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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Who Was Out of Line at Talladega?

NASCAR opted not to penalize Kevin Harvick for causing a late-race crash that caused the race at Talladega to end under caution, ensuring Harvick a spot in the Eliminator Round. Was Harvick’s move legit, and where is the line in this new Chase era?

Mark Howell, Senior Writer: According to NASCAR, Harvick did nothing wrong. According to fans of anyone other than Harvick, his slide-job into Trevor Bayne was merely strategy awaiting execution. I think Harvick’s last-lap behavior should not be all that shocking given the nature of what Brian France and Co. hath wrought: weekly resetting of points, elimination of teams after every third race, using wins for automatic berths in the next round and such. We saw similar behavior at Phoenix last year when Ryan Newman shoved Kyle Larson into the wall to pick up one position and make the final round at Homestead. If NASCAR wants the championship to be all winning, warring and whining, then the sanctioning body should be careful of what it wishes for. The line seems to be that there is no line.

Mike Neff, Short Track Coordinator: This just in: there is no rule in NASCAR that says you can’t wreck someone. You can’t wreck someone on pit lane, you can’t wreck someone in the garage, but you can wreck them on the track all day long. Was it sporting? Was it fair? Nope. Did it get him into the next round? Absolutely. We’ve learned that winning isn’t the only thing in this form of the Chase. There has been as much point racing as there ever was. Harvick played the game to a T and is still alive. Will he make it out of Martinsville in one piece? Don’t bet on it.

Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: I’d say this is a perfect example of what NASCAR has wrought. With five races left to run under the old points system Harvick might have done the sportsman like thing and gotten out of the way, but not with elimination from title contention on the line. Harvick used a great many words to say not a whole lot of anything discussing the incident. I guess the takeaway is he’s not a quitter. A loser maybe, but not a quitter. He offered only a lukewarm admission he was somehow involved. Sharing the guilt with NASCAR is NBC. Being eliminated from the Chase means going forward no matter how well you run, even if you’re leading a race, a driver is going to be all but invisible to the TV audience. Sponsorship dollars are the mothers milk of the sport, and your sponsors aren’t going to be happy if their logos aren’t shown clear and in focus on TV as a company uses a special paint scheme to celebrate 100 days without a food-borne illness in their chain of family restaurants. Expect more of the same now that NASCAR didn’t even issue Harvick a slap on the wrist for his treachery.

Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: Harvick’s action and NASCAR’s inaction was one that will be detrimental to stock car racing. While Dale Earnhardt Jr. did not win Sunday’s race as the result of either aborted restart, he would have made the field of eight had NASCAR rightly penalized Harvick. There is in-car video, a camera on the frontstretch, and audio traffic between driver, crew chief, and spotter – as well as other teams discussing what is likely to happen – and a field full of wrecked cars and a nation (49 states and 22 countries) of livid fans, you have effectively de-legitimized the race, your championship and the sport. This is on the same level as the 2008 tire debacle at Indianapolis, except it is worse because the sanctioning body has elected to support the actions of a polarizing driver, rather than penalize him as precedent has been set. He deliberately manipulated the finish and has been arrogant in his comments surrounding the situation thereafter.

NASCAR appeared to wait a very long time to throw the final caution Sunday at Talladega, especially in comparison to the one thrown just before. Did it wait too long?

McLaughlin: In this instance NASCAR’s hand was forced. The No. 11 car was on fire briefly and there was a driver with a torn ACL inside with his escape hatch taped and riveted shut.

Pugliese: NASCAR waited too long to throw the red flag after Jamie McMurray blew his engine and oiled the track down. That put them in the position of having to deal with one green-white-checkered finish and the nonsense that followed.

Phil Allaway, Senior Editor: I’m not shocked that NASCAR waited so long to throw the yellow; NASCAR didn’t want the race to end under caution and wanted Earnhardt, Joey Logano and the others to race it out for the win. Unfortunately, it became clear that the track was no longer raceable.

