Martin Truex Jr. said he didn’t find much consistency in NASCAR’s late caution call at Richmond and with what the sanctioning body tells drivers before the race.
Truex was cruising to a win and another five points for the playoffs Saturday night when Derrike Cope — running 16 laps down — brushed the wall and NASCAR called a caution. On the ensuing pit stops, Truex came off pit road second to Kyle Larson, who ended up winning the race. Truex ended up in the fence on the last lap after contact with Denny Hamlin.
NASCAR vice president Steve O’Donnell admitted Monday that it was a “rough night” for officiating at Richmond. In addition to the Cope call, a wayward ambulance almost cost Matt Kenseth a playoff spot and there was a curious caution call earlier in the race.
Since the Michael Waltrip Racing team orders fiasco in 2013 — Truex was driving for MWR at the time — NASCAR has encouraged drivers before the race to let things play out naturally. That instruction, Truex said Thursday, didn’t jive with the way the race was officiated.
“I’d like to see it play out the right way,” Truex said. “The biggest problem I had every year is the drivers meeting, let it play out naturally, we don’t want anybody screwing with the race, then they make the wrong call. It’s frustrating, but show me. We’ll see what happens.”
Kyle Busch noted Truex’s scenario a week earlier at Darlington. Truex cut a tire while trying to race Denny Hamlin for the lead in the waning laps and hit the wall. NASCAR didn’t throw a caution and let the race play out naturally for a Hamlin win.
“I feel like NASCAR is in a tough spot regardless,” Busch said. “You look at Martin, being in the wall as hard as he was at Darlington, you wonder why wasn’t a caution thrown. He could have had a broken brake rotor or something.”
Larson wondered if NASCAR’s quick caution call on Cope’s incident stemmed from holding back on the late caution with Truex at Darlington.
“I think if you look at it, I know a lot of people are talking about funny cautions and stuff recently, but I think NASCAR has done a great job this year of letting races play out, not throwing debris cautions,” Larson said, noting the not-so-coincidental trend between the advent of stage racing and the decline of debris cautions. “Saturday night wasn’t a debris caution, but they’re put in a position where they have to make a split-second decision. It’s easy to blame them.
“I think if you look at the week before they didn’t throw the caution when a car got in the wall a little bit harder, they probably got flack for that. This past race when somebody gets in the wall, they’re going to be more eager to throw it.
“They’re in a tough spot. They get blamed a lot. I personally blame them a lot. Everybody else does. It would be kind of hard to be in their position sometimes.”
Truex said he’d like to see NASCAR institute a rule regarding minimum speed for non-competitive cars in the late stages of playoff races. Cope wasn’t racing anyone for position Saturday night and the late caution that set up last year’s chaos-causing restart crash between Carl Edwards and Joey Logano at Homestead was caused by debris from a car that finished 17 laps down.
“I had that exact conversation with Steve O’Donnell this week, and thought we needed to up minimum speed for cars that were not in an accident that didn’t get on the five‑minute clock for crash damage for that very reason,” Truex said. “We don’t want to go to Homestead and have a car that’s 25 laps down scrape the wall or blow a tire and change the outcome of possibly a championship or who the champion is. I think it’s definitely something that they’re willing to look into. I think it makes sense. Again, we’ll just see how it all plays out.”
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