Opinion: Kevin Harvick did what he had to do to survive and advance
Two things are screamingly obvious following Sunday’s utterly bizarre CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway:
Haters gonna hate.
Racers gonna race.
A quick recap of the closing laps: The field lined up for a green-white-checkered restart at the end of the race. Before the leaders even got to the restart zone, Harvick moved his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet well out of the racing line and up toward the outside wall because he had major engine problems and his car would not come up to speed.
But there was a crash before the leaders got to the start-finish line, so NASCAR threw the yellow and ordered another restart, saying that the first one didn’t count as an official restart attempt.
This time, Harvick did not pull out of line before the restart zone, instead opting to stay in line. Between the time most of the field crossed through the restart zone but before they hit the start-finish line, Trevor Bayne pulled out from behind Harvick and attempted to pass him on the outside, which is legal. Harvick’s car went up the banking, hit Bayne and triggered a big crash.
By then, though, NASCAR had thrown the green flag and ruled that the restart attempt was good. That gave Joey Logano the race victory. By virtue of his 15th-place finish, Harvick narrowly advanced to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Afterward, the Internet predictably blew up, with plenty of Twitter haters blasting Harvick for allegedly deliberately causing the Bayne crash. Not surprisingly, drivers who got knocked out of the Chase were mad, too.
"The 4 (Harvick) caused a huge wreck," said Denny Hamlin, one of the championship favorites who got knocked out at Talladega. "He was going to be out. But he knew he couldn’t go anywhere, so he just made a wreck."
"Call it what you want, but I just feel like they (NASCAR) lost total control of this whole thing. That’s not what racing’s all about," said Hamlin’s teammate, Matt Kenseth, also eliminated on Sunday.
Did Harvick cause the crash intentionally?
He said he didn’t. And despite what anyone says on social media, the only guy who knows for sure is Harvick himself.
To me, the most damning evidence that Harvick did it deliberately is the fact that he moved out of the racing line on the first restart — which wasn’t actually an official restart at all — but didn’t move high on the official restart until Bayne was alongside him.
Harvick’s move, whether intentional or not, probably robbed Dale Earnhardt Jr. of a victory and a slot in the Eliminator Round of the Chase. So I understand Junior Nation fans being royally pissed; I really do.
But here’s the truth, unpopular as it may be: Racers get paid millions of dollars a year to race. They get paid to win races and they get paid to win championships. That’s what they do.
As he proved last year, Harvick has the combination of driving skill, fast cars and a top-notch team to win races and win championships. He won the title last year and he has finished first or second in 14 races this season. The last two races this year are at places where Harvick won in last year’s Chase.
If Harvick had moved over on the last restart, the entire field would have blown by him and he would have been eliminated from the Chase. That would have cost his team a year of hard work and potentially millions of dollars in bonus money and sponsor incentives.
Doing what Harvick did didn’t guarantee he’d advance, but not doing it would have guaranteed his title hopes were over. Team co-owners Gene Haas and Tony Stewart didn’t hire Harvick to give up. His crew guys don’t bust their tails to have him pull over and let himself be eliminated on the last lap of the race.
If Harvick hit Bayne deliberately — and that’s a big "if" — he did what he had to do to keep his title hopes alive.
It’s no different than what Brad Keselowski did at Texas last year, when he tried to win and instead wrecked Jeff Gordon. Or what Newman did when he ran Kyle Larson into the wall on the last lap at Phoenix. Survive and advance is the name of the game now.
That’s what this thing called the Chase has created with its three-race elimination rounds: Desperate drivers willing to do almost anything to stay in title contention. And I daresay that despite all their protestations, had other drivers been in Harvick’s position, most of them would have done exactly the same thing.
That’s the crucible of pressure that NASCAR created with this version of the Chase.
So if you’re going to hate after Talladega, don’t hate the player, hate the game. Because it’s the game, not the players, who created this. And we’ll see a lot more of it in the next four weeks.