A senior NASCAR official conceded that series officials “prematurely … put that (final) caution out” just before Ryan Blaney crossed the finish line, creating a bizarre finish that would have been more controversial had Blaney not won Sunday’s All-Star Race after the overtime restart.
Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, made the comment to reporters after Sunday night’s race.
NASCAR called a caution after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hit the backstretch wall on the final lap. Stenhouse continued and stayed out of the way of the cars behind.
The caution lights illuminated moments before Blaney crossed the finish line to win the race. 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 made at the end of a rules video teams and media are given before the event.
“We all watched and we saw (Stenhouse’s) car and mentioned the car against the wall, riding the wall down the back straightaway,” 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. Wished we wouldn’t have done that, but we did that, and we’ll own that we probably prematurely put that caution out.”
Thinking he had won, Blaney unlatched his window net to begin his celebration.
Told the race was not over, Blaney said on his team’s radio: “Are you serious, the race is not over?”
Blaney then spent the much of the caution trying to latch his window net. If the window net is down, NASCAR calls the driver to pit road to have the window net put back in place, citing the safety issue.
Miller explained why Blaney was not called to pit road before the final restart:
“We saw him struggling to get it back up, but coming to green (for the final restart), he was warming his tires back on the back straightaway. 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 can be certain he didn’t get it latched, so there was no way we could have called him down pit road at that time.”
Runner-up Denny Hamlin raised questions about what NASCAR did.
Asked if NASCAR should have let Blaney come to pit road to put the window net back up but retain his position, Hamlin said:
“Then you’re changing the rules. You can’t change the rules. Why? Because you feel bad for the guy? I’ve had race-winning cars for the past four weeks and I’ve had stuff happen to me. That’s doesn’t mean they’re going to say, ‘Well, you should have won the race, so we’ll give you the win.’ It doesn’t matter. You can’t make up rules.”
Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart — facing a four-race suspension starting next week for a wheel that came off Hamlin’s car at Dover — raised his concerns about NASCAR allowing Blaney to run under caution with the window net down.
After the race, Hamlin and Gabehart discussed on the team’s radio what happened to Blaney.
“He (expletive) was holding (the latch) up,” Hamlin said of Blaney. “He should have won the race anyway.
Gabehart responded on the team’s radio: “I don’t disagree, (Blaney) should have won the race. I just don’t really understand how letting a tire roll down pit road gets me four weeks off and he can run around with the window net down. … Yes, I purposely said that the way I did.”
Hamlin then said on the team’s radio: “Because they make up rules. They answer to themselves. That’s what they do. This is not new.”