Sprint Cup series drivers Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin have voiced their concern at the controversial finish of Sunday's race at Loudon, when a last-minute caution flag on the final lap ignited a confusing end to the event.
On the penultimate lap of the first race of the Chase, A.J. Allmendinger spun at the exit of turn four and his car ended up sideways on the frontstretch. Officials waited until the last second as they tried to avoid a caution, hoping Allmendinger could move his car before the leaders arrived to take the checkered flag. Eventually the Richard Petty Motorsports driver was able to do so but it was too late as the caution was already out. Just as he got going the leaders came out of the last turn of the race in the middle of a cloud of smoke caused by Allmendinger's spinning rear tires.
Race winner Mark Martin slowed down out of the last turn when his spotter told him about the caution and Allmendinger's car on the frontstretch. However he said that those following him, Juan Pablo Montoya and Denny Hamlin, were apparently unaware of the last-minute caution.
"A.J. was getting going, and I felt pretty confident and comfortable about where he was going to stay, and so I picked up the speed, which is not really the thing we're supposed to do," said Martin. "Of course those guys flew up there on me, and there was chatter on the radio, the race is over, and busting back and forth, and by the time we crossed the start/finish line, somebody said, well, it was before we got to the line. So there were some things going on there, a little bit of confusion.
"You tend to kind of – if you don't know for sure, you kind of race when the caution comes out on the last lap a little bit, and I had – I was under the impression that when a caution called, the race was over. I don't think the guys gave up the race behind me quite. So it caused a little bit of chaos."
Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson was also among those who saw the caution come out and he lifted the throttle on the final turn, while others, according to him, continued to race to the flag. The Hendrick driver suggested a further caution alert system could be implemented, similar to the one used in Formula 1, to help avoid a repeat of Sunday's finish.
"I don't know where the fault lies on it because coming through Three and Four, I saw the lights flashing that the caution was out and my spotter had told me that there was a car spun on the frontstretch," said Johnson. "Technically in the middle of Three and Four, I knew and kind of slowed down and pulled out of the way. The guys in front of me were pretty occupied with racing each other and went flying down in there.
"I don't know how we can have a better way to relay a caution to the drivers. I know in some forms of racing, they have little lights inside the car that flash yellow when the caution comes out. That would have worked really good in this case, because there is such a short distance from where we were to where the problem was. I saw the caution and checked up myself."
Although there were not any major incidents during the confusing finish to the race, results had to be reviewed as some positions changed out of the final turn.
For example, Juan Pablo Montoya crossed the finish line on the inside of Allmendinger in second, but was later moved to third place as he was running behind Hamlin when the caution was waved.