- Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
With two laps to go at Talladega, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in second place and needing a win to avoid elimination from the NASCAR championship chase. However, Junior would never get a shot at the win thanks to a wreck that some think was intentional.
The incident came after a caution flag caused a Green-White-Checkered situation, meaning once the race restarted, the drivers would have two laps to race for the checkered flag.
However, a new rule meant that if there was another caution before the two laps were completed, there would not be another Green-White-Checkered and the race would end under caution.
Enter Kevin Harvick in his No. 2 car.
Harvick, who is in the championship chase, but was out of contention at Talladega, just needed to avoid falling to the back of the field to stay in the chase. However, Harvick radioed his crew during the caution saying he was having engine trouble that threatened to do just that. His car was unable to accelerate.
At this point, Harvick seemingly has three choices:
He can move aside and let cars pass him when the race goes green. The downside to this is that he almost certainly will fall to the back of the field and be eliminated. He can stay in his lane and hope he can enough speed from his car and enough cars get stuck behind him for two laps. The chances of this working seem low. He can cause a wreck. The upside to this is that the race goes under caution and he can keep his space in line and his spot in the chase.
In fact, according to Bob Pockrass of ESPN, crew chief Rodney Childers told Harvick their best scenario would be for a wreck to occur, drawing a yellow caution flag.
As the race went green, Harvick appeared to go for option No. 2. However, it was clear that he was going to lose a lot space quickly as the cars in front of him accelerated away.
Trevor Bayne tried to pass Harvick on the outside. Harvick then drifted out of his lane and clipped the back end of Bayne causing a wreck (GIF via Yahoo Sports).
- NBC Sports
The wreck caused a yellow flag and effectively ended the race.
Joey Logano was the winner. Earnhardt Jr. finished second and was eliminated from the chase.
- Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
After the race, Harvick explained that when his car did not accelerate on the restart, he decided to pull to the outside, presumably to get out of the way of other drivers, and that he did not see Bayne.
Other drivers were not convinced, including Bayne.
“That’s a crappy way for Harvick to have to get in the Chase; to wreck somebody – what I believe to be on purpose [but] maybe it wasn’t,” Bayne told the media. “The restart before that, he had engine problems and got out of the way … 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.”
Denny Hamlin was also eliminated from the Cup chase on Sunday and expressed his thoughts on Twitter.
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
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) October 25, 2015
In NASCAR’s initial review of the incident, they say they have found nothing suspect, “so far” (via Yahoo Sports).
“Obviously some of the teams have questioned what the 4 car did on the restarts and we went back and walked through with them but procedurally, from NASCAR, we don’t see anything there that is suspect, so far,” NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton said.
As for Earnhardt Jr., he took the high road.
“When the race is over, I can live with the result as long as everyone else is going by the same rules,” Earnhardt told the media. “I felt like per the rule book, it sorted out and I finished second. I’m OK with that.”
We have reached out to Harvick for comment.
Here is the full video of the wreck via Yahoo Sports.