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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: NASCAR’s Mid-Race Rules Swap and Red-Hot Logano

ONE: Joey Logano Sweeps the Contender Round

Heading into the Chase, it was clear only one driver stood a real chance at stealing a title away from red-hot Joe Gibbs Racing: Joey Logano. The Team Penske driver won two of the final five races during the regular season and slotted in fourth when the Chase Grid was set following Richmond.

Finishes of sixth, third, and 10th easily put him through the first round, but it was this stretch of three races where Logano really made his competition fear him — or hate him, in some cases. A perfect sweep kept every other Chaser from making an automatic entrance into the third round, including who was perhaps Logano’s greatest title threat and new enemy, Matt Kenseth.

During this round, Logano led 289 laps and with his three wins, now has an average finish of 3.67 during the Chase. If Logano can match his spring-time finishes at the three tracks in the next round of third, fourth and eighth, he’ll be averaging a 4.1 finish heading into Homestead.

The other seven contenders have to be shaking in their fireproof boots.

TWO: Where Did the Party Go?

Talladega was supposed to be the big wild card in the Chase, with crashes taking out not only cars capable of winning the race, but Chase contenders too. Yet other than the final two restarts, there were no such crashes. Not even a single-car spin. The fact is, if the race didn’t end with the drama it did, likely we’d be hearing complaints about the lack of crashes.

You can’t complain with the show, however. With no cars going airborne or drivers getting injured, the weekend was a success not only from a safety standpoint, but there was still plenty of action and Chase drama.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. couldn’t seem to slow down without wheel hopping, and a pit penalty sent the No. 88 to the back of the pack. He was able to recover all but one of the spots, and even that wasn’t good enough to move him through.

Martin Truex Jr. started last, lost the draft and went a lap down early, only to make it back on the first caution and eventually finished seventh.

Denny Hamlin’s roof hatch, a safety feature that isn’t run except at the plate tracks, came unlatched midway through the race. Multiple pit stops were needed to tape it in place and Hamlin went laps down. He dropped from second in points to out of the Chase, much like his teammate Kyle Busch did in this race last season.

THREE: NASCAR Redefines the Rules — Mid-Race

Let me ask you this: how many things can be changed once a race has started? Running order. Tires. Wedge. Jimmie Johnson’s pit crew.

Official race rules?

After Talladega, you can officially add that to the list. In one of the most bizarre decisions NASCAR has made — and they’ve made some interesting ones before — the sanctioning body waved off a restart “attempt” with two laps to go, freezing the field after Johnson and Kyle Larson spun while heading to the green flag. Not a big deal normally; just line ‘em back up and start over.

Except when there’s only one attempt at a green-white-checkered scheduled. In that case, NASCAR had to make a split-second decision as to whether or not the race truly went green, since the spin happened before the leader hit the stripe. They decided the race in fact hadn’t restarted and had drivers line up for a second attempt at overtime.

BEDGOOD: There Were Two “Attempts” at a GWC

NASCAR got away with a technicality. Since the leader, Logano, hadn’t actually resumed the race, nixing the restart was deemed acceptable. After all, fans paid to see the race end under green, correct?

The bigger issue here is whether a race should end under a green flag no matter what. At most tracks this isn’t an issue, but restrictor-plate racing lends itself to multi-car wrecks nearly every time a GWC is attempted. In the interest of safety, NASCAR made the decision to limit the weekend to one attempt. That isn’t what angered fans so much as the fact that the rule was seemingly disregarded.

NASCAR wanted fans, following a race with no wrecks, a chance for some fireworks at the finish. And boy, were they rewarded.

FOUR: Will the Eliminator Eight Field Even be the Same After Today?

 Let me set the stakes for you. NASCAR gifted drivers and fans with a second attempt at ending the race under green, if you will. The final two laps would determine who would and wouldn’t make the final eight spots in the Chase. Only Logano was safe. Earnhardt, in second place, had the car to beat and needed to win to move on.

Kevin Harvick was 10th, barely holding onto a transfer spot. The downside? His engine was on life support. Before the first GWC, Harvick stated that he couldn’t go any faster than pace car speed and moved out of the way when the race went green.

On the second attempt, Harvick waited until after Trevor Bayne passed him before attempting to jettison out of line. What happened next only Harvick knows for certain. Did he spin Bayne intentionally? Did he mistime a block on Kenseth and Bayne ended up being collateral damage? Too tough to call. What is certain is a multi-car wreck ended the race before it even really had a chance to begin again.

Radio traffic before the restart seems to indicate that crew chief Rodney Childers wouldn’t mind a caution ending the race early. Was it done intentionally?

NASCAR saw no wrongdoing on Sunday, with Mike Helton saying that “[W]e haven’t seen anything — so far — on the restart that is suspect. We believe that we have done everything procedurally correct so far and the [No.] 4 did nothing wrong.”

