Opinion: Now more than ever, anything goes in NASCAR
It’s official: Now more than ever before, the boys can have at it. And pretty much anything is fair game now, at least until NASCAR decides it isn’t again.
Tuesday morning, the sanctioning body issued a statement that there would be no penalties handed down from Talladega. Not from issues that arose in inspection and not from issues that arose at the end of the race.
First, the mechanical issue that turned out to be a non-issue: All four Stewart-Haas Racing cars had to redo their front-end duct work after being told in inspection Saturday that it didn’t conform to NASCAR requirements. The team made repairs and was not penalized.
Then, there was that little incident on Sunday, where on the race’s final restart, Kevin Harvick’s car moved up the track and hit Trevor Bayne, triggering a crash that brought out the yellow flag for the final time.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. appeared to be leading Joey Logano when Harvick hit Bayne, but by the time the yellow flag flew, Logano was back out front and was declared the race winner, while Earnhardt was eliminated from championship contention.
After the race, Harvick said he didn’t see Bayne when he moved up the track.
Predictably, social media has blown up, with Harvick’s action being compared in some circles to the infamous Michael Waltrip Racing incident at Richmond in 2013, when MWR ordered Brian Vickers to pit under green late in the race and Clint Bowyer appeared to cause a deliberate spin. That incident wound up with a $300,000 fine for MWR, huge points penalties and Martin Truex Jr. getting kicked out of the Chase. Ultimately, it led to MWR’s demise as a team.
Clearly, NASCAR didn’t see the Harvick situation the same way.
Issuing a penalty this time would have sent a strong message to competitors.
Not issuing a penalty did send an equally strong message to competitors — and that message is that in the Chase, it’s no holds barred. Boys, have at it.
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France last week lauded Joey Logano’s bump of Matt Kenseth at Texas, which resulted in Kenseth being knocked out of the lead, spinning out and finishing 14th.
"This is the strategy that we all thought was going to be different when you have this kind of format," France told Dave Moody on Sirius XM NASCAR last week. "But it does reward aggressive racing at the end of the day."
Well, we’re all about to see exactly how aggressive it gets.
Will Kenseth put Logano into the fence at Martinsville this week?
Could Harvick be on the receiving end of some rough driving, maybe from one of the guys who got knocked out of the Chase?
Who will be the next driver to up the ante on outrageous and aggressive behavior?
Which team will work deepest into the gray area to circumvent the rules?
We’ll know more in four weeks, certainly.
In the meantime, grab some popcorn. These final races of the season are going to be interesting to watch. Whether they turn out to be good or even fair remains to be seen. But with the environment NASCAR has created with the Chase format, they’re going to be fascinating to watch.