BY RICK BONNELL
DOVER, Del. — NASCAR was widely applauded by its drivers for stopping the Coca-Cola 600 to allow race teams to repair damage caused by a fallen camera rope.
But several of those drivers – prominently Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin – said this sets a precedent, and NASCAR needs to stick to that in the future.
Back in 2004 a large chunk of concrete came loose at the track in Martinsville, Va. It hit Gordon’s car, causing considerable body damage. But NASCAR didn’t stop that race in a way similar to what it chose to do Sunday.
“I think they just set the new precedent, in my opinion, which I think is the correct thing to do,” Gordon said. “(It was) the same thing at Martinsville, where the track comes apart. They should throw the red flag and fix the problem, and then let teams make repairs.
“It’s not fair to take out a competitor who could have finished the race…I’m not sure 15 minutes would have fixed that problem, but we would have liked the chance to try.”
Wasn’t ‘imagining things’
A rope used to guide a camera suspended over Charlotte Motor Speedway snapped, falling onto the track and into the grandstands 121 laps into the May 26 race. The incident injured at least 10 fans (none seriously) and stopped the race about 26 minutes.
Nineteen of the cars on the track reported damage because of the falling rope, so NASCAR took the rare step of allowing race teams to pit and take 15 minutes to fix what they could.
NASCAR deploys spotters all around the tracks at races, looking for debris on the driving surface. It took NASCAR about two laps after the rope fell to throw the yellow flag, a confusing time for the drivers.
Some said they thought they were “imagining things” the first time they ran over the rope.
“In NASCAR’s defense, I couldn’t see what it was, and I went by it twice,” said driver Jimmie Johnson. “It was thin, black cable. It was dark out and (the rope) had a black surface.
“I was going down the front straightaway, and I flipped my visor to clean it. I just happened to see the cable hanging about 10 foot off the ground. I said, ‘That’s from the camera above!’’’
Used at Daytona 500
These overhead cameras are commonly used for NFL telecasts, but are newer to motorsports. Fox used it at the Daytona 500 and ABC/ESPN installed one at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Fox is investigating what happened and NASCAR has suspended use of the overhead camera at its tracks at least until that investigation is completed.
After a few laps under yellow flag, NASCAR stopped the race and had cars return to their pits for inspection. That’s when NASCAR decided teams would get 15 minutes to make repairs, essentially making a new rule on the fly.
Teams were allowed to refuel and change tires, according to NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp. While the intent of the break was to address damage from the rope, some teams went well beyond that narrow focus.
“They said people could work on their cars. I quick-jumped into the whole mindset of an All-Star race when you get a 10-minute break (to) work on any aspect of your car,” said Kurt Busch. “If you don’t take advantage of that situation, then other teams are going to pass you while you’re sitting still. You could work on your car, so let her rip.”
Minor cuts, abrasions
Added driver Danica Patrick, “It was pretty much open game: You could do anything you wanted.”
Most of the injuries to fans in the grandstands near Turn 4 were minor cuts and abrasions; the three who were hospitalized were released that same night. However, this was the second time this season debris has flown into the stands, hurting fans.
A crash late in the Nationwide race at Daytona sent car parts, including a tire, into the stands. NASCAR’s investigation of that accident has focused on the gate area, which took the brunt of the collision.
Based on recommendations from outside engineering firms, additional cables were installed at the crossover gates at Daytona and Talladega. Additional tethering between the gate frames and posts were also added.