INDIANAPOLIS — Tyler Reddick didn’t know if he was dueling for the win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway or being harassed by a car under penalty.
Ross Chastain, running fifth, had missed Turn 1 on the overtime restart and sped through the escape route. He returned to the track next to Reddick, who was leading.
Reddick and Chastain then swapped the lead, but Reddick still didn’t know if he was racing Chastain for the win.
Reddick said his spotter told him he thought Chastain would be penalized but NASCAR had yet to say anything.
“He’s going to get penalized isn’t good enough,” Reddick said. “I didn’t know for sure if he was or wasn’t.”
Reddick worried that if Chastain was going to be penalized and they continued to battle, that would allow Austin Cindric to close and challenge Reddick for the win. If Reddick knew Chastain was under penalty, he’d let him go.
Reddick went on to win and NASCAR penalized Chastain (and Austin Dillon) for gaining positions via the escape route. Both Chastain and Dillon were assessed 30-second penalties. That dropped Chastain from second to 27th. Dillon was credited with 30th, the last car on the lead lap.
There’s a bigger issue with this situation, though.
Speeding through the escape route could allow a car to gain time. An executive from a different team told NBC Sports the team was aware of the potential advantage.
The solution should be simple.
Put up cones in the escape route that forces a driver to slow and weave around them. That will make it truly a disadvantage to go through there.
It’s what the NTT IndyCar Series does on street courses and should be something for next year’s Indy road course race — and any other road course event, including the Chicago street race, if there is a place a car could go off course and gain time on the field.
NASCAR was fortunate this time that Chastain didn’t turn Reddick and spin. That would have marked the second year in a row a penalized car spun the leader.
Last year, Chase Briscoe cut through the Turn 1 grass and gained positions, which is a penalty. Seconds after NASCAR announced the penalty to Briscoe — but before the driver was notified — Briscoe spun Hamlin on that lap. Briscoe then had to serve a stop-and-go penalty for missing Turn 1, and that allowed AJ Allmendinger to win.
Sunday, Chastain was on the outside with three cars on the inside during the final restart as the field entered Turn 1, a sharp right-hand curve off the front stretch.
“I couldn’t go any farther right,” Chastain said.
“I was turning in and realized there was no way we were making it. I just decided to get out of the way and take the access lane.”
Finding himself next to Reddick for the lead, Chastain said: “The way I understand it is if you cut (the turn) and don’t take the access lane and re-emerge, don’t gain any ground. I took the access lane. If I misunderstood the rule … I had not thought about it before Turn 1. I realized there’s no way we’re making Turn 1, I can’t turn in, I’m going to be in the grass.”
Said Reddick of Chastain’s maneuver: “I haven’t looked at Ross’ (data), but it looked like he pretty much decided that was the route he was going to go. The ruling by NASCAR is if they don’t gain a huge advantage or whatever the term might be it’s acceptable, and he obviously gained too much of an advantage and it cost him a really solid finish inside the top 10.
“It’s kind of open for discussion, open for interpretation, right, so hopefully going forward, especially when we come back to here with this track and how that chicane or the cut-through is designed, we can make it to where it’s a little bit slower to where no matter if he hit it absolutely perfect, it’s costing you at least two, three, four seconds to where this situation doesn’t happen again.”