A senior NASCAR official acknowledged that series officials “prematurely … exercised this (final) caution” just before Ryan Blaney crossed the finish line, creating a bizarre finish that would have been more controversial if Blaney was the All-Star -Restart Sunday’s race not won after overtime.
NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller made the comment to reporters after Sunday night’s race.
NASCAR issued a warning after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hit the backstretch wall on the final lap. Stenhouse drove on, keeping clear of the cars behind.
Just before Blaney crossed the finish line and won the race, the warning lights came on. Normally, Blaney would have won anyway, but the All-Star race has a special rule that the event must end under green flag conditions — a point given to teams and media at the end of a rules video before the event.
“We were all watching and we saw[Stenhouse’s]car and mentioned that the car hit the wall and immediately went down the wall,” Miller told reporters after the race. “The race director looked up – and I’m not sure what he saw – but he immediately put[the caution]out. I wish we hadn’t, but we did and we will acknowledge that we probably lifted that caution prematurely.
Thinking he’d won, Blaney unlatched his window netting to begin his celebration.
When told the race wasn’t over, Blaney said over his team’s radio, “Are you serious, the race isn’t over yet?”
Blaney then spent most of the caution locking his window net. If the window screen is down, NASCAR will call the driver to pit road to have the window screen reinstalled, citing the safety issue.
Miller explained why Blaney was not called into the pit lane before the last restart:
“We saw him struggle to get it back up but when he got on green (for the final restart) he immediately warmed up his tires again. You could clearly see both hands on the steering wheel warming up the tires. The window net was up.
“We have no way of knowing if he locked it 100% or not. At this point there is no way we can be sure he didn’t lock it, so there’s no way we could have called him in the pit lane at that point.”
Runner-up Denny Hamlin raised questions about what NASCAR has done.
When asked if NASCAR should have had Blaney come to pit lane to reattach the window netting but keep his position, Hamlin said:
“Then you change the rules. You can’t change the rules. Why? Because you feel sorry for the guy? I’ve had winning cars in the last four weeks and a lot has happened to me. That doesn’t mean they’re going to say, “Well, you should have won the race, so we’ll give you the win.” It does not matter. You can’t make rules.”
Hamlin’s team boss Chris Gabehart, who faced a four-race suspension starting next week for a wheel that came off Hamlin’s car in Dover, expressed concern that NASCAR was allowing Blaney to drive with the window screen down under caution.
After the race, Hamlin and Gabehart discussed what had happened to Blaney on the team’s radio.
“He (expletive) held up (the bolt),” Hamlin said of Blaney. “He should have won the race anyway.
Gabehart responded over the team radio: “I don’t disagree, (Blaney) should have won the race. I just don’t really understand how I get four weeks off when I let a tire roll down the pit lane and it can walk around with the window screen down. …Yes, I said that the way I did it on purpose.”
Hamlin then said on the team’s radio: “Because they make rules. They answer themselves. They do. That’s not new.”