by Julian Spivey
My head hurts.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race from Talladega Superspeedway ended about seven hours ago as I sit down to write this and it’s been on my mind nearly every minute since its controversial ending.
It was, without a doubt, the worst ending to a NASCAR race that I have ever seen for multiple controversial reasons and continues to prove to me that a once great sport has fallen far in the last few seasons.
And, we knew this was going to happen all along.
The race on Sunday afternoon from Talladega, the scariest track in probably all of motorsports and definitely NASCAR, was actually really fun and entertaining for the majority of the afternoon. The racing was excellent in the tight two-to-three lane draft and as the race entered its final laps there had only been one caution the entire race and it was for an expired engine. The track known for “The Big One” – a wreck that frequently takes out 10 or more cars in one fell swoop – was being tamed by the best drivers in the world.
And then everything that could possibly go wrong did so …
With about five laps remaining in the race Jamie McMurray’s engine let go to bring out the second caution of the race. This caution being so close in proximity to the finish meant that the race would finish under green-white-checkered (GWC) conditions – a two lap shootout to the finish.
NASCAR had instituted a new rule just days before the Talladega race saying that there would only be one attempt at a GWC finish at the superspeedway. The governing body was trying to limit the carnage that could come with multiple chances at a finish bringing multiple chances for big wrecks and truthfully they were a little gun shy after the last restrictor plate race of the season at Daytona International Speedway finished with this.
So, race leaders Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. lined up side-by-side for the one shot at a restart and as they entered the restart zone the cars bunched up behind them and Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson both got spun out relatively close to the front of the pack.
It seemed the race would be over before it really even got restarted due to there only being one GWC and Logano would be declared the winner as he was slightly ahead of Earnhardt Jr. at the moment of the caution. Except, NASCAR quickly deemed there was no start, despite the green flag flying and green lights turned on, because the leaders hadn’t crossed the start/finish line. This was unprecedented and never before seen.
NASCAR basically was doing a second GWC restart anyway and many assumed immediately it’s because they wanted to give Earnhardt Jr. a valid shot at winning the race, because it would be his only way of clinching a spot into the third round of the playoffs.
Interestingly enough while this was all going down the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet of Kevin Harvick was having engine problems and simply would not go upon the start. Knowing this Harvick had taken his car to the outside of the pack on the waived off restart to stay out of trouble.
Logano, Earnhardt Jr. and the drivers behind them would get one more shot at racing to victory. Harvick got back into the pack and knew he would need an accident immediately following the green flag flying to have any shot at clinching a spot into the playoffs’ third round because his car simply would not go otherwise.
The green flag flew and almost as soon as it did Trevor Bayne tried to get around the stumbling No. 4 car of Harvick’s to make ground on the competitors as drivers are allowed to do when the car ahead of them does not get going. Harvick pounced on the chance to clinch his ticket to the next round, turned his car right into Bayne’s quarter panel and spun the No. 6 car out in front of a pack that caused about a dozen car wreck and immediately ended the race.
Logano was just inches ahead of Earnhardt Jr. when the caution came out and was declared the winner for real this time. It was his third straight victory as he swept the entire second round of the playoffs.
NASCAR had enough controversy brewing already with the terrible decision to only have one GWC opportunity at Talladega and then essentially doing it twice anyway, but now they had something else on their hands.
NASCAR was busy trying to determine the finishing order of the chaotic finish to the race, but fans, media and fellow drivers were concerned about something more heinous than only having one opportunity at a GWC. Harvick had deliberately caused a wreck to secure his place in the next segment.
Trevor Bayne: “That’s a crappy way for Harvick to have to get in the Chase is to wreck somebody – what I believe to be on purpose – maybe it wasn’t. The restart before that he had engine problems and got out of the way. I think be realized if the caution came out he was gonna 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.”
David Gilliland: “Wow. That was the champ. Not a very smart move. What a joke. Not happy.”
