BRISTOL, Tenn. — A flagman leaned on the manual override switch for the caution lights, triggering the final caution with less than two laps remaining in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway Sunday.
Once the flagman realized the caution lights were on — but not realizing what had happened — he used his discretion and threw the yellow flag.
NASCAR froze the field and expected to return to racing for a green-white-checkered finish but rain forced it to end the race — helping NASCAR avoid the potential embarrassment that an inadvertent caution might have caused had it impacted the outcome of the race.
Carl Edwards had a healthy lead at the time of the caution and won the event.
“There’s two very happy people in this room right now,” NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton quipped as Edwards prepared to meet with the media.
Pemberton said that six seconds elapsed from the time the lights went on to the time the flagman threw the flag, and the field was frozen about 20 seconds after the flagman waved the yellow flag. NASCAR also used video to determine the final finishing order.
“Most of the flagstands have a manual override for the caution lights, and due to the weather and due to other things, … it wasn’t secured properly, and the flag person leaned against the switch and turned the caution lights on,” Pemberton said.
“We tried to turn them off, and we realized that the override switch was on and they were hung on caution. It was a stupid error.”
There are three people in the flagstand at the end of the race — two flagmen and a photographer.
“We learn a lot of lessons, and when we learn a lesson like this we’ll go in and further investigate some things,” Pemberton said.
“All the electronics that we’ve had and have installed in the trailers for freezing the field and all these other things, there’s still … you still have to integrate 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.”
No one was more frustrated to see the caution than Edwards, who then was as happy to see the rain as Pemberton.
“We’re probably going to win this race if a caution doesn’t come out,” Edwards said. “The caution did come out, and I went, now we’re going to have an opportunity to prove we deserve to win this race.
“Honestly it might have been more exciting. With everything like that there’s always an opportunity, but yeah, I did not want to see that caution. I did not at all. So I’m glad that the rain came. I think there was some higher powers at work. That worked out great.”