Tom Bowles
Wednesday June 16th, 2010

Close your eyes and play along with me.

The Red Sox are up 10-1 over the Yankees in the ninth inning. Just before they take the field, the umps convene and decide to give the Yanks eight runs "just to make the game close." The Yankees end up winning the game 11-10 on a walkoff home run.

Let's move on to the NFL. The Colts and Peyton Manning have played a perfect game, up 31-0 going into the fourth quarter against the Patriots. Suddenly, Bill Belichick calls time out, and 28 points magically appear on the scoreboard. The Colts spend the rest of the game trying to fend them off, eventually losing 35-31.

Now open your eyes and imagine the uproar; sports fans balking at those manufactured endings. It's a nation that believes in fairness, dumping baseball records at the hint of a steroid injection while endorsing football overtime that gives both teams a shot at the win. A lopsided score may not fly in the overnights, but comes accepted by those who realize a nailbiter is just another game away.

That purity preserves maximum effort, part of the beauty of watching an athletic competition you enjoy. Fans who buy tickets to these events understand the risk of a stinker at the finish, their criticisms coming only when the full course of the event doesn't deliver a single dramatic moment. That's where the criticism of NASCAR comes the most nowadays, drivers stroking it for 300 miles and making it a waste to come to a race only to see them play for the final 100.

Late cautions, contrived or not, have allowed that final quarter to constantly teeter on the verge of chaotic. But that short-term solution has no long-term staying power with a fan base and drivers opening their eyes to what's teetering too far on the side of WWE-style entertainment. You can understand why Denny Hamlin, after losing a 10-second lead to a piece of debris in the final 20 laps at Michigan, would be alarmed at the hint of such a practice.

Let's close our eyes one more time. Debris cautions bunch up the field late in race at both Pocono and Michigan except Hamlin, on the ensuing restart, gets spun out and winds up 35th two races in a row. Suddenly, the man labeled this year's title favorite gets dropped to eighth in the standings, loses confidence, and struggles to simply stay inside the top 12. Would that be fair?

Time to open your eyes and get to a landslide of comments and questions. As always, tbowles81@yahoo.com and Twitter @NASCARBowles are the best ways to make sure your voice gets heard.

All NASCAR and the networks needs to do is show the debris and there wouldn't be controversy. Maybe they need "debris cams."

-- @MPRacing

I couldn't agree more, MPRacing. For the record, the "mystery debris" that's stirred up a boatload of controversy at Michigan was actually found by a camera. It showed up on RaceBuddy, an online NASCAR service for fans, but never showed up on national television. That led to a lot of scratching heads and confusion over whether a caution should have actually been called. Add in Ryan Newman claiming he ran over debris after the race -- only for it to happen on Lap 136 of 200, not with 20 laps to go -- and a ton of contorted misinformation turned the caution into an absolute mess.

The bottom line is yes, there was a piece of apparent rubber on the backstretch that caused the yellow flag to come out. But anyone who's been to a race can tell you that within the first 50 miles, you can always find pieces of debris littered all over a track. It's one thing if a giant metal spoiler falls off in the middle of the racing groove, but other than that debris cautions to me are simply excuses to bunch up the field.

I understand not all of you agree, with the central point...

Professional sport is entertainment. (and so is NASCAR.)

-- @StevenJV

Michael Waltrip also made a long list of important points along the same lines. I do understand: fans won't pay their hard-earned money if they're not entertained. But there has to be a balance. Sure, late-race restarts are exciting for everyone involved ... when they NATURALLY happen. Thirteen of 15 within the last 25 laps are simply too much of a good thing. It changes the attitude of drivers, who run at less than 100 percent for much of the race knowing the ending's going to be the equivalent of a jumbled up lottery.

In my opinion, the philosophy should be don't throw the yellow unless you absolutely need to. And if drivers understand they won't be saved by a caution flag, you'd hope a better on-track product under green will take care of itself.

I'm curious why there doesn't seem to be any serious talk about shortening races. Dale Jr. has said for years that no race other than a few classics should be longer than 300 miles, and I agree. I love racing and follow both Formula One and Sprint Cup. However, Sprint Cup races are so long that inevitably, I end up falling asleep, doing something else, switching channels, etc. during the middle of the race. F1 races are capped at 2 hours and that keeps me captivated. Because of that shorter time, I'm willing to spend additional time watching F1 qualifying and practice occasionally, something I never do for Sprint Cup. There's got to be other fans out there with similar thoughts; the racing would be so much better in NASCAR if races were much shorter. Thoughts?

-- Kyle Rohde, Kansas City, Mo.

