One driver evoked the movie “Gladiator” after Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas. Another could be penalized for his actions after the checkered flag. Others expressed dismay at what the end of the event became.
A race that had been a thrilling duel devolved into a demolition derby over the final laps, leaving feelings as bruised as some of the cars.
While Tyler Reddick celebrated his first win of the season, other drivers stewed at what the racing became. Three overtimes were needed to finish the event due to incidents in the Turn 1 hairpin. Then again, it should not have been surprising, coming a week after Kyle Busch said: “We have completely lost any sense of respect in the garage between the drivers”.
“Are you not entertained?” Ross Chastain exclaimed, evoking Russell Crowe’s famous movie line. “This is what we love. I don’t love doing it, but … as a sport we’re not boring.”
Chastain is correct, the sport is not boring. But it’s fair to ask if the sport has crossed a line. Is it OK for races to end this way? If not, how to change it is a more difficult notion.
The action has been getting more aggressive this season. It was evident in the Clash at the Coliseum when drivers charged into the corners and slammed into the back of cars as a way to slow down to make the tight turns.
Sunday marked the third time in the last four road course races that the event went to overtime. In the previous 28 road course races — dating back to 2012 — only three went to overtime.
It makes one wonder what could happen this weekend when the Cup series races at Richmond Raceway, beginning a three-week stretch at short tracks that includes the Bristol dirt race and Martinsville.
“These cars are so tough,” Chastain said. “We can run into each other. There are just lines of cars all pushing each other (on the restarts) on the brakes. Nobody is going in there saying, ‘I’m going to hit somebody,’ but it’s just the leader has to check up and it just magnifies itself.”
Chastain’s teammate, Daniel Suarez, was not happy after the race. He ran into the back of Chastain’s car, knocking him out of the way as they entered pit road and then hit the back of Bowman’s car on pit road.
Section 4.4.B of the Cup Rule Book states that drivers can be penalized for “Intentionally damaging another vehicle on pit road.” Such a penalty could result in the loss of 25-50 driver and/or team owner points and/or $50,000-$100,000 fine. Violations may also result in a suspension.
Suarez restarted fifth in the second overtime restart but left the inside lane open. Alex Bowman, with Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe aligned behind, charged and got beside Suarez as they approached Turn 1.
As Bowman slowed to make the tight turn, he was hit from behind and that sent him into Suarez, who clipped the left rear of Martin Truex Jr.’s car. Truex spun in front of Suarez and blocked his path, allowing the rest of the field to drive by and costing Suarez a top-five finish. Suarez finished 27th.
Suarez spoke briefly with Bowman before having a discussion with Chastain.
“The problem is if you don’t peek out and bomb the guy in front of you, the guy behind you does it to you,” Bowman said. “So what do you do there? It’s not right. The way we race is embarrassing, and if 12-year-olds were doing it, we’d be yelling at them, but here we are saying it’s the best thing in the world on TV.”
Chris Buescher simply called Sunday’s race “our first bumper car race of the year.”
Austin Dillon said: “The end of the race became a typical NASCAR road course race. It was just a mess. We drove up into the hill on a restart and everyone just pile drove into each other.”
Jordan Taylor, making his first Cup start as he filled in for an injured Chase Elliott, was struck by what the restarts were like.
“Every restart, you just get smashed in the front, rear, side,” he said. “So yeah, it was pretty much just survival.”
Sunday’s race was scheduled to go 68 laps but was extended to 75 laps by the late cautions.
Here is a look at the drivers who gained the most and lost the most positions from where they were running on Lap 68 to where they were running on Lap 75:
Most positions gained
18 – Kyle Larson (finished 14th)
17 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (finished 7th)
16 – Kevin Harvick (finished 13th)
12 – Todd Gilliland (finished 10th)
9 – Ryan Blaney (finished 21st)
8 – Noah Gragson (finished 20th)
7 – Austin Cindric (finished 6th)
6 – Corey LaJoie (finished 11th)
Most positions lost
23 – Daniel Suarez (finished 27th)
20 – Joey Logano (finished 28th)
15 – Kimi Raikkonen (finished 29th)
12 – Christopher Bell (finished 31st)
12 – Martin Truex Jr. (finished 17th)
10 – Aric Almirola (finished 30th)
9 – Jordan Taylor (finished 24th)
6 – Michael McDowell (finished 12th)
Tyler Reddick and Kyle Busch, who switched rides before this season, have both won in the first six races.
This marks the third year in a row that two drivers with new Cup rides have won so early in the year.
Last year, Austin Cindric and Ross Chastain each won in the first six races of the year. Cindric had driven a few Cup races previously for Team Penske but last year was his first year in the No. 2 car. Chastain did have the same crew chief and other crew members at Trackhouse Racing after it purchased Chip Ganassi Racing.
In 2021, Kyle Larson, in his first season at Hendrick Motorsports, and Christopher Bell, in his rookie Cup season with Joe Gibbs Racing, each won within the first four races of that year.