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Circuit wasn't an accomplice in Keselowski win

Brad Keselowski admittedly “stole” a race from Kurt Busch in Fontana this past weekend. The question is whether NASCAR was his accomplice.

Short answer: of course not. But it’s complicated.

NASCAR’s nebulous and mysterious and seemingly arbitrary rules of engagement involving cautions came into play when a caution came out for debris while Busch leading on Lap 199. NASCAR officials ruled that a piece of metal was on the track.

An ensuing caution would set up a second green-white-checker finish and throw the conspiracy people into a tizzy given Busch’s extenuating circumstances: He was competing in his second race of the season since being reinstated following his domestic-abuse case.

Adding a bit of spice to the volatile recipe: No caution was thrown when Greg Biffle crashed on the final and deciding lap. NASCAR deemed that scenario caution-free because it was a single-car incident (unlike Daytona’s last-lap caution).

But what about the first caution and the mysterious piece of metal that wasn’t found?

“If there’s any question whatsoever, we’re going to throw the caution,” NASCAR Sprint Cup Series director Richard Buck said. “There was a lot of paper flying around today, a lot of paper trash and plastic bags and those kinds of things. We got definite confirmation that it was debris and it looked like a piece of metal.

“It’s strictly a process that we go through [to call a caution]. We don’t have any favorites. We try to keep every emotion out of it. … We feel very, very confident about our actions.”

It’s understood that fans want consistency. And that’s something that NASCAR has a hard time delivering because of varying factors that play into throwing cautions. At times, it’s not an obvious call. It’s a subjective call.

Fans obviously prefer to see a race end under green than a caution flag.

It’s part of the charm and mystery of NASCAR.

It’s also part of the reason insanity reigns on the message boards a lot of weekends.

SMOKE MOURNS EARL BALTES: The NASCAR Nation — particularly Tony Stewart — is in mourning over the death of Earl Baltes, who founded Eldora Speedway in 1954. Baltes, 93, passed way earlier this week.

Baltes sold the half-mile dirt oval to Stewart in November 2004 after making the track a premiere destination for short-track racing.

“Earl Baltes was the yardstick other track promoters measured themselves by,” Stewart said in a statement. “He constantly raised the bar, and he did it by creating events everyone else was afraid to promote. He did them himself, too. Not as a fair board, or a public company, or with major sponsors or millions of dollars in TV money.

“He put it all on the line with the support of his family. He and his wife, Berneice, created a happening at Eldora. They turned Eldora into more than just a racetrack. They made it a place to be. They were integral to the evolution of dirt-track racing and the sport as a whole. Earl will be missed, but he won’t ever be forgotten because of his devotion to auto racing.”

MARTINSVILLE ON FS1: The STP 500 race in Martinsville will be telecast live on Fox Sports 1 and not the regular Fox network this Sunday starting at 10 a.m. PDT.