Opinion: Botched restart led to Talladega’s controversial finish
Controversy reigned at the end of Sunday’s Chase for the Sprint Cup elimination race at Talladega Superspeedway.
Largely ignored in the debate over Kevin Harvick’s actions in the CampingWorld.com 500 was the fact that another botched restart affected the outcome of the race. Restarts and restart rules have been hot-button topics in NASCAR for most of the season, and once again Talladega proved problematic.
During the first attempt at a green-white-checkered restart — which would later be ruled not an attempt at all — Joey Logano led Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the green. But as the leaders hit the restart zone, it appeared Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford spun the tires on the outside lane. The move caused Earnhardt to check up on the inside lane. Jeff Gordon hit Logano from behind, slowing the outside lane as well.
Behind the front two rows, an accordion effect took place. Martin Truex Jr. hit Jimmie Johnson, sending the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet spinning through the tri-oval grass. The spin brought the caution flag back out and NASCAR determined the field had yet to restart the race.
Trying to time the run properly through the restart zone, Truex said the slow start up front and the charging cars in the back caused an issue for the cars in the middle.
"I spun the 48 (Johnson) out in front of me," Truex said after Sunday’s race. "I was getting hit by the 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) from behind so hard I was completely off the gas, on the brakes and just slamming into the 48 car in front of me. I don’t know how many cars were hitting the 17. You just don’t know.
"That restart zone is so big that guys in the back are trying to time it out. The leader hasn’t gone yet, everyone in the back is trying to go and it just stacks up," he said. "We were very, very fortunate not to be the meat in the sandwich and get spun out with the 48. We were lucky to get through that deal."
While Logano appeared to spin the tires, Truex said that simply does not happen on restrictor-plate tracks.
"You don’t spin the tires here; nobody does," he said. "It’s all about just timing it, and everybody was just going a half-second before they should have and hitting the guy in front of him. It’s just an accordion effect. They just keep hitting back here, and it just goes through the field until somebody gets spit out of the line sideways. That’s the way it works."
Prior to the final restart, the radio chatter between Earnhardt and his spotter TJ Majors seemed to indicate Logano tried to brake check the field.
"I never changed my speed or slowed down," Earnhardt told the team from the cockpit of the car.
"Yeah, he kind of brake checked you," Majors answered.
"I’m just saying the 22 (Logano) did what (NASCAR) said we can’t do," Earnhardt replied.
Truex, for one, was frustrated.
"We all know how to restart a race," said Truex. "It’s not that difficult. You quit running into the guy in front of you. If they’re going, you can’t go. Where the hell are you going to go? Guys just need to use their head a little more."
So while the biggest controversies from Sunday’s race were Harvick’s causing chaos behind him and the two attempts to finish the race under green-white-checkered conditions, all of that was set up because games continue in the restart zone, a problem that likely will not go away anytime soon.