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Question in NASCAR garages: What's next?

Updated:
HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) _ After what's happened so far this season, the question around NASCAR garages is this: What's next?

The first three races were marked by race-altering decisions by the sanctioning body, with the MBNA America 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday's schedule.

``I don't know if there'll be any controversy this week or not,'' Sterling Marlin said. ``We've about run out of things to do, I guess.''

The season-opening Daytona 500 was red-flagged after a six-car wreck with six laps to go, allowing the race to finish under a green flag.

The next week at Rockingham, N.C., NASCAR decided against stopping the race during a late-race yellow, allowing Matt Kenseth to cruise to victory under caution.

Finally, last week at Las Vegas, a pit official failed to hear a command that Marlin was supposed to be held for 15-second penalty for speeding on pit road. NASCAR was forced to rescind the penalty when Marlin left the pits, and he went on to win.

What scenario awaits? A scoring mix-up? A camera failure on a photo finish?

``I've been in the business a long time, so I kind of know how it works,'' Marlin said. ``That's all I'm going to say.''

Thanks to a national TV contract, the Winston Cup Series has a higher profile than ever. But with that comes extra exposure _ good and bad.

``Before the TV contracts and long before NASCAR came into the public eye, they had run the business as is,'' Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. ``I don't think they thought about the kind of scrutiny that would come to them because of the decisions they made.''

A possible solution to the red-flag-or-no-red flag problems would be a a guaranteed two-lap dash to the checkered flag _ a green-white-checkered finish _ something NASCAR does in some of its lower divisions.

However, under that format a race could conceivably be extended an infinite number of laps, throwing strategy out the window.

``I'm not in favor of a green-white-checkered,'' said Ray Evernham, who owns the Dodges of Bill Elliott and Jeremy Mayfield. ``I'm in favor of here's what it is and if a caution comes out with two to go and you win the race, so be it.''

There's often not a lot of time to make these decisions, either. Even under a caution, laps only take a minute or two. And any ruling, especially late in the race, could have a direct influence on who wins or loses.

``They have to make some decisions in the blink of an eye,'' Earnhardt said. ``There's not really time to sit around and talk about it.''

Evernham suggested NASCAR have a written policy for an end-of-the-race scenario, where inside of three laps left, there wouldn't be a red flag.

``I think they would save themselves a lot of grief,'' he said. ``I think they do a good job. I hate to see them get blasted.''

It's a problem all too familiar to Kevin Triplett, NASCAR's managing director of business operations. He said it's unlikely the organization will adopt a written policy for late-race decisions, preferring to remain flexible.

``Trust me, we've been through all the problems and possible solutions,'' Triplett said. ``We've filled legal pads up with ideas, and they you come up with one that won't work and you throw it away.

``We'll never say never to anything. We're always going to look to make things better, for the competitors and the fans.''
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