NASCAR dug their own hole with Kyle Larson incident

Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images) /

Ryan Preece’s response to the Kyle Larson incident shows that the precedent NASCAR recently set regarding intentional contact has already backfired.

While they may not have had any notable on-track history together in the NASCAR Cup Series as far as contact goes, Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Ryan Preece certainly didn’t leave Sunday night’s dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway as best of friends.

Preece was upset with Larson fairly early on in the 250-lap Food City Dirt Race at the dirt-covered four-turn, 0.533-mile (0.858-kilometer) Bristol, Tennessee oval, and while several laps went by before the two were together on the track again, the driver of the No. 41 Ford was clearly set on his “game over” promise when it came to the No. 5 Chevrolet.

Preece did indeed end up ending Larson’s night. Larson, who led 75 laps from the pole position, found himself at the back of the pack after spinning on his own a few laps earlier in turn four. When he attempted to pass Preece on outside of turn four, Preece forced him into the wall.

Larson’s ill-fated apparent retaliation attempt resulted in him spinning out in turn one and making contact with the wall, bringing an early end to a race he had dominated the early stages. Preece later stated that he “got loose” when Larson went to his outside.

Because he didn’t admit to intentionally retaliating against Kyle Larson, can NASCAR do anything to penalize Ryan Preece?

A few weeks ago, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin pulled a similar move on Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain in overtime at Phoenix Raceway.

Hamlin and Chastain have a history of on-track incidents together, and Hamlin has long stated that some of the sport’s younger drivers have a lesson to learn. Knowing that he (Hamlin) was going to lose several positions to drivers on old tires anyway, he drove Chastain into the wall.

Without affecting any “innocent bystanders”, Hamlin’s move resulted in both drivers finishing outside of the top 20 after both had been running inside the top 10.

Nothing was going to happen to Hamlin as far as potential penalties from NASCAR — until he admitted his intent on his Actions Detrimental podcast a few days later.

NASCAR docked him 25 points, which is currently the difference between his 12th place position and eighth in the standings, and fined him $50,000. His appeal was unsuccessful.

This process set the precedent. NASCAR is okay with drivers doing whatever they please (to an extent), as long as they don’t admit intent when it comes to any sort of contact that negatively impacts another driver’s race.

You could even argue that this precedent backfired last week at Richmond Raceway.

Fox was showing an on-board view of Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota when he appeared to spin J.J. Yeley intentionally. Even Clint Bowyer stated matter-of-factly in the broadcast booth that the move was “very much on purpose”, which is something you don’t generally hear out of commentators.

But Hamlin said nothing, and no penalty was even considered by NASCAR.

Now, of course, if we run into a situation like we saw last October with Larson and Bubba Wallace, then NASCAR is obviously going to lay down the law. Wallace’s egregious and uncalled for move resulted in him becoming the first driver suspended for an on-track incident in seven years.

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But as far as any sort of “rubbing is racing” type of contact that may or may not seem intentional, it’s highly unlikely that NASCAR will do anything unless the driver at fault flat-out states, like Hamlin did, that, “Yes, I did it on purpose.”