For many years, the readers of this column have heard me say time and time again how much this track fears me. I went there in 2010, and gained more respect for it. But, the fact is that Talladega, and the unknown thoughts and expectations it brings, still scares me to death. It’s kind of appropriate since this is the final race before Halloween, but I digress.
The race at Talladega this past weekend impressed me. You had the normal drafting and close calls, but no one was causing the “Big One” that this track was known for. In fact, the only two cautions came because of blown engines.
That is, until the end.
Now I am not one to be hard on NASCAR for some of the decisions they have made. I actually think the last time I was hard on them was two years ago when they removed one driver from the Chase, added another, then added a 13th. That was a rather interesting week to say the least.
But this time, I’m sorry, I am absolutely upset and irate at what went down, for a few reasons.
Let’s set the scene for you, it’s a green-white-checkered attempt to finish the race. NASCAR announced earlier that they would only make one attempt at this track to end the race under green, because of safety and risk. Sounds smart in theory, but then the grey area came in. Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are ready to go, and they hit the restart zone, which has already been a big topic this season, and they try to go. Behind them, Kevin Harvick gets out of line knowing he has car trouble, but the field gets stacked up, and both Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson make contact and go sliding.
Race over, right?
NO! NASCAR threw the yellow but did so, according to them, before the leader came to the line to take the green flag. So, in their eyes, that was not an attempt to end the race. Yet, it seemed the lights were green to start the race, and the front row had already accelerated out of the restart zone. So, where’s the logic here?
As if that wasn’t enough, even the front row felt that it should’ve ended. But then things got worse.
When they tried again to do the restart, same thing happened. Only difference was Harvick went high and collected Trevor Bayne, who then went sideways, and…yep, the “Big One” hits. The front row is littered with cars, one of them on fire, and this time the field went back under yellow. NASCAR then goes to video to determine finishing positions, and it makes for big implications when it comes to the Chase.
In the end, Logano was declared the winner, while at the same time the big talk was Harvick. Many were saying he got out of the way, but because he was the one who made the contact to cause the wreck, he should be at fault and be penalized.
Legitimate issue, and NASCAR took a lot of time to determine the finishing order, the Chase field for the next round, and if anything unusual came of the incident.
Now let’s be clear, NASCAR has said since the 2013 season that “Any attempt to manipulate the outcome of the race would be considered a violation.” This was in reference to the incident at Richmond where one team manipulated the end result to get one driver into the title hunt. Now if that is the case, Harvick could be in position to be penalized, and that means he could lose points, and in essence lose his current spot in the Eliminator Round.
However, Mike Helton, President of NASCAR, told the media that at this time, there is no evidence to support that idea. In his eyes, the issue has been closed, however if something comes up later in the week based on inspection and any other information they come across, that could change.
To put it in a metaphor, NASCAR shut the door, however they did not lock it. So the opportunity is there.
Now, I myself have reviewed the video numerous times, and I am not disputing the fact that Logano was in front when the final yellow came out. It was clear at the moment the lights came on, his Ford was the one in the lead position. NASCAR doesn’t use timing loops on the final lap to determine finishing order, it is strictly video. So that is indisputable. However, the incident with Harvick, it’s hard to tell. I think he was trying to get out of the way, but at the same time the first “attempt” saw him immediately get out of line to give the other drivers room to get by him. On the second, he was getting freight-trained, and he got right into Bayne.
Many are saying he caused the accident on purpose, knowing if the race ended with him in that position, he would be in the next round. I am not saying that, but what I am saying is that for NASCAR, it will be hard to prove.
I do not agree with them calling off the restart, and doing it again, when the field was clearly in the restart zone and accelerated. All that did was get drivers angry, and we all knew what was coming afterward…chaos. That is how the Contender Round came to an end, and it is the exact reason why this track should not be the one to finish this round of the Chase. Make it the first, or second, race in the round, and end it where the drivers have some control.
But, as I have said time and time again, the way this race ended, it was…typical Talladega.
RESULTS: 1-Logano 2-Earnhardt Jr. 3-Gordon 4-Keselowski 5-Edwards 6-Menard 7-Truex Jr. 8-Bowyer 9-Stenhouse Jr. 10-Kurt Busch
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Kyle Busch 12-Newman 15-Harvick 18-Johnson 26-Kenseth 37-Hamlin
CAUTIONS: 3 for 18 laps. Lap 133-139 (Fluid On Track From #51); 185-194 (Fluid On Track From #1); 196-196 (No. 11, 95, 14, 20, 38, 4, 10, 3, 9, 6, 7 Accident-FS).
LEAD CHANGES: 30 among 18 drivers. J. Gordon 1-7; D. Earnhardt Jr. 8-10; D. Hamlin 11-14; D. Earnhardt Jr. 15; D. Hamlin 16; D. Earnhardt Jr. 17; J. Gordon 18; D. Earnhardt Jr. 19-39; M. Waltrip 40-41; J. Johnson 42-63; D. Earnhardt Jr. 64-79; M. Waltrip 80; D. Ragan 81; P. Menard 82; J. Logano 83-94; C. Bowyer 95-96; K. Harvick 97-100; K. Kahne 101-118; R. Stenhouse Jr. 119-120; G. Biffle 121; J. Johnson 122-133; R. Newman 134; Kurt Busch 135; D. Gilliland 136; M. Kenseth 137-139; Kyle Busch 140-150; D. Earnhardt Jr. 151-169; P. Menard 170; D. Gilliland 171; G. Biffle 172-188; J. Logano 189-196.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs. 6 Mins, 58 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 167.311 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: Under Caution
CHASE GRID (Top-8 all have 4000 points): Logano, Edwards, Gordon, Kurt Busch, Keselowski, Truex Jr, Harvick, Kyle Busch; 9. Hamlin, -1791; 10. Newman, -1806; 11. Kenseth, -1809; 12. Earnhardt Jr, -1819; 13. Johnson, -1839; 14. McMurray, -1841; 15. Menard, -1852; 16. Bowyer, -1877.