What would a NASCAR All-Star Race be without a little bit of controversy? Well, Sunday’s All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway had more than it’s fair share in the closing laps.
Ryan Blaney had the All-Star Race sewed up and won, but as he came within feet of the finish line to secure the $1-million payday, NASCAR’s race director flipped the caution switch as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. scraped the outside wall in turn two and slowed on the backstretch, out of the way of the pack behind him.
As a result, Blaney’s sure-fire win would now slide back into uncertainty as he’d have to survive a re-racking of the field and hold off Denny Hamlin and others on an Overtime restart. Only one problem: Blaney had disconnected his window net as he believed he had won the race already.
What ensued was a frantic few minutes of Blaney attempting to get the window net secured, so, he wouldn’t have to forfeit the lead of the race and give up the $1-million prize that he was literally about a second away from winning minutes earlier.
According to NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller, Blaney should have never been in this position to begin with as Miller says it seemed the sanctioning body was, “Premature,” in their calling of the caution on the final lap of regulation.
“So, obviously, I think that everybody knows that we probably prematurely called that yellow flag,” Miller explained in a media scrum following the race. “The way that works in the tower is that we’re all watching around the racetrack. We make the — obviously, the race director, who has the button and makes the call is the final say of when the yellow gets put out. We all watched. We saw the car and mentioned the car against the wall down, riding the wall down the [backstretch].
“The race director looked up and I’m not sure what he saw, but he immediately put it out. I wish we wouldn’t have done that, but we did that and we’ll own that we probably prematurely put that caution out.”
So, with a potential mistake from the race director resulting in an extended finish to the race, Blaney was now at the mercy of needing to get his window net secured in order to win the race.
Blaney struggled inside the car, admittedly roughing up his shoulder in the process.
Blaney explained, “Yeah, I think that caught all of us off guard, and so it was kind of short-lived panic mode in my spot of like how the hell am I going to get this window net back up because it almost takes two people to do it outside the car, let alone me and my scrawny arms inside the car sitting down and not being able to get a lot of leverage on it.
“I could get millimeters away from latching it and I had to give up. My shoulders are going to be junk in the morning. I was able to get it latched finally enough to where it was up and sealed, and NASCAR deemed it safe.”
During the frantic minutes of Blaney attempting to get the net secured from inside the car, did NASCAR ever think about bringing Blaney down pit road to allow his crew to fasten the window net, then simply allowing the No. 12 car to move back into his spot after a quick safety check?
This is the All-Star race after all, not a points race. This is the race, where back in 2001, a large portion of the field crashed on lap 1, due to rain on the track.
NASCAR allowed eventual winner Jeff Gordon and a slew of others to bust out backup cars to finish the race.
According to Miller, letting Blaney fasten his window net under caution and getting his spot back “…would have really kind of gone out of character and been out of anything else that we have really ever done. There was some speculation of doing something like that up there, but I think like I said, we saw it and no way we could have known it was latched properly or not. That’s where we are.”
As the field was lining up for the final restart of the race, Miller says NASCAR had no reason to believe the window net wasn’t up.
“Obviously, Ryan Blaney thought he won the race,” Miller said of why Blaney’s window net went down. “Another byproduct of kind of special rules for the All-Star because every other race we do besides this one, he would have won the race when the caution flag came out. They were celebrating. He put the window net down and we saw him struggling to get it back up.
“But coming to green, he was warming his tires back up on the [backstretch]. You could clearly see both hands on the wheel, warming the tires up. The window net was up. No way for us to know if he got it 100% latched or not. At that point in time, no way we could be certain he didn’t get it latched, so there was no way we could call him down pit road at that time.”
Sure, there was no way to tell for sure that the window net wasn’t up, but once the race went back to green, Blaney’s window net went flapping in the breeze.
Following the race, Denny Hamlin, who finished second wishes we just played by the rules in the rulebook.
“We’ve had the fastest car four weeks in a row, but somebody else got the win because we made a mistake,” Hamlin stated. “There are no moral victories. Just because someone shoulda won, doesn’t mean they should win.
“I’m just saying, whatever the rule is, let’s be consistent and play by the rule. It’s unfortunate because he made a mistake. He should have won the race, he’s 100 yards from winning the race. But many cars have not won races because of green-white-checkered or because of a mistake on a restart at the end. Those things happen. All I ask is that we know what the rules are and we play by them.”
Fortunately, Blaney wasn’t turned in a battle for the lead by Hamlin, although things got a bit close on the initial restart.
“Where NASCAR really got away with one is we nearly crashed off of turn 2,” Hamlin explained. “So, when I send him headfirst into traffic and the window net is down, I don’t know. Then they’ve got a lawsuit on their hands.”
That could have been bad, for sure. But even if Blaney lost without a crash, it would have looked even worse for NASCAR’s race director, who called the caution to initially trigger this type of finish.
At the end of the day, there was a whole lot of things that went wrong from an officiating standpoint in a short amount of time in the closing laps at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday. And in a season, where things have been feeling more and more positive from a competition standpoint with the new Next Gen car, this was a very rough night for the sanctioning body.