BRISTOL — Between race winner Carl Edwards and NASCAR vice president of competiton Robin Pemberton, it was hard to tell who was happier at the end of Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The caution lights came on with two laps to go in the race for no apparent reason, erasing a big lead for Edwards.
It was originally explained as a malfunction with the track’s lights, but later explained as human error by Pemberton.
“What happened in the closing laps of the race, it appears that in the flag stand one of the flag people had leaned on the switch that is the manual override for the caution lights,” Pemberton said. “It wasn’t secured properly, and the flag person leaned against the switch and turned the caution lights on. We tried to turn them off, and we realized that the override switch was on and they were hung on caution. It was a stupid error.”
Ironically, on a day which rain ruined track attendance, the weather may have ultimately saved a 22nd career victory for Edwards and saved face for NASCAR.
Set to go to a green-white-checkered finish with a group of drivers desperate to win behind him, Edwards was spared when a hard rain shower came.
The cars circled the track a couple of laps before the checkered flag was displayed and Edwards was declared the winner.
Pemberton admitted that NASCAR officials were celebrating nearly as hard as Edwards. In the media center alongside the driver of the No. 99 Ford, Pemberton said, “There’s two very happy people in this room right now.”
According to Pemberton, once the people in the flag stand saw the caution lights on, they displayed the yellow flag. The only difference in the finishing order was that Jeff Gordon was placed back ahead of his teammate Kasey Kahne, who has passed him for seventh place after the caution came out.
Asked if the flag man knew why the caution was displayed, Pemberton said he like everyone else was searching for answers.
“No, nobody knew,” Pemberton said. “They didn’t know. There’s two people in the stand and a photographer at the end of the race and you can only imagine as the day went on and the different scenarios of getting up and down. They were probably pretty cold standing up there all day long, so I can only sympathize with the conditions they were trying to deal with today.”
For his part, Edwards wasn’t angry, especially since it didn’t affect the outcome. In fact, he praised Pemberton for addressing the whole situation with the media.
“For Robin and NASCAR to explain exactly what happened immediately and just put it out there that, hey, it was just a mistake and inadvertent, I think that says a lot about the state of the leadership of our sport,” Edwards said. “I’ve been involved in one other incident like that. I was leading it the last time that happened at Charlotte in a truck race and we got passed, they put out a press release that said, ‘Hey, we messed up. We apologize to Carl and his crew.’ That was 12-13 years ago, and they still stand by their mistakes. For them to come up here and say, ‘Hey, we messed up,’ that means a lot.”
As for the conditions, it was another strike against a mid-March date at Bristol. Track officials have been lobbying for a later date, even if it’s just two weeks later around the first of April when the race previously was run.
While there have been different reasons given for smaller attendance to the spring race compared to August, the dismal weather was an overwhelming factor Sunday.
A forecast of 100 percent chance of rain hit its mark with the race delayed two hours before the start. Once racing started, only 124 laps were run before another rain delay of three hours and 19 minutes took place.
It dampened the remaining crowd’s enthusiasm, although the race proved to be wildly entertaining with several of the leading contenders beset with problems. There were 12 caution periods for 95 laps and 20 lead changes among 12 drivers. In an era where green-white-checkered finishes are relatively common, the margin of victory actually read under caution.
Given the circumstances, it was the best finish NASCAR could have hoped for and the finish which Edwards deserved.comments powered by Disqus