What the heck? Is Harvick to blame for crazy end to Talladega race?

As the field ran around under caution during the final laps of Sunday’s Chase elimination race confusion reigned at Talladega Superspeedway.

Lining up for what was supposed to be the only green-white-checkered attempt, the field stacked up before the leaders reached the start-finish line, with Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson spinning through the infield grass.

While many believed the race was then over, NASCAR determined the restart was not official and lined the field up for another attempt at a clean restart.

That’s when things really got crazy – and confusing.

Defending series champion Kevin Harvick had a broken exhaust pipe and sour motor late in the race and struggled to get going on the first green-white-checkered attempt. On the first attempt, Harvick moved up the track to allow the field to pass by.

When NASCAR reset the field and made a second attempt at the final restart, Harvick held his position in line and was slow coming to the green, stacking up the field behind him.

With Harvick slow to start, Trevor Bayne moved to the outside of Harvick prior to the start-finish line. Trying to block Bayne’s pass, Harvick moved up the track and the two cars made contact, triggering the big wreck that ultimately ended the race.

Despite the mechanical issues, Harvick was unofficially able to advance into the next round of the Chase with a six-point advantage over Ryan Newman in ninth. However, many of Harvick’s fellow competitors felt the defending series champion crashed Bayne on purpose to secure his spot in the next round.

“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,” said Bayne. “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 got 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.”

While others were speculating about his move, Harvick simply said his car was struggling and he was trying to get out of the way when he made contact with Bayne.

“It wasn’t running really well on the restarts. Then at the end I was trying to get out of the way,” said Harvick. “I don’t know if I clipped the 6 (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 lap couple of restarts when it cooled off. It has a broken exhaust pipe or something.”

Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin both said they felt Harvick wrecked Bayne on purpose, while David Gilliland questioned the move on Twitter.

“He pulled out of the way the first time because he knew he was blowing up and this time he said he was going to hold his lane, so we went up to go round him and then he clipped the 6 (Bayne),” said Kenseth. “He knew if he put him in a slow spin the race was over and he’d make it, so, like I said, it feels we lost control here the last two weeks. I don’t think that’s what racing is about. The spot they put us in, it’s hard to blame people, but that’s not what racing’s about.”

“4 (Harvick) could only run about 30 miles per hour so I think he saw people coming and he knew he was going to be 30th, last car on the lead lap so cause the wreck,” said Hamlin.

After the race, a number of other teams visited the NASCAR hauler to get an explanation on the confusing finish and Harvick’s move, which ultimately ended the race.

Among those to visit the hauler were team owner Joe Gibbs, JGR’s senior vice president of racing operations Jimmy Makar, Bayne’s crew chief Bob Osborne and Ryan Newman’s crew chief Luke Lambert.

Lambert would not address what he discussed with NASCAR, but said he would have liked to see things go much differently in the end. By finishing 12th, Newman was officially eliminated from the Chase.

“I think that’s between me and NASCAR, and I’ll let them make their decisions from there,” said Lambert. “I would have liked to see the restart order get reassessed a little bit prior to the final restart. That’s all I’ll say.”

Despite the questions of the fellow competitors, NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton said the sanctioning body saw nothing wrong with Harvick’s move on the final restart.

“What we saw, there is no evidence right now that there was anything the 4 car (Harvick) did that was questionable, other than moving out of line,” said Helton. “Obviously there are some of the teams questioning what the 4 car did on the restart. We went back and walked through with them. Procedurally from NASCAR, we don’t see anything there that’s of suspect — so far. We haven’t seen anything. The only thing I mean by so far is that I’ve been around racing long enough to know that something could crawl out of the woodworks in the next 24 hours.”

Helton pointed out NASCAR has historically made a decision if they do find something of suspect from the incident in the coming days. He also said that after reviewing the incident and walking through it with the other teams questioning, he was felt comfortable with how NASCAR handled the situation.

“We believe so far we did everything procedurally correct and the 4 car did nothing wrong,” he said. “It’s a high-pressure weekend to have this elimination round at Talladega. Everybody knew from last year and coming into this one this is an ultra-high pressure weekend and Talladega lived up to it.”