But if something “crawls out of the woodwork,” as Helton later said, in relation to the issue NASCAR would be forced to penalize the No. 4 heavily. Surely any points penalty would knock Harvick back behind the cut line, meaning Ryan Newman would make the Eliminator round.

NASCAR has done it before, knocking the No. 56 out of the 2013 Chase following the Clint Bowyer spin at Richmond, and they’ll do it again if they have to.

FIVE: Can Gordon Actually Get That Fifth Title?

Speaking of Newman, it looks as though one of this year’s final eight is taking a page out of his Chase playbook of super consistency.

Yes, Jeff Gordon, of four top fives and 17 top 10s, is still in the Chase despite not having won a race since Dover in the fall of last year. Gordon, who is going for his elusive fifth title, is only three races away from going into the final race of his career as a championship contender.

Gordon’s best track, Martinsville, is this week, so expect the future Hall of Famer to be stout. But if a victory eludes him, he can still make it to Homestead on consistency, not unlike how Newman did so last season.

Newman had finished of third, 15th and 11th last season during this three-race stretch, and Gordon’s finishes at the spring races at those tracks were ninth, seventh and ninth. Barring disaster and even a win, Gordon should make the final four based on his consistency. Peaking at the right time is an art, and Gordon’s got it down this season.

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Bill B

I don’t think NASCAR will change anything with the finish of Sunday’s race. They already look like buffoons to everyone that doesn’t have a “property of NASCAR” tattoo on their ass so my guess is they just want to sweep this under the rug and move on, hoping everyone forgets about it by the time Martinsville starts.

That ridiculous ending will definitely give them something to think about once the season ends. I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to tighten up the rules for next year but, as we’ve seen more than not, it won’t matter because the law of unintended consequences always seems to catch up with them. If there were ever a sport where the KISS principle applies, it’s auto racing but instead we just get more layers of unenforceable, impossible to apply rules that create more gray areas and make the governing body look like morons.

Bill B

Well, that didn’t take long. As predicted no penalties. Surprise, surprise.

As I said,,,, let’s just sweep this under the rug,,,, to hell with the integrity of the sport,,,, besides everyone pretty much knows this is entertainment and not a sport at all.

kb

I just woke up at the very least expecting SOMETHING for SHR. What a bunch of sheetz. I knew they would not pinch Harvick, he always gets a pass. Always. Why am I surprised the satellite team of HMS gets nothing in the way of anything that would whiff of a penalty or a slap on the wrist. These idiots just DO NOT GET IT!

Bill B

kb, I think this has more to do with the chase than HMS. They don’t want anything to cast any doubt on the sanctity of their chase and if means the integrity of the sport suffers so that the chase looks more legitimate then the sport will just have to suffer.

kb

Yeah, I can see what you are saying, but these teams bring it on and then nothing. It is almost like they are daring Nascar to do something….and nothing happens. Like a parent keep saying “1 more time” and “1 more time” never comes.

In truth this all falls on Nascar…..

The Chase this year more so than last has opened Pandora’s Box that most knew would happen, Nascar seems shocked.

DoninAjax

“On the second attempt, Harvick waited until after Trevor Bayne passed him before attempting to jettison out of line.

Wrong. If Bayne had passed him Harvick wouldn’t have been able to hit him. He was almost past when Harvick turned into him. Harvick almost waited too long.

Harvick drives for Hendrick, like his other six teammates. No penalty possible.

Earner

If Nascar wanted a Hendrick hug, then JR would have been declared the winner (or they would have held the yellow until he was) & while watching I fully suspected them of just that…For once they got it fair…I have no issue with 1 x GWC or that the first restart didn’t count ,actually in recent weeks with the issues I have not understood why they haven’t done more restarts(from false start) as this is how its done all the time at the grassroots level…I would have easily called that a false start & restarted again…But that would leave the ultra negative tin foil & black helicopter crowd with nothing to speculate about…Do I think Harv knew what he was doing-You Bet…Can it be proven-Probably not & if it could I’m pretty sure Nascar would have done or will do something , as I suspect they are not all that impressed with the tactics used… Rules may be clearer next year on this matter but other than Harv(which is not proven) No Harm & No Foul Best to All

Modified7

It does not surprise me. NASCAR continues to screw up this sport. NASCAR needs a house cleaning. They wonder why the grandstands are not full. Because Brian France and his cronies don’t know what they are doing.
#1 Get rid of the Chase. #2 Get rid of the Green, White, Checker. #3 Race only Manufacture’s cars (Not Nascar Version) Let Real Racing begin. Get rid of the “Lottery System”

Steve

Regarding Helton’s comment about “crawling out of the woodwork”, I was thinking more of when Nascar was going to announce that Logano failed post race and now Jr is back into the Chase. As of this email, there has been no announcement, but the way Nascar does whatever they way regardless of the rules, it wouldn’t shock me if it happened. And you know nothing would be done to Harvick. There is no way they would knock him out of the Chase.

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