Jerry Jordan, Contributor: The only reason NASCAR even threw the caution was because Denny Hamlin‘s car was on fire. The rest of the drivers might have been able to get to a safe spot on the track but Hamlin was a different situation. If NASCAR was in the business of rigging races, as some ignorant fans believe, it would have waited until the split second Earnhardt passed Logano to do so.

NASCAR announced the 2016 schedule Monday, and along with it, that it had reached five-year agreements with the tracks to keep their race dates, which precludes the addition of any new tracks to the schedule before 2021. Does the deal make sense for the sport?

Pugliese: No. It’s stupid. But whatever, at least not that many people are watching to be offended. Ratings are down 10-20% for every Chase race so far (save for a 10% bump at Kansas), and ignoring a driver manipulating the outcome of a finish at Talladega to suit his title hopes by taking out a third of the field isn’t going to draw more in. When you have Formula 1 and soccer taking precedence on one of the big four networks, and a track that is so synonymous with a sport there’s a movie named after it is relegated to the sports-tier package with your cable subscriber, you are officially doing everything in your power to ruin your sport. Why abandon that strategy?

Allaway: The five-year deals more or less stifle any kind of movement on the schedule. No one that isn’t already there can get in. If a race gets dropped in the next five years, it’s either getting shifted (most likely) or outright dropped, no replacing.  It hurts the Xfinity Series more than Sprint Cup, though.

Jordan: I think this is a presumptuous statement to assume there could be no new racetracks added to the schedule before 2021 because NASCAR and the tracks likely have performance guarantees and sales quotas. Additionally, if Bruton Smith – or ISC, for that matter – wanted to add a track, they could always manipulate the dates at their other venues to do so. It’s a contract and contracts are broken all the time.

Howell: The five-year proviso looks like another example of NASCAR’s “good ol’ boy” reputation. Any friend of the sport gets friendly treatment. One thing the five-year plan does is it enables tracks to establish longer-term agreements with event sponsors, regional service providers like hotels and hospitality, and other forms of support. These kinds of deals are easier to make when you have a guaranteed race date for the next half-decade. It’s good to be the king, or at least the king’s friend who happens to have a racetrack with a Sprint Cup date.

After winning all three races in the second round of the Chase, Logano is a heavy title favorite. Who, if anyone, can step up and compete with the No. 22 in the final four races?

Howell: The stage is now set for perhaps the greatest swan song in sports history. Jeff Gordon has used consistency and experience to place himself in the Eliminator Round. With the series heading to Martinsville – one of Gordon’s best tracks – he’s in a good place to score his first win of the season and punch his ticket into the final showdown at Homestead. One win could very well lead to his fifth Sprint Cup title. Not that Gordon is the only challenger Logano has to face for the next month; the brothers Busch also pose a serious threat. They’ve missed a combined 14 races this year and are still in the hunt. Logano should be very concerned about his future.

Neff: You would think Harvick was in position for that but, after Talladega, he will be hard pressed to dominate Phoenix like he has recently. Most likely one of many drivers destroyed last weekend will take him out. Kurt Busch has won at all four of the tracks left on the schedule and he’s been solid for much of the year. Kyle Busch has been my pick since they announced this rules package and I’m sticking with it. Logano might be a heavy favorite, but he’s made some enemies along the way this Chase. He very well might not make it out of this round.

McLaughlin: When you read a prospectus for an investment opportunity (other than buy-one-get-one-free six-packs) it always says in the fine print, “Past performance does not guarantee future results.” Obviously Logano is hotter than Mobile on the Fourth of July right now, but going into the Exterminator Round or whatever it’s called (and how long will it be before we have title sponsors for each round?) his three consecutive wins don’t amount to a cup of warm mule spit. All it takes for any of the eligible drivers is leaking gasket or seal, gremlins in the ECU, or part of the rotating assembly that wasn’t properly heat-treated and his chances are over. Even a couple lugnuts left loose on a pit stop late in a race could end the party for a driver and team. I guess that’s supposed to be exciting, but is it sporting? Can we add a fan popularity vote that gets one or two drivers voted off the island back in the game and gives another first choice of pit stall no matter where he qualifies? I look at my crystal ball right now and it says, “Answer cloudy. Try again later.”

