t think that’s good for the sport. The idea of a mandatory caution is the next dimension of (being artificial). You can’t fabricate sport. Leave sports alone and let the best man win.”
He likened mandatory cautions to stopping and re-setting the score in a basketball game because one team had too big of a lead, and said a halftime break was the equivalent of making two races and the first one doesn’t count.
Edwards even offered his own idea: drivers line up exactly how they were running when the yellow flag came out, with the exact same distance between the cars, and resume from a standing start.
But Edwards teammate Greg Biffle seemed to support the mandatory caution concept if the racing continues the way it’s been this season because “we are somewhat in the entertainment business.
“I would not be against it if we see the races continue to run green the whole way with one or two cautions,” Biffle said. “I think that that, over time, could lose the fans’ interest. Sitting in the stands and watching on TV, I think they could lose interest, and that’s not what we want.”
Helton finds the entire caution-flag discussion amusing, particularly since NASCAR is often accused of calling bogus cautions for mysterious debris.
“We go through a cycle where the industry or fans or someone seems to think we throw too many cautions,” Helton said. “Then we go through a cycle where maybe people think, `What’s happened to all the cautions?’ . It’s kind of interesting to be accused to not having enough cautions. Time will swing back-and-forth.”
And, comparing NASCAR to other sports that have halftimes or timeouts isn’t relevant, Helton said.’
“We always try to adapt to the current and the relevant culture, but racing is different and it can’t really be compared to other sports that have, by their design and the way they unfold, built-in breaks,” Helton said.
Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon didn’t dismiss Smith’s idea on cautions outright, but had his own suggestion on how to raise the excitement.
“I’d rather have (mandatory cautions) than some mysterious debris caution to be honest,” Gordon said. “The integrity of racing, to me, what it’s all about is letting the race play out. I’m not totally against it. But I’m more leaning more toward letting the race play out.
“If you’d really like to know what I’d like to see, I’d like to see heat races and invert the field and have a 50-to-100-lap shootout. That’s what I grew up racing. It’s exciting. It’s fun.”