IT WAS A little over two years ago when two-time series champion Tony Stewart accused NASCAR officials of "playing God" by manipulating races through phantom debris cautions.
Upset because a series of caution flags contributed to him losing a race at Phoenix, Stewart likened the sport to professional wrestling in complaining that the bogus debris calls changed the outcome of races.
"I guess NASCAR thinks, 'Hey, wrestling worked, and it was for the most part staged, so I guess it's going to work in racing, too,'" he said. "I don't know that they've run a fair race all year."
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The issue has come roaring back behind Kasey Kahne's accusation that NASCAR threw a bogus caution Sunday to bunch up the field and avoid a boring runaway win by Jimmie Johnson at Auto Club Speedway.
Kahne was likely headed to a top-10 finish when he was wrecked on a restart with 12 laps to go. Kurt Busch started the accident when he bounced off the wall and into Kahne. The contact sent Kahne into Greg Biffle, and both cars spun through the grass with enough damage to ruin the drivers' races.
But Kahne didn't blame Busch for the accident. His ire was directed at NASCAR, which had called a caution four laps earlier for debris on the track. At the time of the yellow flag, Johnson had an insurmountable lead on the rest of the field that only could have been erased by a caution.
"We worked hard all day, got ourselves in a good position, and I think it was going to be a good points day," Kahne said. "Then NASCAR threw a debris caution for no debris, which caused Kurt Busch to hit the wall, which caused me to go to the grass and Greg Biffle. ...
"It's disappointing that we had a bad race because of a caution to put a show on for the fans. That's a good part of the sport - we have to keep the fans excited - but sometimes it ruins people's days."
There is one problem with Kahne's contention.
There was debris on the track.
ESPN's cameras showed a decent-sized black wad of something laying on the backstretch when the caution was displayed with 16 laps remaining. A safety vehicle was shown pulling onto the track presumably to recover the item.
Not that NASCAR was ever in doubt, though.
"There was debris on the track, it was talked about on the (NASCAR) radio, it was identified as something being there and the caution was thrown," NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said Monday.
And if NASCAR had been wrong, and there was nothing on the track?
"NASCAR is always going to put the safety of the competitors first, and when it comes to identifying something on the track, we're always going to err on the side of caution," Poston said.
And that's what will forever keep this issue alive. Because sometimes there may not be debris on the track, competitors and fans always will form their opinions on NASCAR's intent at the time of the caution.
In fact, there was a debris caution that went unproven shortly before Kahne's accusation. Johnson had a monstrous lead when the yellow came out with 65 laps left. This time, though, ESPN was in commercial. When the network came out of the break, the debris was not shown, the commentators did not reveal what was on the track surface, and the issue was forgotten as soon as pit stops began.