Pugliese: With the tracks that are coming up, Gordon and Kurt Busch will be his biggest threats – though I think the No. 22’s only real threat right now is its preparation and execution. With that said, it might just come down to Harvick winning again at Homestead. If that happens, the republic is lost, and you will see a ripple effect for years to come.

Jordan: Well, it’s easier to tell you who won’t step up to win the title, and that’s Logano. It isn’t because Logano lacks talent but it is doubtful Matt Kenseth makes it through this weekend without sending Logano into the wall, a tire barrier, another car, the crossover gate, 75 feet up a light pole or into the side of a hauler at Martinsville Speedway. In fact, if Kenseth could figure out a way to send Logano’s car flying into the press box, he’d probably do it. As for a driver, who can contend for the championship, it has to be Kurt Busch. That team has it together. A championship would be the icing on the cake for Busch, who began the year not knowing if he would ever sit behind the steering wheel of a stock car again.

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kb

There goes Jerry insulting people again…and believe me…Oh never mind, I will take the high road. I do believe in my heart of hearts NASCAR did everything in its power to get Junior the win. Does anybody really think it was in NASCARS best interest to have Logano win with the certifiable Junior Nation if full attendance? Ah nooo. They threw the flag because Hamlin’s car was on fire but there was more carnage than the fire. Pffft. And don’t you think for a minute they looked, looked, and look for anything to give it to Dega’s favorite son’s…son????????

kb

Another Yawn for Big Jerry…seems he wants the racing as “please may I”. Matty boy was a unsuccessful blocker two weeks in a row. First with Newman, then with Logano. Blocking is fine, but expect something if you take it too far, or don’t try and create a pity party when you fail. Both Newman and Logano held their line, the nerve! Matty was the architect of his own demise. Why is racing not racing anymore? Bunch of damn babies.

Bill B

I love the unanimous consensus in answering that first question. While Harvick has been playing dumb, his fans have been playing blind, NASCAR looks the other way and feebly tries to justify it and most of the media doesn’t have the balls to call a spade a spade, you all used your own eyes and rationality to state the obvious truth, YES HARVICK DID INTENTIONALLY WRECK THE FIELD FOR HIS OWN SELFISH BENEFIT. Anyone who says differently is either a liar or and idiot.

GinaV24

I was interested in this column right up to the point where Jerry Jordan (that 2 time NMPA winner) once again showed his ignorance by insulting the fans who may not agree with him. NASCAR may not rig the races but it sure as heck does manipulate them. Oh yes, all of us “ignorant” fans. Is that how he won those awards with that kind of commentary?

Yes, Harvick wrecked Bayne to stay in the chase and since NASCAR gave him a pass, well, obviously that behavior will more than likely be mimicked by others going forward. Yes there is no rule that says you can’t wreck someone on the track. I’m hoping that someone else who has nothing to lose takes the “law” so to speak into their own hands and does a little payback to Happy.

Changing the schedule? Nah why would NASCAR do that? It would be nice if they looked at the weather pattern and the schedule and made a better try and organizing the dates, but whatever. They’ve already made the first 26 races into a seeding event for the last 10 and apparently they like the way it is. Talladega was the first track I’d seen in a while that looked like the stands were reasonably full and gee it got a 2.6 rating on NBCSN? Wow that’s awesome but still down quite a bit from last year’s race that was on ESPN.

Tim S.

Ditto, Gina. As soon as read his keyboard tourettes, I skipped right down here to the comments. Without even reading, I’m going to guess what he said about the schedule. “The agreement doesn’t mean nothing will change. NASCAR can still change it if they wanted to, despite what all those stupid dissenters say.” How close was I?

GinaV24

LOL, right on the nose, Tim S. In the world according to J Jordan, it is PRESUMPTUOUS to say no new tracks could be added.

Heck, NASCAR does whatever they want, whenever they want, whether it is to the detriment of stock car racing or not.

salb

Nascar has created this win at all costs or be elimated format. Is anyone truly surprised that Matt blocked for all he was worth, Logano held his ground, that Harvick did what he had to survive the gladiator like format? This is what Daytona Ivory Tower wanted, and they now have to live with the consequences. I can’t blame drivers for trying to survive what Brian created.

