NASCAR VP admits it was a 'rough night' in race control at Richmond

NASCAR is fully aware that Saturday’s race at Richmond did not go smoothly.

Many fans were aware of that fact as the race unfolded. Matt Kenseth briefly locked his brakes early in the race and NASCAR bizarrely called a caution for the “smoke” from his tires. Seriously, smoke was listed as the official definition.

Then Kenseth was knocked out of the race after he was involved in a chain-reaction checkup incident as the field was trying to avoid an ambulance near the entry of pit road. NASCAR had opened pit road as an ambulance allegedly disobeyed NASCAR directives and was in the way of the field.

The radiator of Kenseth’s car was knocked askew and he had to retire from the race.

Then, with a handful of laps to go, NASCAR decided to throw a caution for Derrike Cope brushing the wall. Cope’s incident — if you want to call it that — erased what was a likely victory for Martin Truex Jr. as Kyle Larson won the race.

But still, it’s semi-surprising and quite refreshing to hear NASCAR say publicly that it had a rough night. And NASCAR vice president Steve O’Donnell did just that on SiriusXM Monday morning. O’Donnell also noted that the sanctioning body pulled a “quick trigger” on the smoke caution. From NBC:

“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.’’

O’Donnell’s point about the same 16 guys is massively important. Had Erik Jones not missed a shift on the final restart or Joey Logano caught Larson over the final two laps of the race, NASCAR would have a massive dilemma on its hands. Logano or Jones would have locked himself into the playoffs with a win and Kenseth would have been on the outside looking in because of an ambulance.

Had a situation happened in any other sport, the league could just throw up its hands and say “stuff happens” and move on to the playoffs with somewhat of a justification. But after what NASCAR did in 2013 when Michael Waltrip Racing tried to influence the playoff field, NASCAR would have been in a position to add Kenseth to the playoff field.

A sanctioning body that took the drastic step of adding a driver to the playoffs because of another team’s actions would absolutely have to take that same step to fix its own screwup. If actions that NASCAR itself can’t control are worthy of “fixing,” then the organization would wholly have an obligation to make its own mistake right.

Thankfully — or not thankfully if you love chaos — that didn’t happen and we’re not writing about another NASCAR disaster. But the lack of a new winner doesn’t disguise the fact that race control had a terrible night Saturday night and turned an event that should be all about looking forward to the playoffs into one that was all about NASCAR’s inability to get out of its own way.

At least NASCAR publicly realizes this. Hopefully that acceptance is one of the first steps to making quick changes before the playoffs begin in six days.

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