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Murto: Calls in motorsports should be minimal

By Craig Murto

Racers on the racetrack should determine who wins and who loses in motorsports, not officials making judgment calls.

All too often race stewards hand out drive-through penalties for racers deemed guilty for causing on-track racing incidents. The problems arise when stewards rule inconsistently; one driver receives a penalty for something a driver got away with during the last race. Without consistency, officials appear to play favorites. In reality they should simply allow the racers themselves to deal with the situation.

During the IndyCar race in Sao Paulo, Brazil, race officials made the correct call by making no call. According to the rules, any move a driver makes in reaction to a move made by another driver can be deemed blocking and result in a penalty.

When Takuma Sato held onto the lead of the race following the final restart, he made obvious blocking moves on at least three occasions, including at least two against eventual race winner James Hinchcliffe. None of the moves created any accidents, but it was obvious Sato made his car wide as a result of what he saw in his rearview mirror.

Officials decided the offenses did not warrant any penalties. As a result, fans got to see the best finish of any IndyCar street race -- ever -- when Hinchcliffe faked high, then dove underneath Sato for the win on the final corner heading to the checkered flag.

How many good finishes have fans been robbed of because officials penalized professional drivers for aggression? Aren't professional drivers supposed to be aggressive? More than a few F1 races were ruined last season due to stewards issuing penalties, and the same thing has happened in IndyCar. Hopefully the IndyCar race in Brazil has set the tone for the rest of the year in the series; if so, expect more of the same great racing.

There was some exciting racing at Talladega, and officials had a role in those races as well.

The Cup race probably should have been called due to rain with 63 laps to go while Carl Edwards held the lead. Instead, after more than a three-and-a-half-hour delay, the race resumed in conditions that some felt were questionable. The weather was drizzly, it was getting dark ... but the race continued.

David Ragan and Front Row Motorsports teammate David Gilliland finished one-two in a green-white-checkered finish. It was a good win for the small team, made possible by officials determined to get the entire race distance in the record books.

The Nationwide race had a very interesting outcome, also caused by an official's decision.

As the pack charged to the line, a crash behind the leaders unfolded in the tri-oval. At the line it appeared Kasey Kahne had won in a three-wide finish at the line. But upon further review, an official threw the caution before the leaders reached the finish line, and since the field is frozen at the moment of caution on the last lap, the race win went to Reagan Smith.

Some felt the leaders should have been allowed to race to the line before the yellow was displayed, as they have in a few other examples of races on restrictor-plate tracks that end with crashes at the finish. Others felt that NASCAR is trigger-happy when it comes to displaying the yellow after the accident at Daytona that left car parts in the grandstand.

The officials' decision to wave the yellow, handed the win to Reagan Smith before the leaders ever made it to the finish line.

I applaud IndyCar officials for letting the competitors run their race without interference. The decision to complete the Cup race is questionable, though I understand the motivation to get the entire race distance in for the paying spectators.

I don't know what to say about the Nationwide race, as I do not envy the officials who have to make those split-second decisions. After all, what if they did not throw the caution and as a result the accident was worse and resulted in injuries?

Luckily there were no serious injuries all weekend at Talladega, even in the crash-filled, rain-shortened ARCA race, in which Frank Kimmel scored his 77th win, putting him only two victories behind Iggy Katona in all-time wins in the series.

And hopefully we'll have injury-free races throughout the month of May, which includes the Indy 500, the Coke 600 and the Grand Prix of Monaco. Let's also hope officials keep their judgment calls to a minimum as the month unfolds.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.


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