GinaV24

salb, yes, it is a case of reaping what they’ve sowed on a lot of levels.

Bill B

salb,
I can blame drivers for throwing sportsmanship out the window. There was an old saying “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game”. I realize it’s an antiquated concept in 2015 where all that really matters is $$$$, but some people still feel that way and if you do then you should be fine with calling anyone out that crosses that line. Especially when it’s blatant. Instead we get people making excuses.

Biff Baynehouse

Amen SalB!

brokenarrow

While the rest of you are piling on Jerry Jordan, Pugliese gets my vote as the most “out to lunch” of the contributors here. How does penalizing Harvick get Junior into this round of the Chase, Vito? Newman was the next driver in points to get in if Harvick had been booted.

As for the McMurray blown engine, look at the race stats: Caution came out on lap 185. There was no way a red flag would have prevented a G-W-C.

Time for a reality check. Yet this site continues to foster fantasy.

Biff Baynehouse

#4 non-penalty:
Mark H; The sanctioning body does not drive the #4 car, Har-ick does! While Nascar officials are partially at fault for the format & not enforcing & penalizing CLEAR rules departures, that in itself is wholly unrelated topic. Har-ick CLEARLY manipulated the outcome of that race, PERIOD! He disgraced himself & selfishly ruined that race for millions of people & the sanction body itself, not just other competitors! As the #4’s in car video CLEARLY shows & as team radio transitions CLEARLY state (words to the effect of) “we need a wreck” & “tell #6 to hit me”, CLEARLY, DENIAL IS IMPLAUSIBLE!
Mike N; Rules fractured & easily applicable (since the sectioning body is known to use liberal amounts of digression) (ie: aborting GWC attempts). Race Manipulation rule, Actions detrimental rule.
Matt M; The take away I got, & the take away anyone with one good ear & a soul should get from Har-ick’s explanation is that “I don’t quit” clearly translates into “I MANIPULATE RACES!”
Vito P; Amen Brother! Here is a man with a soul & heart for the betterment of the sport! Take notes people! Rather interesting that of all the thousands of hours video generated from the race, the conclusive & definitive #4 in-car camera footage is conveniently absent? Mere coincidence that the more telling & damning evidence about all this has disappeared. What more clear indication of a guilt conscious do you/we need than Nascar eating the evidence of this “crime”? No doubt this in car footage, that clearly shows #4 lining up the #6 for the hook job (NOT a “slide job” Mark) as he is looking out his mirror, then out his side window, then out his windshield before he jerks the wheel right, then adjusts to miss the spinner so as not to become involved in his own mess. Plus regular venue footage CLEARLY show #4 moves up a full lane, hits #6 & continues to drive right thru him. This guy, while absent a soul & conscious, is the World’s Champion stockcar driver! Yet he would have us believe, despite his intentional act being recorded multiple HD video cameras, that he did not see a 3500 pound, 800 horse power raging rhino pass him? DENIAL IS IMPLAUSIBLE!
Flag timing is discretional & always has been. This is somewhat a moot point & pales in comparison to the importance of intentionally wrecking 3 fellow chasers.
The whole 5 year lock in thing is a bit amusing, considering that the majority of the tracks are ISC [Nascar] owned. Since when is it newsworthy when a corporation contracts with itself? Not surprised to see no movement in the somewhat popular idea of moving WGI into the Chase (& removing Dega) …and no movement on putting some other road courses (COTA, Laguna Seca, Daytona infield, Indy infield) on the schedule. We get the rhetorical “We are looking at it”, after WGI this year, then nothing. So, I guess that means road course fans should check back no sooner that Fall 2020?
In closing: #22, #2, #19, #18 …in that order. Furthermore, still holding out hope that Ford will win an unprecedented 8 titles this year …3 driver’s & 3 owner’s championships, as well as 2 (Cup & NXS) manufacturer’s titles. I’ll allow it!

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