The Daytona 500 is in the books.
And it was a good one – until the ending.
The 65th running of the Great American Race saw 52 lead changes and 21 different leaders. And it was also the longest Daytona 500 in history after late cautions led to two overtime periods that pushed the scheduled 200-lap race to 212 laps.
But the final lap was a letdown.
Under NASCAR overtime rules, once the leader of a race takes the white flag signaling one lap to go, the next flag ends the race, whether it’s a caution flag or the checkered flag.
That means that if a wreck happens on the last lap and brings out a caution, the field is frozen at the moment the caution comes out, and whoever was in the lead at the time is the winner.
And that’s exactly what happened in this year’s race. As Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were battling for the lead after taking the white flag, a wreck behind them brought out the caution with the leaders side by side – forcing us all to just wait while NASCAR reviewed the video to determine who won, before Stenhouse Jr. was eventually declared the winner.
The result? A disappointing and anticlimactic ending to an otherwise incredible race.
And to make things worse, the exact same thing happened yesterday, when what was setting up to be an incredible finish in the Xfinity Series race turned out to be a long review after the caution flag came out while leaders were racing back to the checkered flag.
To make matters worse, the rule requires that NASCAR go back to the moment that the button was pushed to throw the caution – not the moment the caution lights come on at the track. So while NASCAR is able to synch up the video with their caution flag data to determine when the caution was called, fans have no indication of the exact moment of caution and have to just take NASCAR’s word for it.
See the problem here?
The entire situation could be avoided with a simple rule change: The race must end under the green flag.
NASCAR overtime rules have gotten a lot better than they were when they were first implemented. When NASCAR first adopted the “green-white-checkered” finishes for overtime back in 2004, only one attempt at overtime was made, and if a caution flag came out during the overtime period, whether on the first or second lap, the race was over.
Then in 2010, NASCAR changed the rule to allow for up to three overtime periods in an attempt to allow more races to finish under green.
In 2016 the rules were changed once again, allowing for unlimited overtime finishes but implementing an “overtime line” that was usually somewhere along the backstretch of the track. If the leader crossed the overtime line, the race would end after that period. If a caution came out before the leader crossed the overtime line, the field would reset and another attempt at overtime would be made.
This rule didn’t last long, because, quite frankly, it was terrible and resulted in races ending with a lap and a half left to go instead of on the last lap. So NASCAR moved the “overtime line” back to the start/finish line, resulting in the current overtime rules we have now with unlimited attempts at overtime.
So NASCAR hasn’t been afraid to change their overtime rules over the years to make for better finishes.
Now it’s time to do it again.
The sport needs to eliminate the “overtime line” altogether: If a caution comes out at any time before the leader takes the checkered flag, the field should line up again and make another attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, until the race ends under the green flag.
Obviously critics are worried that this would make races too long, with unlimited attempts at overtime and races stretching far beyond their scheduled distance. And with some tracks not having lights (which is another thing NASCAR needs to fix), the sanctioning body would have to decide when to end the race at those tracks if multiple overtime attempts push the race into darkness.
But that potential already exists under current rules. If cars continue to wreck before taking the white flag, there’s already the possibility of multiple overtimes – as we saw today.
The only difference in changing the rule would be that the cars have to go one more lap without a caution. And let’s be honest: Races are eventually going to finish under green. It’s a rule that has been used in the All-Star Race for years, and we’re not sitting here in February waiting for last spring’s All-Star Race to finally end after 218 overtimes. The race will end under green.
And think of the strategy that would come into play. If the rule had been in effect today, we likely would have had a different Daytona 500 winner because Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was nearly out of fuel by the time he took the checkered flag. Had there been another overtime when the caution came out, Stenhouse (and likely many other drivers) would have had to come to pit road to add fuel to make it to the end – or try to stretch it and risk running out of gas.
Realistically, the new rule would only add additional overtimes to a handful of races a year, if that. But in a race like the Daytona 500, it’s disappointing to have such a great race end under caution, and then just have to sit around and wait for NASCAR to tell us who won.
It’s time for NASCAR to fix this glaring problem with their overtime rules.
Give us the exciting green flag finishes that fans – and heck, NASCAR – want.