By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)
All through the week leading up to the Toyota Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway Denny Hamlin criticized NASCAR for throwing questionable debris cautions at the end of races. In fact Hamlin was convinced, as were many conspiracy theorists, that NASCAR threw a “phantom debris caution” late in the event at Michigan to spice the show up.
“You know, if I don’t win the race because maybe I get a bad restart or something, then probably I’m angry because I feel like NASCAR changed the outcome of the race.” Hamlin said following his win at Michigan. “But, you know, we did everything. It was still on me to do my job to win the race. I feel like I got a good restart, got clear of those guys. You know, I understand this is show business.”
Hamlin continued by saying, “No, I didn’t see any debris, if that’s what you’re asking. I mean, we typically get them every single week. I’m not going to say it’s accepted, but what can you do? ”
My thought process on this matter is simple. I refuse to believe that a sanctioning body would put the integrity of their sport on the line just to make one of their events a little better. In the grand scheme of things this isn’t a good thing, and if caught the entire sport could crumble.
An entire families’ body of work to bring a sport from the beaches of Daytona to where it is today over 60 years later, would be destroyed. That’s not something you play with.
However this is a moot point to me, because throughout the week shows such as Speed’s Race Hub actually came through where TNT (who was covering the race failed). They were able to show the debris in question from Michigan.
However the damage had already been done, and Hamlin had already had his voice heard. This brings us to Sunday at Infineon. Late in the race Marcos Ambrose was leading the event, and looked poised to capture his first career Sprint Cup Series victory… then the unthinkable happened.
Ambrose’s car stalled under caution while he was trying to save fuel, and by the time he got it fired back up he had slipped to sixth spot. NASCAR did not allow Ambrose to go back to the front of the pack, and as a result Ambrose would finish a disappointing sixth.
In the past NASCAR has treated this kind of situation differently, just look to Greg Biffle in 2007 at Kansas. Biffle won that day as he cruised past the start finish line at approximately two miles per hour, while running out of gas.
The NASCAR rule states that you must maintain pace car speed, or you lose your spot… that wasn’t the case for Biffle.
Then there is of course Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last victory at Michigan in 2008. In this race Earnhardt passed the pace car several times under caution while saving gas to make it to the finish. Earnhardt was never penalized, and would go on to win the event.
So what was different this weekend? And what in the world does this have to do with Denny Hamlin’s comments earlier in the week?
Well in my honest opinion Hamlin’s voice forced NASCAR’s hand. Hamlin called NASCAR out all week, and questioned the integrity of the sport. As a result NASCAR had to play the race out completely by the book. It’s a tough break for Marcos Ambrose, and a tough break for NASCAR.
Instead of having the headlines read about a first time winner, they instead read of yet another unfavorable Jimmie Johnson victory. But rules are rules and at anytime they can be enforced.
However it would of been interesting to see how NASCAR ruled on this if Hamlin hadn’t lashed out this past week.