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Late-Race Wreck: Accident Or Premeditated?

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, October 26 2015
Was a late-race, Chase-altering wreck at Talldega an accident or premeditated? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

A late-race, Chase-altering wreck at Talladega started when Kevin Harvick made contact with Trevor Bayne. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

As the sun began to go down at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, and the temperatures of fans and at least a couple of drivers began to rise, one veteran NASCAR reporter took to social media to heap snark on peers who were taking shots at Kevin Harvick.

bugopinionWhat evidence, he asked officiously, is there that Harvick purposely caused a race-ending, Chase-altering wreck on the green-white-checkered restart?

There are several things, actually, that can be used in putting together a case against Harvick.

To start with, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver had the motive, the opportunity and the means to deliberately cause a wreck at that point.

The motive was advancing to the third round of the Chase. Harvick’s car was sputtering on the laps leading up to the restart. He told his team on the radio that his car was dying and would
not be able to make it up to race speed. Just 11 points ahead of the playoff cutdown line, a clean GWC restart and two laps around the 2.66-mile Talladega oval would likely have booted Harvick from the Chase.

The opportunity was the restart itself and the fact the No. 6 car of Trevor Bayne was coming by on Harvick’s right side as it was coming up to speed.

The means was a ton and a half of slow but still-maneuverable race car.

Then there is video evidence. A replay syncing side-by-side views from the in-car and roof cameras (provided here by Yahoo’s Nick Bromberg – http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nascar-from-the-marbles/chaotic-finish-gives-joey-logano–not-dale-earnhardt-jr—talladega-win-220150635.html)  show Harvick mirror driving and then flicking his steering wheel to the right as Bayne comes up on Harvick’s right.

In a preliminary, evidentiary hearing, all of that could result in Harvick being bound over for trial in the court of public opinion.

In post event interviews, two of the drivers’ whose attempts to advance to the third round of the playoffs, voiced that they had already convicted Harvick.

Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing, who was immediately behind the Harvick-Bayne incident and an eye witness, said, “They (Harvick’s team) basically said they were going to do that, so I kind of knew it was coming, but it doesn’t really make it any easier. He pulled out of the way the first time because he knew he was blowing up and this time he said he was going to hold his lane, so we went up to go around him and then he clipped the 6 (Trevor Bayne). He knew if he put him in a slow spin the race was over and he’d make it, so, like I said, it feels we lost control here the last two weeks. I don’t think that’s what racing is about. The spot they put us in, it’s hard to blame people, but that’s not what racing’s all about.”

Said Denny Hamlin, who was also a casualty of the incident and also had a view of it, “The 4 (Harvick) could only run about 30 miles per hour so I think he saw people coming and he knew he was going to be 30th, last car on the lead lap so caused the wreck.”

Then there was Bayne, who was not contending for a Chase berth but was heading for a good finish for Roush Fenway Racing.

“That’s a crappy way for Harvick to have to get in the Chase is to wreck somebody – what I believe to be on purpose – maybe it wasn’t,” Bayne, a past Daytona 500 winner, said. “The restart before that he had engine problems and got out of the way.  I think he realized if the caution came out he was gonna be fine, so I go by and get hooked in the left-rear.  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.”

Harvick insisted that he was just trying to get out of the way.

But there is something else that many fans and competitors are likely considering when doping out the incident, and that would be Harvick’s rap sheet.

The dude is a hothead. He has been in numerous post-race altercations with drivers who he felt did him wrong. Just weeks ago, he attacked Jimmie Johnson in the motorhome area at Chicagoland Speedway as Johnson came over to talk about an on-track incident.

Harvick has also shown a lack of maturity during his career – witness the incident where he shoved Brad Keselowski from behind and into Jeff Gordon to touch off a brawl in the pits at Texas last fall.

Asked about it, Harvick, the defending series champion, said, “I love the controversy.”

He added, “I can’t spend all my time worrying about the other people. I have to worry about winning this weekend, this race, and this championship.”

Read: To hell with sportsmanship and ethics and the integrity of the sport.

NASCAR president Mike Helton said Sunday that officials could not find any evidence of wrong doing.

“Procedurally, from NASCAR, we don’t see anything that is of suspect so far,” Helton said. “The only thing I mean about ‘so far’ is I’ve been around long enough to know that something could crawl out of the woodwork in the next 24 hours.”

In the past, NASCAR has taken action when officials felt that competitors manipulated the ending of the race.

In 2013, they took action which altered the field of the Chase by stripping Michael Waltrip Racing teams and drivers Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Brian Vickers of points after the regular season-ending race at Richmond.

Leading to the penalties was what was ruled an intentional spin by Bowyer and an unscheduled pit stop by Vickers – the effects of which were to put Truex into the Chase.

“It is our determination that the MWR organization attempted to manipulate the outcome of the race,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president for competition, said of the penalties. “As the sport’s sanctioning body, it is our responsibility to ensure there is a fair and level playing field for all of our competitors and this action today reflects out commitment to that.”

The penalties knocked Truex back out of the Chase and put Ryan Newman in.

Could that kind of reasoning be lurking in the “woodwork” for Harvick?

Probably not. NASCAR’s judges have many other precedents they can invoke which suggest a reticence to convict on the charge of race manipulation.

So, it’s on to Martinsville for Harvick and on to next year for Dale Earnhardt Jr. (who about to take the lead at Talladega when the incident occurred), Kenseth and Hamlin.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, October 26 2015
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