The way in which NASCAR handled the end of an all-time terrible event at Texas Motor Speedway was a sign of sheer desperation and embarrassment.
The NASCAR All-Star Race took place on Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway, and it was one to remember for all the wrong reasons.
Races on 1.5-mile ovals were generally rather dull races during the Gen 6 car era, but the Gen 7 “Next Gen” car has seemed to change that to start the 2022 season, with races on this type of track becoming can’t-miss events.
However, the doubts about the ability of the Fort Worth, Texas oval to produce an exciting race, even with this new car, were backed up — and more — on Sunday evening.
The on-track product in the race for $1 million was as disastrous and embarrassing as the sport has seen in an All-Star Race — and really in any recent race.
To put it nicely, it was a lackluster race in which passing was next to impossible, save for restarts when one car got a better launch than another. Even then, it was difficult.
Goodyear tires also struggled to hold air, which has become an increasingly common situation over the last few races, and that issue caused a number of nasty wrecks, including a multi-car wreck involving contenders Kyle Busch, Ross Chastain, and Chase Elliott. Chastain got airborne and nearly flipped over. Busch had led all 47 laps at the time.
There was one thing from Sunday that did turn out right: racing in the “Lone Star State” was worthy of a “lone star” rating, if that.
So NASCAR got desperate and turned the situation into a farce for the ages.
It was a well-known fact going into the weekend that this race was not allowed to end under caution. In regular Cup Series races, once a driver takes the white flag, the next flag ends the race, whether it is a caution flag or the checkered flag.
But in this race, even a caution flag on the final lap would ensure overtime.
Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney took the lead on lap 57 in what turned out to be a 140-lap race, and he never looked back. Despite the fact that Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin, who had actually been able to pass a few cars following a late restart, was on new tires, Blaney extended his lead over Hamlin as the laps wound down.
Blaney took the white flag, and as he was a few yards from taking the checkered flag, NASCAR called a caution after a minor incident involving JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took place nowhere near Blaney.
But it was indeed the checkered flag, not the yellow flag, which flew next, and Blaney crossed the finish line to take it.
He, along with every other competent individual who stayed awake long enough to witness the ending, believed that the race was over.
However, NASCAR decided that another restart was needed to determine a race winner.
The worst part about it was the fact that so many people saw something along the lines of this “entertainment caution” coming since the race itself was a lost cause in terms of anything remotely entertaining, and NASCAR even admitted afterward that they were a little bit trigger-happy on the caution.
Yeah, no kidding.
Blaney had already taken down his window net — and who wouldn’t have, after taking the checkered flag as the legitimate race winner? — so he was busy trying to reattach it during the ensuing farcical caution period.
Naturally, given the design, he wasn’t able to fully fasten it, but it was deemed acceptable and he was not black flagged, even though, by rule, he should have been forced to reattach it as a safety measure (though NASCAR’s “safety first” approach has been somewhat of a joke as of late to begin with).
Why could NASCAR not make him reattach it but allow him to retain first place for the restart that never should have happened to begin with, since he had every reason to take it down when he did?
Nope. Instead, Blaney was effectively forced to choose between fighting to keep $1 million that he had already rightfully earned or racing two more laps in a safe race car.
Fortunately, without incident, Blaney did go on to hold off Hamlin and earn the $1 million that he should have been given a few minutes earlier.
But while the NASCAR community breathed a collective sigh of relief that he wasn’t robbed of $1 million by a ridiculous decision, that safety issue also hung over the finish.
Hamlin, who willingly admitted that Blaney was the rightful winner, made sure to bring up the window net safety issue after the race, slamming NASCAR for yet another instance of making up their own rules as they go.
While some were quick to criticize Hamlin and state that he was simply being a crybaby because he felt Blaney should have been penalized and therefore he should have been the winner, the issue at hand was safety. Plain and simple, Hamlin knew he was beaten. His concerns were elsewhere.
And plain and simple, NASCAR has a lot of significant issues to address moving forward, a lot more than one would generally expect after a non-points event.
Let’s hope that this coming Sunday’s race at another 1.5-mile oval, Charlotte Motor Speedway, the former annual host of the All-Star Race, is much better. The 14th points race of the 2022 season, the Coca-Cola 600, is set to be broadcast live on Fox beginning at 6:00 p.m. ET. Start a free trial of FuboTV today!