Cole Whitt chose not to pit in the final five laps at the season-ending NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, vaulting him from the back of the lead lap right into the lead.
Moments later, he was vaulted right into the center of controversy. Whitt, whose car was already slower than the drivers who made up the XFINITY Series Championship 4, could not come up to speed with older tires.
“I was just trying to give those guys as much room as possible,” Whitt told Frontstretch after the race. “I knew we weren’t going to be able to run with them. And then just spun the tires, couldn’t get going.”
Whitt’s problems caused a jam-up on the outside line, right where title contenders Justin Allgaier and Erik Jones were restarting. By the time the cars hit turn 1, both men’s chances for the title were over as the track position lost was too much to overcome. Both held in their anger in the post-race press conference but were clearly agitated over Whitt’s choice to stay out.
“It’s just kind of insane really,” Jones said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. He didn’t even attempt to go. He didn’t spin his tires. He just sat there and stacked the top line up. It was pretty disrespectful, really, and I strongly hope that somebody is able to talk to him about that. I’d really hate to see something like that happen again.
“Why would you stay out in that situation when guys are running for the championship?”
As for Whitt’s side of things, he said it was a decision on top of the pit box he had to respect.
“He just told us to stay out, just told us to go,” he said of crew chief Bryan Smith. “We didn’t have any tires, so we just stayed out and took it.”
Whitt’s crew appeared stunned in the XFINITY garage after the race; there was dead quiet among the crew as it wheeled the No. 14 back to the hauler. Whitt, for his part, appeared to be holding back tears as he quickly ran through a television interview and then walked off, alone, en route to home.
Don’t expect him to get a Christmas card from any of the title contenders anytime soon.
“I don’t necessarily blame Cole,” Allgaier said. “I mean, if he got told to stay out there and stay in the lane he was in, it’s not really any of his doing. [But] there’s nothing you can do in that situation. We didn’t get to race for it at the end, and that’s probably the hardest pill to swallow over tonight.”
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