Anger, frustration flare after Martinsville Cup playoff race

8 Comments

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Name-calling, flashing double birds and a chorus of boos filled the air Sunday night after 501 laps at Martinsville Speedway.

Call it the pressure of the playoffs, a long season coming to an end or just a genuine dislike for one another, but drivers were on edge during chaotic final laps that saw contact for the lead and contact after the checkered flag waved.

Alex Bowman won to Denny Hamlin’s disgust. They hit with eight laps to go, spinning Hamlin out of the lead. Hamlin still advanced to next week’s Championship 4, but that did little to quell his anger.

“He’s just a hack,” Hamlin said of Bowman to NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after the race. “Just an absolute hack. He gets his ass kicked by his teammates every week. He’s (expletive) terrible. He’s just terrible. He sees one opportunity, he takes it.”

Less than three hours after the race, Bowman was selling T-shirts with “HACK” on it.

Before the marketing pitch, Bowman explained what happened with Hamlin.

“Hate that we got into (Hamlin),” Bowman said. “Unintentional. I just got underneath him and spun him out. I’d be mad, too. I get it. But he’s been on the other side of that enough to understand.”

Bowman noted that Hamlin wrecked him last year at Texas.

“Texted me and apologized,” Bowman said. “Said he’d give me a ride on his jet. I don’t know. We’re even, I guess, after that. He crashed the heck out of me there. He got loose underneath me, exact same thing just on a bigger racetrack.

“Yeah, sarcasm there, obviously. Just my point is the shoe has been on the other foot. Like we’ve been on both sides of it.”

Hamlin showed his displeasure by driving his car to Bowman’s as Bowman prepared to do celebratory burnouts. Hamlin nosed his car against Bowman’s and flashed a pair of middle fingers.

Bowman remained in his car, unsure what would happen next.

NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500
Denny Hamlin showed his anger at Alex Bowman by blocking and nosing his car to Bowman’s after the race. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“Have you ever been to Bowman Gray Stadium?” Bowman said, referring to the track known for tight racing and temper tantrums on the track.

“I’ve gone there and watched. That’s what it felt like. When they had that TV show with the mods running there, I watched the heck out of that. It was really entertaining then. Not so entertaining when you’re living it.

“Just didn’t want to be a part of that, make us both look dumb. So, I just tried to not be a part of it. I wasn’t going to try to do stuff like that. That’s not who I am.”

When Hamlin’s interview was played on the track’s P.A. system, a chorus of boos cascaded toward the Virginia driver.

Later, Hamlin was asked about his reaction to being booed by fans in his home state.

“It’s just Chase Elliott fans,” said Hamlin, who earned their ire four years when he spun Elliott out of the lead at Martinsville. “They don’t think straightly.”

Elliott was told what Hamlin said and asked his reaction.

“I’m going to lose so much sleep tonight,” Elliott said in jest. “I might not sleep at all. That’s how concerned I am (smiling).”

My fans don’t care either, by the way.”

Kyle Busch had sharper words for Brad Keselowski after the race. Busch was not happy with Keselowski’s final move as they raced for second.

Keselowski had been aggressive late in the race, needing to win. Instead, he finished third and didn’t advance to the Championship 4 in his final season with car owner Roger Penske.

Busch did not appreciate Keselowski’s driving on the final lap.

“He drills my ass coming out of (Turn) 4 for no reason,” Busch said. “Where was he going? What was he going to do? Spin me out?

“He was trying to do a Harvick is what he was trying to do (Kevin Harvick spun Busch on the last lap of last year’s Martinsville playoff race). For what? For second place? To do what? He wasn’t going to transfer through with that. Freaking (R-word). So stupid. I don’t understand these guys.

“I should beat the shit out of him right now is what I should do, but that doesn’t do me any good either.”

Why not?

“I’ve already had to pay enough fines in my lifetime,” Busch said. “I’m sure I’ll get another one.”

Busch later tweeted an apology for using the R-word.

Asked about the contact with Busch after the race, Keselowski said: “I don’t know what he was thinking. He was mad at something. He was mad at himself? He was mad at me? I don’t sweat that.”

He was among the few who felt that way.

Elliott was spun after contact from Keselowski, but Elliott took the blame for that.

“I was racing him hard on the outside,” Elliott said. “I wasn’t super surprised that he made a mistake. As hard as he hit me, I knew he just didn’t clean me out on purpose. I figured he wheel hopped or something. I haven’t seen it. Really, moving on was all that mattered.

“I had made some bad choices on adjustments, kind of got us behind. The real reason that happened was because I made a bad decision on what to do to our car. We started playing defense. When you start playing defense, you typically start crashing a lot of times, especially when guys need to win.”

Martin Truex Jr. knows the feeling. He finished fourth and could joke afterward about a late incident that sent him into the wall and had him questioning what he was to do after someone hit him.

He was calmer later after joining Hamlin, Kyle Larson and Elliott in next weekend’s title race at Phoenix.

