NASCAR officials have one of the toughest jobs in sports.
While NFL, NBA and MLB referees and umpires get blasted for every questionable call, the difficulty of their job pales in comparison to that of a NASCAR official.
Think officiating an event with two teams is tough?
Try officiating 43, all at one time, all at 190 miles per hour.
So it is no shock that the calls that come down from the NASCAR booth during a race are often questioned and criticized. From debris cautions to speeding penalties, every call is examined and re-examined.
When the call involves anything to do with Dale Earnhardt Jr, the sports most popular driver, there is always someone who thinks the call is wrong.
On Sunday, many fans were saying, "Here we go again."
It has happened countless times over the past few years. There are two or three drivers battling for the win and in the back of the pack, a couple of cars get sideways, slide to the apron and fire up and continue on.
While normally this would always be a caution, in the closing laps, NASCAR always tries to get a green flag finish and if the track is clear, the green will stay out.
However, during the 2011 Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday, it was fan favorite Earnhardt Jr. that sprinted away from the pack and was on his way to a sure victory when the No. 31 of Jeff Burton was bumped around and slid to the bottom of the track.
Was there debris? No.
Did Burton's car stall leaving him in Danger? No.
Was the track clear by the time the leaders got there? YES!
So why is everyone claiming that NASCAR kept the race green for Junior's sake? If you say they always throw the caution in that situation, then you have not been paying attention to the end of NASCAR races.
The thing that everyone is missing is that NASCAR could have helped Earnhardt, and they did not.
NASCAR listens to all the radio transmissions of the crews. Anyone listening to the No. 88 that night knew they did not think they could make it on fuel. No. 88 Crew Chief Steve Letarte told Earnhardt he would run out before the race even went green.
If NASCAR wanted a sure Dale Earnhardt Junior win, there was an easy way to do it.
Junior had enough gas to take the white flag.
After the leader takes the white flag in a NASCAR race, the race is official. No more green-white-checker finishes will be run after this point of the race. So if a caution comes out on the last lap and the leader can make it back to the start-finish line, they win.
It would have been easy. Everyone saw the big dust up the previous lap, a caution just after the No. 88 took the white flag would have been scrutinized, but not overwhelmingly with the popularity of the winner. Still, it would have been wrong.
However, they did the right thing.
NASCAR knew the National Guard Chevrolet did not have enough fuel, but they let the drivers and crew chiefs decide the race just like they should have.
They knew no matter what they did, with the No. 88 up front, they would get blasted.
But everyone needs to take a breath and look at the facts. NASCAR had the power and NASCAR left it in the hands of the competitors and we got an exciting finish with heartbreak and heroes, triumph and defeat.
Thank you NASCAR. The sport lives on.
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