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Crew chiefs pleased with timing of NASCAR’s race length decision

NASCAR had a chance to right the wrong it made a year ago in Chicago with a weather-impacted race, and the response from the garage was much more favorable this time around.

Cup Series teams did not get to run the full distance of the street course race for the second straight year. However, unlike a year ago, NASCAR informed them well in advance when the race would be called to completion. Sunday, the call came early in the afternoon, at the end of the first stage that the drop-dead deadline was 8:20pm local time.

“This is obviously what the reaction was to how it unfolded last year,” said Billy Scott after finishing second with Tyler Reddick. “So, today was perfect. That’s how we wanted it: just to know the ending time before we get into a situation where it dictates strategy.

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“They let us know early on and we definitely used it. It was cool to watch the reaction from last year put new procedures in place, let everybody know plenty ahead of time, and then it actually factors into the way the race ended.”

Sunday’s race started in wet conditions and then was red-flagged for nearly two hours because of heavy rain. The race was scheduled for 75 laps but only completed 58 after the decision was made that it would have to end early because of darkness. However, teams were informed before the race started that if NASCAR had to make that call, it wouldn’t come as a late-race surprise.

“Probably a couple of hours before the race started, they told us that they were going to let us know before the end of stage 1, which I think is proper,” William Byron’s crew chief Rudy Fugle said. “I think it could be done before the race starts, but as long as we know before the end of Stage 1, in most cases, you’ll have many pit stops after that before you reach the situation where you’ll have to end the race.

“This one was a little iffy, but I think all good intentions there and that was OK.”

NASCAR Rule Book Section 8.5.7.6.C states: NASCAR may determine that it is impractical to complete the advertised race distance. In this occurrence, NASCAR, in its sole discretion, will determine when the race concludes and will communicate a predetermined time to the competitors. Once the race leader crosses the start/finish line after this time expires, the next lap will be the white flag followed by the checkered flag (no overtime).

Alex Bowman took the white flag at 8:21pm local time.

“The biggest thing I liked about what they did here that they didn’t do at Loudon was they told us when — well in advance — the race was going to end,” said Chris Gabehart of Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 team. “They never did that at Loudon and it was just as dark or darker at Loudon. So, from a team’s perspective that’s important.

“We all know how to race around it [when] it’s very, very clear. Again, a timed race is a new thing, so I’m not faulting them at Loudon for it, but this is what they said they were going to do, and they made the rules adjustment. At Loudon, they didn’t.”

During the inaugural Chicago street course race, NASCAR did not give teams advanced notice. It was the final lap of the second stage last year when NASCAR announced the race would be cut short and at that time, the field was split on pit strategy.

The timing of the call affected Christopher Bell’s race. Bell was leading when the decision was made and had not yet made his pit stop. The leaderboard flipped in favor of those who had pitted before NASCAR’s announcement, putting them at the front of the field. Bell was buried mid-pack and hit the tire barriers trying to regain lost ground.

“It changed the strategy because some of the final pit stops had already started to happen,” Gabehart said. “So, those that were running up front, you would have never pit when some of those guys were pitting had you had known when the race was going to end. So, I applaud them for that [today]t. I thought that worked perfectly.”

Bell’s crew chief, Adam Stevens, was furious after last year’s race. Stevens was pointed in his comments afterward about NASCAR’s decision, going as far as to say it was “complete negligence.”

After Sunday night’s do-over for the sanctioning body, Stevens said, “Honestly, it was very clear and it worked very well. I think they hit the time about right; you could argue a minute or two one way or the other. But as far as the procedure to go for all the competitors to know, it was fantastic. “

Stevens then laughed, “I wish we would have had it last year, but we didn’t. We had to learn the hard way as a series and as a sport and they got it right. And I think they’ll continue to get it right going forward.”

Story originally appeared on Racer