Lots of people share Kyle's opinion, boosted by a Michigan race that was just two-and-a-half hours, ending well before 4 PM. But plenty of races have already been shortened in the last 15 years. Right now, 16 of 36 races run at least 500 laps or 500 miles on the schedule, compared to 19 of 29 in 1990. In the last 20 years, new additions have always adhered to a shorter timetable, most averaging somewhere around three hours.

Other than maybe Pocono, I'm skeptical of making further cuts. During the height of NASCAR's growth period, no one seemed to mind races that lasted as long as four hours. They left every single event wanting more, ready to sit there for 100 more laps to keep witnessing the type of racing they just saw.

I'm sorry, but turning four-hour borefests into two-and-a-half hours won't keep people from turning off the television. Neither one is a good use of their time, so they'll simply do something else. Again, improving the on-track product is key. If drivers race side-by-side from beginning to end ... length won't matter.

A quick comment on Friday's story before we move on, one that indicates Hendrick is working to put Kasey Kahne the No. 09 of James Finch.

Did ppl really believe that Kahne was gonna sit out a year waiting for the 5 to be empty? Please.

-- @TurbosLady9493

I don't think that was ever a serious consideration, TurbosLady. Hendrick didn't sign Kahne to have him twiddling his thumbs for a year while Mark Martin's finishing out his career. In a perfect world, a fifth team would be great on the off-chance Danica Patrick develops, giving flexibility for the team in 2012 assuming she moves over to stock cars full-time and Junior rebounds well enough to finish out his five-year deal (he's signed through the end of '12). In that scenario, Martin and Patrick could conceivably run together, splitting the races while the IndyCar star continues to gradually gain experience.

Of course, NASCAR's four-team rule prevents such a pairing, and that's where Phoenix comes in. Just like Stewart-Haas Racing, another strong satellite team would provide the ability for an expanded driver lineup. Some have said why Hendrick just won't throw Kahne under an expanded SHR umbrella. But let's not forget, while SHR receives Hendrick chassis and equipment, the ownership group is completely different. They can make their own financial decisions, and there's just too much money needed to ensure Tony Stewart replaces Old Spice the right way in 2011. Adding a third, solid satellite option is the best way for both Hendrick, Kahne, and possibly Martin's post-NASCAR career to all grow together.

What is your problem with the Harvicks? Let me guess, you had a run-in with Harvick, while Joey is nothing but nice to you. Why don't you ask Biffle about Logano? Or don't you bother with another person's side?

-- Lee, Atlanta

I assume you're referring to my post-race column praising Joey Logano, but I don't have an issue with Kevin Harvick at all. He's a sarcastic, occasionally funny guy who's good for the sport and has an outside shot at this year's title. The way he and DeLana handled Logano's firesuit comment after that Pocono wreck, marketing a t-shirt that will raise hundreds of thousands for charity is admirable. But he also has a history of on-track run-ins, including being the last Cup driver suspended for bad behavior (2002), one that loses him the benefit of the doubt in any type of on-track contact. To me, the best comment about the whole deal comes from Mark Martin:

"If I was Kevin Harvick and I didn't know Joey Logano, I would say yes," said Martin when asked whether Logano should one day take revenge by spinning him out on the racetrack. "I think Joey Logano still has enough integrity to continue to try to make that right, and make that work without doing it. But I might be wrong. I'm not Joey. But if I'm Harvick, yeah, I'm going to figure out I've got one coming."

I think Martin's right on the money, as Logano's taken it all in stride and probably won't enact the revenge some fans would love. But with all the battles Harvick's waged through the years, his list of enemies is more than Logano's age. Don't be surprised if he winds up on the short end of the stick with someone else.

Finally, our "out of left field" email for the week:

I did see a parent leave the stands at a major sports event. Jeff George's freshman year at Purdue. He takes a hit from the blindside, and gets his bell rung. While the trainers are on the field with him, his mom walks out of the stands to get involved. It was the end of his short-lived career at Purdue, and possibly the reason he never made it in the NFL.

-- Dan Koon, Dallas, Texas

That's a lesson for Joey's dad, Tom, asked to stay away from the track the next few weeks after his parental meddling-gone-overboard at Pocono. If people are comparing your son to a failed B-List professional athlete ... is that really the image you want to help promote for your son? Hopefully, this Father's Day the best gift Joey can give his dad is a healthy, respectful talk about how he'd like to be treated as an adult.

"My dad just found the '55 Chevy in his driveway that I got him for Father's Day. He said it was his dream car... Love ya, pops." - @dennyhamlin, giving his dad the ultimate present for his special day

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