Stuck in the middle of a multi-car wreck, Jeff Burton wanted to see a caution on the next-to-last lap of Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600.
Now, he’s not so certain.
Burton’s No. 31 Chevrolet was among the most seriously damaged in the incident which was triggered when race leader Kasey Kahne suddenly ran out of gas on a restart on Lap 401.
“I assumed the caution was coming out because there was a wreck,” Burton told the Observer on Monday. “At the time I thought there were more cars down there stopped (on the apron) than just me.
“When I got home (Sunday night) and replayed it, as it turned out, there really wasn’t. It seemed everybody else cleared out.”
Burton said his first instinct was that the caution ‘no-call’ wasn’t right and he complained about it over his team radio at the time. In retrospect, he thinks in terms of safety, NASCAR made the right call.
That doesn’t mean, however, the debate on whether a caution should have been thrown is settled.
“It’s tough because if the track is clear then they need to let the race continue,” he said. “On the other hand, that’s not necessarily what they do with 200 (laps) to go.
“The big question is does NASCAR understand everyone has fuel issues? Should NASCAR care? I don’t know what the answer to that is.”
Burton said NASCAR officials have been hesitant to throw cautions during green-flag pit cycles to try to keep it fair for all competitors.
“You can debate all day long if NASCAR should have thrown a caution for a reason other than safety on Sunday night. They have certainly thrown them for less,” Burton said.
“I think they knew everyone was short on fuel and they were trying to do everything they could to take care of everybody. I don’t know that for a fact, but I think that probably played into their mindset.”
NASCAR has said in the past it would hold the caution flag at the race’s end as long as drivers’ safety wasn’t compromised. However, NASCAR also has a multiple green-white-checkered flag restart policy in place to ensure green-flag finishes.
On Sunday night, the race ended in the first two-lap overtime. Had the caution been thrown at the time of Burton’s wreck, two more two-lap overtimes were still possible.
It is likely several more drivers – including race winner Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was leading entering the last lap – would have been forced to pit for fuel in that instance.
“Throwing the caution isn’t like an out-of-bounds call. You’re either out of bounds or you’re not,” Burton said. “When to throw the caution – there is no definitive answer.”