“Got slammed into the wall,” he said. “I don’t know. I have no idea how we finished fourth. I’m going to buy a lottery ticket on the way home.”

Even a winning lottery ticket might not make some people happy after Sunday’s race.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin returns to first place

0 Comments

Four races into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs and drivers who are eligible to win the championship remain 0-for-4 in pursuit of race wins.

Tyler Reddick became winner No. 4 on that list Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

And now we go to Talladega Superspeedway, where there is potential for drivers from the far back end of the field to emerge victorious, given the impact of drafting and, more significantly, wrecking.

Sunday’s tire-exploding, wall-banging, car-wrestling craziness at Texas Motor Speedway jumbled the playoff standings again, and the same is true for the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, which see a new leader in Denny Hamlin.

MORE: Winners and losers at Texas

Hamlin could be a busy guy the rest of the season. His potential retaliation list grew Sunday with the addition of William Byron after they had a major disagreement.

Here’s how the rankings look in the middle of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Denny Hamlin (No. 3 last week) — Despite everything — the tires, the wrecks, the hassle, the weather and a brouhaha with William Byron, Hamlin finished 10th Sunday and is sixth in the playoff standings entering Talladega. He has the best average finish — 5.75 — in the playoff races. Unless his “list” gets in the way, Hamlin might be ready to seriously challenge for his first championship.

2. Kyle Larson (No. 4 last week) — Larson led 19 laps at Texas and probably should have led more with one of the race’s best cars. Now fourth in points, he figures to be a factor over the final two weeks of the round.

3. Chase Elliott (No. 2 last week) — Elliott was not a happy camper after smashing the wall because of a tire issue and riding a flaming car to a halt. He finished 32nd.

4. Joey Logano (No. 6 last week) — Logano was chasing down winner Tyler Reddick in the closing laps at Texas. He jumps to first in the playoff standings and gains two spots in NBC’s rankings.

5. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron might be No. 1 on Denny Hamlin’s list; here he slides in at No. 5.

6. Christopher Bell (No. 1 last week) — Bell had a rotten Sunday in Texas, crashing not once but twice with tire issues and finishing 34th, causing a precipitous drop on the rankings list.

7. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain’s team played the tires and the cautions right and probably deserved better than a 13th-place finish Sunday.

8. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Mr. Winless (except in All-Star dress) rolls on. A fourth-place run (and 29 laps led) Sunday keeps him relevant.

9. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe’s Texas run started poorly but ended nicely with a fifth-place run.

10. Tyler Reddick (unranked last week) — Reddick Sunday became the only driver not named Chase Elliott with more than two race wins this year. Now totaling three victories, he got his first oval win at Texas.

Dropped out: Alex Bowman (No. 10 last week).

Long: NASCAR needs to quickly correct officiating issue from Texas

4 Comments

NASCAR’s admission that it did not see William Byron spin Denny Hamlin under caution during Sunday’s Cup playoff race is troubling.

With video evidence of impropriety and Hamlin’s team vigorously arguing for relief, there were enough reasons for series officials to take a closer look at putting Hamlin back to second before the race returned to green-flag conditions. Or some other remedy even after the race resumed. 

Add the lack of access series officials had to Byron’s in-car camera— something fans could readily see at NASCAR.com and the NASCAR Mobile App — and changes need to be made before this weekend’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

While NASCAR should make every effort to judge matters between drivers regardless of their playoff status, that it was two playoff drivers involved in an incident demanded greater attention. With three races per round, one misstep can mean the difference between advancing or being eliminated. 

Just as more is expected from drivers and teams in the playoffs, the same should be expected of officials.

“If we had seen that (contact) good enough to react to it in real time, which we should have, like no excuse there, there would probably have been two courses of action,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Sunday night. “One would have been to put Hamlin back where he was, or the other would be to have made William start in the back.”

Here is how the incident played out:

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash at 8:19 p.m. ET.

As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

About 90 seconds after the caution lights illuminated, the USA broadcast showed a replay from a low angle of Byron directly behind Hamlin’s car and apparent contact. 

Contact can happen in multiple ways. It can come from the lead car hitting the brakes and forcing the car behind to hit them, or it can come from the trailing car ramming into the car ahead. The first video replay did not make it clear what caused the contact, making it difficult for any official to rule one way or the other based solely on that.

This also is a time when NASCAR officials were monitoring safety vehicles on track, checking the lineup and making sure pit road was ready to be open. It’s something NASCAR does effortlessly much of the time. Just not this time. 

A different replay aired on USA 11 minutes, 16 seconds after the caution that showed Byron and Hamlin’s car together. That replay aired about a minute before the green flag waved at 8:31 p.m. ET. Throughout the caution, Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart argued that Hamlin should have restarted second.

But once the race resumed, the matter was over for NASCAR. Or so it seemed.