Denny Hamlin: “What a joke we have a car with no motor wreck the field to end the race. Complete crap. Sorry to anyone who spent $ coming to this circus.”
Matt Kenseth: “The 4 knew he was blowing up. The 6 then went outside, and he [Harvick] clipped him and caused a wreck because he knew he’d make the Chase that way.”
Motorsport.com’s Nick DeGroot: “I don’t like what I saw from the #4 when they show the head-on shot of the accident. But that’s far from the only issue with that finish…”
USA Today’s Jeff Gluck: “This looks bad [referencing Harvick’s in-car camera]. I would like to hear from Harvick. Not sure if anyone got him after the race.”
SB Nation’s Matt Weaver: “Just saw the replay. Hot take: I have mad respect for Harvick but that stinks of desperation. He had an ailing car and no margin for error.”
Harvick denied intentionally starting the wreck in interviews with both ESPN and Fox Sports directly following the race. He said he was merely trying to block the competition and accidentally got into Bayne. What else is he supposed to say, though? An admission of guilt would likely force NASCAR’s hand to punish him.
Shortly after the race, NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton said that Harvick had done nothing wrong in the late race accident. He’s apparently both blind and brain dead.
What Harvick did on Sunday afternoon was blatant cheating. It’s no different than Clint Bowyer intentionally spinning his car out at Richmond in 2013 in the final race before the playoffs to help his then Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. make the playoffs.
Weaver says it “stinks of desperation” and he’s absolutely right. It’s a cheap, dirty move by a competitor knowing he had no other chance at continuing his title hunt without putting other drivers frankly in danger. This is the defending champion of the series and his move today was not becoming of a true champion. Harvick not only tainted his legacy, but spit on the credibility of a sport that’s rapidly losing its credibility.
Some have compared Harvick’s move to Ryan Newman’s intentionally wrecking of Kyle Larson last season at Phoenix to make the championship race at Homestead-Miami and the reaction not being the same. I bring this up only because I also thought Newman’s move was dirty last season and I don’t want anybody accusing me of picking and choosing what to get angry about.
NASCAR is blind to Harvick’s intentional wrecking of others, but multiple drivers, multiple media members and the majority of fans know what they saw was true on Sunday – Harvick intentionally manufactured the final results of the race. This should go against NASCAR’s 100 percent rule that states a driver should give his all at all times during the race. The sport should have immediately investigated the incident, taken all accounts into thought and disqualified Harvick to last place on the lead lap for his dirty decision.
Harvick’s decision cost at least one driver a shot at reaching the next segment of the playoffs as he would’ve finished further back in the field giving Ryan Newman the final spot in the next round. He also potentially cost Earnhardt Jr. a clinching win into the next segment as Earnhardt likely had at least a 50/50 chance at winning had the race continued further than it did.
There are times when the sport of NASCAR can’t get anything right. They change the rules of the sport willy-nilly seemingly a few times every season, almost always for the worse.
NASCAR screwed up three times in the span of just a few minutes on Sunday afternoon. They screwed up once by making a relatively late decision to only have one GWC at Talladega. They screwed up twice by effectively ignoring their own new rule and basically having a second GWC anyway. They screwed up a third time by letting Harvick get away by essentially cheating to secure his spot in the third round of the playoffs and completely screwing up what could have been a riveting finish and the chances of other drivers to reach the third round of the playoffs.
In a postrace interview Kenseth absolutely obliterated the new NASCAR playoff system by calling it a “silly system” that “makes us have to play games instead of race.” He also said NASCAR has lost complete control of the sport.
He’s right. NASCAR’s constant rules changing and inconsistency in calling the races by the rules, along with letting some of its drivers run roughshod over the sport has completely turned the entire sport into silliness. NASCAR can’t be taken seriously anymore and that’s a damn shame. I love this sport and hate to see it constantly shooting itself in the foot. Pretty soon though it’ll go from shooting itself in the foot to killing itself altogether.