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NASCAR Cup: Steve O’Donnell addresses officiating issues at Richmond Raceway

Photo courtesy of Matt Kenseth on Twitter (@MattKenseth)

Photo courtesy of Matt Kenseth on Twitter (@MattKenseth)

By AMANDA VINCENT

NASCAR officiating was at its best Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) Raceway during the Federated Auto Parts 400, the regular-season finale for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell addressed the issues during his weekly appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” show.

“We had a rough night, ourselves, in race control and that, certainly, put a damper on the night for us, and I think, luckily, we were able to see the same 16 guys on the Monster Energy Series make it through, but tough night for the guys up in race control,” O’Donnell said. “I think, if you’re a race team, you talk about wanting to put that behind you and move on to Chicago, and we’re certainly going to meet and make sure we put our best effort forward heading into Chicago.”

The most glaring officiating-related issue during the Richmond raceway involved an ambulance sitting at pit entrance with pit road open during a caution just past lap 250. Cars stacked up trying to get on pit road while also trying to avoid the ambulance, and Matt Kenseth, one of the drivers racing for one of the remaining playoff positions, sustained enough damage to his car to force his retirement from the race.

According to O’Donnell, the ambulance driver, a member of local safety personnel, ignored multiple directives from NASCAR to stop prior to reaching the pit-road entrance. After the ambulance stopped at pit entrance, NASCAR neglected to close pit road, something that O’Donnell conceded on Monday should’ve been done.

Also a curiosity surrounding the aforementioned ambulance, it was on the track after being dispatched for an incident between Danica Patrick, and Austin Dillon. Both drivers continued in the race, though.

“Anytime there is an incident, and a vehicle stops, we’ll dispatch our chase vehicle, an ambulance, and usually, a tow truck,” O’Donnell said. “In this case, all three of those are dispatched, and then, if a vehicle ends up rolling off, there’s communication to each one of those individually. I think in this case, I want to say the safety trucks was a little ahead of the field, and so we asked them to kind of stand on the gas, get ahead of the field. We asked the tow truck and ambulance to stop, and that probably would have been about midway through the backstretch. Tow truck did. Unfortunately, there were multiple communications with the ambulance, and it just didn’t happen. It stopped at a really bad place. Ultimately, that is one us. We have a lot of folks who work hard at the race track, but we’ve got to do a better job of communicating. If we go back and look at it, could we have thrown the red light on the pits (to close pit road) or would that even have been worse with cars coming down, that’s something we’ve got to look at.”

Kyle Larson won the race, his fourth win of the season, but had there been a new 2017 winner, Kenseth would not have made the playoffs after his ambulance-related race-retirement.

NASCAR’s quick trigger on throwing cautions also garnered attention Saturday night. NASCAR has received criticism recently for unnecessary debris cautions, and seemingly as a result, not been so quick to put races under cautions quite as much for minor incidents. The sanctioning body, though, seemed to revert to its old ways, at times, at Richmond.

The official, listed reason for the second caution of the race on lap 87 was “smoke.” That smoke was brake smoke when then-leader Kenseth got on his brakes too hard. It was such a non-issue that Kenseth didn’t even lose the lead over it.

According to O’Donnell, that caution was a “quick trigger; it was a mistake.”

Meanwhile, Martin Truex Jr., who dominated by leading 198 laps, was critical of NASCAR officials’ decision to throw a caution with three laps remaining in the scheduled distance when Derrike Cope got into the wall. That criticism, though, may be at least partly due to sour grapes resulting in a lead lost on pit road that  led to a win that wasn’t to be. But, still, it shines a spotlight on some inconsistencies relating to debris cautions.

“He’s obviously upset, and I think that’s fair,” O’Donnell said, adding that NASCAR would examine that and the aforementioned incidents.

“We don’t want to be a part of the story, as we’ve always said, and I said Saturday before the drivers meeting,” O’Donnell said. “We’ve got a great group of drivers out there, battling hard, and got a great group in the playoffs, and we want it to be about those guys.”

Follow Auto Racing Daily on Twitter @AutoRacingDaily or like Auto Racing Daily on Facebook (facebook.com/autorcngdaily). Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook (facebook.com/nascarexaminer).

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Posted by on September 12, 2017. Filed under Breaking News,Featured,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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