Three minutes after the green flag waved, the NASCAR Twitter account posted in-car video that showed Byron running into the back of Hamlin’s car while the caution was out. Such action is typically a penalty — often parking a driver for the rest of the race. Instead, Byron was allowed to continue and nothing was done during the rest of the event. 

After the race, Miller told reporters that series officials didn’t see the contact from Byron. 

“The cameras and the monitors that we’ve got, we dedicate them mostly to officiating and seeing our safety vehicles and how to dispatch them,” Miller said. “By the time we put all those cameras up (on the monitor in the control tower), we don’t have room for all of the in-car cameras to be monitored.

“If we would have had immediate access to (Byron)’s in-car camera, that would have helped us a lot, being able to find that quickly. That’s definitely one of the things we’re looking at.”

But it didn’t happen that way.

”By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green,” Miller said.

NASCAR didn’t act. By that time maybe it was too late to do so. But that’s also an issue. Shouldn’t the infraction be addressed immediately if it is clear what happened instead of days later? Shouldn’t officials have been provided with access to the in-car cameras so they could have seen Byron’s actions earlier and meted the proper punishment? Instead, Miller hinted at a possible penalty to Byron this week.

Miller didn’t reveal details but it wouldn’t be surprising to drop Byron in the field, costing him points. He’s 24 points from the cutline, so a penalty that drops him from seventh to 30th (the position ahead of Truex) could be logical and that would cost Byron 23 points, putting him near the cutline. 

Texas winner Tyler Reddick said something should have been done. He knows. He was parked in a 2014 Truck race at Pocono for wrecking German Quiroga in retaliation for an earlier incident.

“In William’s situation, whether he ran him over on accident or on purpose, there should be some sort of penalty for him on that side because he’s completely screwed someone’s race up, whether it was on purpose or not,” Reddick said. “I feel like there should be something done there.

“I’m sure (NASCAR will) make some sort of a decision. I’m sure there will be something they’ll address this week, updates, on NASCAR’s side. I’ll be curious to see what that is. We can’t really have this where you dump someone under caution, they go to the back and you don’t. That could potentially be an interesting situation in the future.”

Texas shuffles NASCAR Cup playoff standings

1 Comment

Texas marked the fourth consecutive playoff race that the winner didn’t advance to the next round.

All three races in the first round were won by drivers not in the playoffs. Tyler Reddick won Sunday at Texas, a week after he failed to advance from the Round of 16 and was eliminated from title contention.

Texas did shake up the playoff standings. Chase Elliott entered as the points leader but a blown tire while leading sent his car into the wall, ending his race. He falls to the No. 8 spot, the final transfer position with two races left in this round. He’s tied with Daniel Suarez, but Suarez has the tiebreaker with a better finish this round.

Chase Briscoe, who scored only his second top 10 in the last 22 races, is the first driver outside a transfer spot. He’s four points behind Elliott and Suarez. Austin Cindric is 11 points out of the transfer spot. Christopher Bell is 29 points out of a transfer position. Alex Bowman is 30 points from the transfer line.

The series races Sunday at Talladega (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

 

XFINITY SERIES

Noah Gragson’s win at Texas moved him on to the next round. The win was his fourth in a row.

Ryan Sieg and Sam Mayer are tied for the final two transfer spots to the next round. Riley Herbst is one point behind them. Daniel Hemric is eight points from the final transfer spot. Brandon Jones is 13 points from the last transfer spot. Jeremy Clements is 29 points shy of the final transfer position.

The series races Saturday at Talladega (4 p.m. ET on USA Network).

 

 

CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

The series was off this past weekend but returns to the track Saturday at Talladega. Ty Majeski has advanced to the championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

 

Winners and losers at Texas Motor Speedway

2 Comments

A look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s marathon race at Texas Motor Speedway:

WINNERS

Tyler Reddick – Reddick isn’t acting like a lame duck. Headed for 23XI Racing in 2024 (if not sooner), Reddick now owns three wins with Richard Childress Racing, the team he’ll be leaving.

Justin Haley – Haley, who has shown flashes of excellence this season for Kaulig Racing, matched his season-high with a third-place run.

Chase Briscoe — Briscoe wrestled with major problems in the early part of the race but rebounded to finish fifth. It’s his second top-10 finish in the last 22 races.

LOSERS

NASCAR Officials – Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, admitted that series officials missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution after Martin Truex Jr.‘s crash. Such a situation could have major playoff implications, although Miller hinted that series officials may still act this week.

Christopher Bell – Bell met the wall twice after blown tires and finished a sour 34th, damaging his playoff run in a race that he said was critical in the playoffs.

Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. – Harvick (finished 19th) and Truex (31st) were late-race victims of the day’s tire dilemma. Both crashed while leading.

Track workers  Somebody had to clean up all that tire debris.

Chase Elliott – Elliott remains a power in the playoffs, but he left Sunday’s race in a fiery exit after a blown tire while leading and finished 32nd. He holds the final transfer spot to the next round heading into Talladega.