Throughout the final 50 laps of the Auto Club 500, there were four cautions that NASCAR waved for debris on the Auto Club Speedway. In those four instances, only one piece of debris was shown by NASCAR on FOX – Kyle Larson’s back panel that came off after he hit the wall on the first green white checkered finish. Several fans took to social media to express their perspective, saying that they felt the “phantom debris” cautions were being thrown in hopes of producing an exciting finish.
However, from NASCAR’s perspective, in the instance of the debris that set up the green-white-checkered finish, they say that it was real in the form of a piece of metal.
“We got multiple reports over the radio and confirmed there was a piece of material, something, in the racing groove,” Sprint Cup Series Director Richard Buck said. “So we went ahead and called the caution. By the time we called the caution, somebody hit it. I don’t have it back yet, I don’t have the piece back yet. But we always ask the safety and cleanup crews to return that stuff. But there were multiple reports.”
Buck says that the process of debris being called begins with drivers calling it in, followed by NASCAR checking with their spotters located around the track.
“That’s heard over the radio, whatever the race control is, with a one or ten, so the teams know in case there is a piece of debris they need to know about for safety reasons,” Buck continued. “Then we’ll confirm it. We’ve got the pit open and the pit closed folks that are close to that area. We have the caution car. We have spotters on the backstretch and on the entrance to turn three.
“We’ll go through our process quickly and make sure that we have a confirmation that there is debris, if we can identify the debris, where it’s at, if it’s anywhere in the racing groove. As you know, this place, the racing groove’s all the way across. If it’s anywhere in the racing groove, we’llhave to go to the caution and go get it.”
There are sometimes debris that is called in, but will turn out to be a piece of paper. Buck says that “safety’s number one” and “if there’s any question whatsoever” they will throw the caution. In the case of that particular caution, though, they got “definite confirmation on it that it was debris, actually it was metal”.
There was also another iffy call that caught some fans off-guard, as well. With the white flag in the air as the leaders were in turns one and two, Greg Biffle would wreck on the frontstretch. Rather than throwing the caution for the incident, NASCAR let the race continue, with Biffle moving before the field returned to the frontstretch. Buck says the patience in throwing the caution is a result of NASCAR always using the most effort possible to have the race end under green.
“I mean, safety is number one. We always make our best effort to let it race back,” he said. “We had well over a mile. The leaders were coming off of two. We have multiple people in the tower watching multiple things. We’re all communicating very quickly and at a high level.
“We could see the cars coming off of two. We were watching the frontstretch. Biffle got it started back up, got it turned around and headed off. We have two folks in the flag stand that were right there on top of it, so we had a bird’s eye view from their perspective that there was no debris there and we could let it come back and come back to a natural finish.”