It was hard to know who to be angry with following a bizarre conclusion to Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Fans directed their anger – and a few dozen cans of beer -- at winner Joey Logano, after Logano denied Talladega favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr. an opportunity to advance to the Eliminator Round of the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup by claiming the checkered flag.
A number of drivers expressed unhappiness with colleague Kevin Harvick, who triggered a race-ending, multi-car crash with a questionable lane change that sent Trevor Bayne spinning.
Others were angry with NASCAR, after the sanctioning body made a late-race decision to wave off an abortive green-white-checkered flag restart and realign the cars for another try.
The wreck-plagued finale came with Logano running mere inches in front of Earnhardt when the caution flag flew for the final time, allowing the Team Penske driver to win his third consecutive Chase victory. It also enabled Harvick to advance in the Chase, despite a balky race car that would almost certainly have doomed him to elimination, had the race run to its planned conclusion. The Budweiser/Jimmy Kohn’s Chevrolet driver ensured that would not happen however, pin-balling off the side of Bayne’s Ford and triggering a multi-car melee that ended the race, with Harvick still in position to advance.
|Logano won again at Talladega|
Bayne was uncharacteristically outspoken after the crash, saying, “That's a crappy way for Harvick to have to get in the Chase; to wreck somebody -- what I believe to be on purpose (but) maybe it wasn't. The restart before that, he had engine problems and got out of the way. I think he realized if the caution came out, he was going to be fine. So I go by and get hooked in the left-rear. Harvick is a really good driver. I think he knows the limits of his car and where it's at, so that's why I think it was intentional."
Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth – both of whom failed to make the cut to the Eliminator Round – also emptied both barrels on Harvick afterward, accusing him of intention wrecking Bayne, and others.
“I knew (Harvick) could only run 30-40 miles an hour,” said Hamlin after scrambling free of his flaming Fed Ex Toyota. He knew he wasn’t going to (advance) unless a wreck happened. I don’t know if he called for it, but everyone’s trying to do everything they can.”
|Hamlin emerged angry after a fiery finish|
“The 4 knew he was blew up, so he said he was going to stay in his lane,” said an angry Kenseth afterward. “So (Bayne) then went up and outside, and (Harvick) clipped him and caused a wreck because he knew he’d make the Chase that way.
“I got wrecked two weeks in a row by people doing what they had to do to make the Chase. Call it what you want.”
Harvick, expectedly, saw it differently.
“It wasn’t running really well on the restarts,” he explained. “Then at the end, I was trying to get out of the way. I don’t know if I clipped (Bayne) or if he came across as I was coming up. It was one of those days where everything went well until the very end, until the bottom fell out on those last couple of restarts when it cooled off. It has a broken exhaust pipe or something.”
NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton said that after reviewing the incident, he saw no reason to penalize Harvick. That’s not surprising, in the absence of any NASCAR rule outlawing crashes; whether intentional or not.
“Procedurally, we don’t see anything that is of suspect so far,” Helton said. “The only thing I mean about ‘so far’ is I’ve been around long enough to know that something could crawl out of the woodwork in the next 24 hours. We believe we did everything procedurally correct and the 4 car did nothing wrong.”
|Harvick: Did he, or didn't he?|
Ironically, Earnhardt’s championship bid was thwarted – in large part – by a revised restart rule that he had championed; an irony not lost on NASCAR’s perennial Most Popular Driver.
“Everybody is going to ask me a hundred times how I feel about the green-white-checkered rule now,” Earnhardt said. “I feel good about it. It was a good safe call. The race ended per the rules, and I'm totally OK with that. (NASCAR) decided officially who won the race, and Joey won it. He has had an awesome round. Unbelievable, really. We did everything we could today. Almost perfect, tried really hard.
“I felt like, per the rule book, it sorted out and I finished second,” Earnhardt said. “I’m OK with that. We could argue they could have waited another hundred feet to throw the caution, but they didn't have to. They threw it when they needed to and I'm fine with that.”
Intensity? We’ve got that.
Controversy? In abundance.
And with four races still remaining until a champion is crowned at Homestead Miami Speedway, there is no indication that things will calm down, anytime soon.