The smallest change to NASCAR rules can cause a radical difference in the way the action unfolds on the track, and this year fans have seen a proliferation of green flag racing. For the uninitiated, this is where the action runs continuously for many laps, with no cautions due to accidents or debris on the track.
In the past, cautions were the norm in NASCAR, part of the sport. A caution bunches all the cars back together because the vehicles are only allowed to run at a set speed as the track is cleared. Typically, cautions are the result of one or more drivers crashing.
However, the number of cautions has been few and far between this year, with less side-by-side racing producing fewer accidents. Yahoo! Sports reports the 17 races this year have averaged just 5.5 cautions per race.
This may sound like a good thing, but it actually has some fans upset and some race officials worried. Drivers who build up a big lead in the race obviously don't like cautions, because it erases their position through no fault of their own. However, many fans enjoy seeing the playing field leveled. Cautions have ultimately produced some of the most nail-biting finishes in the sport. Besides that, they're a convenient time for NASCAR to take a commercial break. Nowadays, commercials come on while the action on the track is still green flag - something many fans hate.
Billionaire track promoter Bruton Smith recently said he believes NASCAR should begin including mandatory cautions in order to create drama. According to Smith, the on-track action this year has been boring and fans are tuning out because there isn't as much entertainment as there used to be.
"You just can't sit there and nothing is happening," Smith, owner of Speedway Motorsports, told The Associated Press. "It ruins the event. It's damaging to our sport. Look at some of your other sports - they have a mandatory timeout, TV [commercial] time and all these things, and that creates things within the sport. If you have [cautions] every 20 laps, I don't care. It adds to the show. Someone once said we were in show business - if we're in show business, let's deliver. Let's deliver that show. Right now, we're not delivering."
Smith's comments touched off a hot debate among NASCAR fans, drivers and executives. Carl Edwards echoed the feeling of many of his fellow NASCAR drivers by comparing a caution to stopping and resetting the score of a basketball game because one team had built up too much of a lead.
NASCAR president Mike Helton agreed, saying the governing body for the sport would never try to create drama in that way.
"NASCAR fans want the event to unfold unartificially," Helton told the news source. "The racing that goes on on the racetrack under green is as exciting as any in motorsports. Sports is a true reality show as it unfolds... You have to be careful when you think about artificially creating the outcome of that."
Helton also pointed out that fans are fickle, and that it wasn't long ago the sport was criticized for having too many cautions. In fact, some fans (and drivers) have accused NASCAR of calling false cautions, usually using the excuse of "debris" on the track - even if it wasn't immediately obvious what the debris was.
Instead, it's more likely NASCAR will tweak its rules in a continuation of its constant effort to produce exciting racing. For example, some believe that changing the tires used on the car would force drivers to manage the wear on the rubber and cause more interesting racing.