NASCAR: The driver who is looking extremely smart right now

Ryan Preece, Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Preece, Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

Ryan Preece didn’t admit anything regarding his contact with Kyle Larson in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway, and it likely saved him 25 points and $50,000.

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Ryan Preece made good on his “game over” promise in Sunday night’s NASCAR Cup Series dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway when it came to Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson, who had dominated the early stages of the Food City Dirt Race.

Early in the race, Larson had gotten into the side of Preece’s No. 41 Ford, causing it to make slight contact with the wall, and Preece did not forget it. A little bit later on, Larson spun on his own, miring him back in the pack.

Eventually, he and Preece were running together again, and Larson made a move to Preece’s outside in turns three and four. Coming out of turn four, Preece drove into the side of Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet, causing it to make contact with the wall.

Larson’s retaliation attempt was an ill-fated one, as he ended up spinning himself out in turn one and making additional contact with the outside wall, ultimately ending his race.

A lot of people just assumed that Preece would be docked 25 points and hit with a $50,000 fine, given Denny Hamlin’s recent penalty. Not so fast.

We’ve been saying this for weeks, if not months — even years. NASCAR has set a precedent that in order to be penalized for any sort of “rubbing is racing” type contact that results in a negative outcome for a competitor, or for any sort of race manipulation, a driver needs to admit intent.

This is a precedent that has been around for quite some time, and the start of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season has only magnified it.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Hamlin walled Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain in overtime at Phoenix Raceway last month. Both drivers were running in the top 10 at the time, but both finished outside of the top 20 because of the contact. It cost Chastain the points lead (and technically still does, to this day).

Hamlin later admitted on his Actions Detrimental podcast that he intentionally ruined Chastain’s race. Hamlin and Chastain have an extensive on-track history with one another, and Hamlin has long been vocal that some of the younger drivers need to learn a lesson.

Knowing that he (Hamlin) was going to lose several positions to drivers on newer tires anyway, he decided to take Chastain with him, figuring that it was an opportune time to get his point across without collecting any innocent bystanders.

NASCAR didn’t penalize Hamlin for the move. In fact, it wasn’t even on their radar. But once he admitted intent, he was hit with a 25-point deduction, which is currently the difference between him sitting in 12th and eighth place in the standings, and a $50,000 fine. He wasn’t initially going to appeal the penalty, but he changed his mind.

A few weeks later at Richmond Raceway, just before Hamlin’s appeal was set to be heard (and ultimately tossed out), Fox was showing the on-board camera of Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota when he spun out Rick Ware Racing’s J.J. Yeley. Even Clint Bowyer stated matter-of-factly that it was “very much on purpose”, which you don’t generally hear from commentators.

But Hamlin did not say anything about it afterward, and while it certainly had to have been on NASCAR’s radar, given some of the comments that were made about it (and the fact that the intent was blatantly obvious), no action was taken.

Why? Because Hamlin didn’t admit anything.

Preece took a page out of Hamlin’s book — the second time, that is. He simply stated that he “got loose” when the second contact with Larson occurred, and he did not admit to doing anything intentionally, even though Larson — and basically everyone else — had another theory.

He also didn’t go on a podcast and admit anything later on.

And what did NASCAR do about it? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Preece is $50,000 richer and three positions higher in the point standings because of it.

The precedent is set. Drivers can race others however they please, with or without any semblance of respect. Barring some sort of totally egregious move — like we saw with Bubba Wallace on Larson at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last October — anything goes, and even if it involves ruining somebody’s race, NASCAR won’t act.

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And if they do, they will now be seen as inconsistent. Their recent silence is deafening.