Mitchell's SUPR streak has controversial ending
By Alli CollisDirtonDirt.com staff writer
Jon Mitchell’s four-race winning streak on the P&W Sales Southern United Professional Racing tour ended Saturday, but not without a little controversy.
After Timothy Culp of West Monroe, La., outran Mitchell at I-30 Speedway in Little Rock Ark., the reigning series champion from Texarkana, Texas, questioned SUPR’s ruling that allowed Culp to pit under red-flag conditions and return to the lead of Saturday's $2,000-to-win event. | RaceWire
Culp was leading Mitchell with fewer than 10 laps remaining when a yellow flag waved for Tommy Surrett's smoking No. 27s. Unable to see Surrett’s stopped car through the smoke, Culp made hard contact, damaging the front end of his car.
Amid the chaos, polesitter Cole Farmer’s car had left the racing surface and was sitting in the fence, resulting in a call for the red flag. Culp left the racetrack and went to his pit area to make repairs. Because SUPR rules allow drivers to pit under a red flag and retain their position, Culp was restored to the lead when he returned to the racing surface.
“Our rule is, on a yellow flag, if you’re sitting still, you go to the rear,” long-time SUPR series director Greg Holmes explained. “Say there’s an incident in turn one and the caution is already out, and a car goes down into turn three and spins out — that car in turn three gets its spot back. The engine on the No. 27s was blowing. I’d already called for a yellow for the 27s. And then Culp hit the back of him. That right there, he would get his spot back already, because the yellow was already out.”
The quick turn of events tested officials, Holmes said.
“There was a communication problem between me and my flagman. Everything happened so quickly right there. There was a car (Farmer) that left the racetrack and was in the fence. I was talking to my flagman, trying to get him to throw the red, because he didn’t see the car over there. But the people in the tower did. So, when that happened, Culp went to his trailer. You are allowed to leave the racetrack and come back under red. You will get your spot back if you’re back before we resume racing, and he was.”
For his part, Culp said he was just following the rules set by the series. Making repairs to his car under the red flag, he returned to the track to finish, scoring his fifth career SUPR victory and first since 2011.
“The yellow was already out when I hit the lapped car,” Culp said. “The other car, I watched him go off the end, so I knew there was a caution and I was already slowing down, but the smoke was so bad I would have never saw him until I hit him. Then the red came out and I went off the track. In the rules it states that during the red you can go to the pits and maintain your position when you come back on the track.
“I don’t think it would have mattered in the outcome of the race. If I hadn’t hit that lapped car, I would have won regardless. It is what it is, I guess … the rules are the rules. I just don’t want anybody to be mad at me about it, because it wasn’t up to me. This is what they told me to do.”
The runner-up Mitchell wasn’t shy in displaying his displeasure over the call, climbing atop his car on the frontstretch and pretending to celebrate a victory at the race’s end. Entering Saturday’s program at I-30, Mitchell had won four consecutive series events, including the previous evening at Timberline Speedway in Corley, Texas.
Adding to the drama, a photo surfaced on social media that shows Culp exiting the racetrack while the yellow light is still on. Unlike the red-flag rule, SUPR series rules state that if a driver leaves the racing surface under a caution, they will return at the tail of the field.
“It’s just a bad call on SUPR’s end,” Mitchell said. “I’ve got a photo we found on Facebook that shows the yellow light out when he’s stopped or pulling off the racetrack. He went off the racetrack on a yellow light, and they’re saying it’s supposed to have been a red light. It’s obvious that everybody at the racetrack had a miscommunication. In my situation, I don’t think he should have been able to leave the track and come back on and get his spot back leading the race.”
Despite the photo, Holmes said the official call for the red flag had already been made from the tower, and it was simply a miscommunication that resulted in the light remaining yellow.
“I wasn’t going to let a communication error between me and my flagman cost a driver something on the track,” Holmes said. “(Culp) caught a break that there was a red flag, because if he had had to go to the pits under a yellow, he’d have had to go to the rear.”
While he's disappointed with how Saturday’s events unfolded, Mitchell is still pleased with his start to the season.
“We had a good run and I couldn’t be happier right now,” Mitchell said. “To get on a streak like that, I’m happy with four wins for sure, but that five in a row would have been really something. It’s a bad deal to have a streak like that end like that. But on the other hand, I hate to see Culp get put out of the race by a lapped car.
“If we’d have finished that thing without a caution, and he’d have outrun me, I would have had no problem running second to him. We had a clean race, but I just feel like that was a bad call on SUPR’s end.”