Accidental flip switch leads to final caution
March 16, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- A flagman leaning against a manual override switch in the flagstand inadvertently turned on the caution lights in the final laps at Bristol Motor Speedway, leading to the final yellow flag that froze the field before Carl Edwards' victory Sunday night.
That was the explanation from Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition and racing development, after fans and competitors were left in the dark following a mysterious caution that came out at the end of a marathon day-to-night race plagued by roughly five hours of rain delays. The field was immediately frozen per NASCAR policy, and hard rain once again began to fall almost immediately afterward, ensuring Edwards' first victory of the season.
"It appears that in the flagstand, one of the flag people had leaned on the switch that is the manual override for the caution lights, and so that happened," Pemberton said. "… That happened, and at that time when the flagstand realized that the caution lights were illuminated, the flag man threw the flag, and then after that happened we froze the field from the tower. "
Pemberton said most flagstands have a manual override switch controlling the caution lights, which are normally illuminated by race control before the caution flag is displayed. The switch in Bristol, he added, wasn't secured properly. Once they realized the caution lights were on, NASCAR officials threw a full caution because operation of the lights had become compromised.
"We tried to turn them off, and we realized that the override switch was on and they were hung on caution," Pemberton said. "It was a stupid error."
NASCAR used video to review the situation, and made one change in the final running order, flipping Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon to seventh and eighth place, respectively. Pemberton said the caution was thrown six seconds after the lights were inadvertently turned on, and the field was frozen 20 seconds after the full caution was issued.
Not even the flagman, Pemberton said, was initially aware of why the caution was out. Winning crew chief Jimmy Fennig speculated at first that part of the electrical system had shorted due to all the rain Sunday, but that proved to not be the case. Rain came down hard almost immediately afterward, heading off a green-white-checkered finish Edwards did not want to see.
"I can tell you, for Robin and NASCAR to come up here and explain exactly what happened immediately after the race and just put it out there that, 'Hey, it was a mistake and it was inadvertent,' I think that says a lot about the state of the leadership of our sport," said Edwards, who lost a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race to Dennis Setzer at Charlotte in 2004 when he slowed because a caution light was unintentionally illuminated.
"I was leading the last time that happened at Charlotte in a Truck race, and we got passed, and … (NASCAR) put out a press release saying, 'We messed up, we apologize to Carl and his crew.' And I think NASCAR, that was (10) years ago, and they still stand by their mistakes. And for them to come up here and say, 'Hey, we messed up,' that means a lot. As a sport, they make a lot of tough calls. We all do a lot of things where there's a lot of room for mistakes, and so the outcome worked out for me, but even if it hadn't, I'm glad to be part of something where they just say, 'Hey, we screwed up.' "
Pemberton said NASCAR would review the situation with the goal of preventing a similar episode in the future.
"We learn a lot of lessons, and when we learn a lesson like this, we'll go in and further investigate some things," he said. "As you know, all the electronics that we've had and have installed in the trailers for freeze the field and all these other things … you still have to integrate (them) into the track facilities, so there's probably some things that we needed to do to better secure that area where the manual override is on the lights."