NASCAR might have inadvertently created a problem

Gateway, NASCAR (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Gateway, NASCAR (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

NASCAR could be faced with an influx of “retaliation” accusations following their explanation for suspending Chase Elliott. Gateway might have been a sign of that.

NASCAR suspended Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott for one race after he intentionally wrecked Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin at Charlotte Motor Speedway late last month. Elliott was not allowed to compete in this past Sunday’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.

This decision was made after NASCAR reviewed the data to confirm that Elliott’s move to hook the right rear of Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota was indeed an act of retaliation.

The ruling was consistent with the decision to suspend 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace for a similar move he made on Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last October.

All things considered, it was probably the right call. We all know that certain views and angles of any incident — in any sport — can be selectively utilized to make whatever point one wants to make, so NASCAR instead using the data to make the call was the best course of action.

But now NASCAR has inadvertently set themselves up to face another problem.

As stated, the decision to suspend Elliott was probably the right one. But given the fact that NASCAR made clear that the decision to suspend Elliott was made in an effort to remain consistent with Wallace’s suspension, it appears as though we are going to end up having more drivers claiming “retaliation” when they get wrecked, even if there was no intent.

There will inevitably be drivers looking to try to take advantage of this “consistency” principle whenever an opportunity presents itself, resulting in more frequent calls for suspensions. The precedent has been set; they will want to steer the discussion in this direction.

Look no further than Sunday’s race at Gateway, when Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon crashed out following contact with Team Penske’s Austin Cindric. The move also inadvertently knocked JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. out of the race.

Dillon stated that Cindric should be suspended for the next race and compared his move to the moves made by Wallace and Elliott. Team owner Richard Childress also stated matter-of-factly that Cindric intentionally wrecked Dillon as payback.

But looking at multiple angles of the incident, it looks more like Dillon drove up into Cindric’s No. 2 Ford and initiated the contact. Cindric’s car only appears to change its trajectory after that contact is made with the No. 3 Chevrolet, and he appears to be trying to move to his right to avoid it.

As far as Cindric making an egregious move comparable to those made by Wallace and Elliott, there doesn’t seem to be anything there, even though the contact was obvious.

The No. 2 Ford does make a slight twitch to its left at one point during the clip, but that doesn’t happen until after Dillon seemingly drives across the nose of the car.

Yes, the gap between Stenhouse and Cindric widens, but Stenhouse is clearly moving to the right. That is certainly no indication that Cindric is veering left into Dillon.

Of course, if NASCAR continues to use the data to determine whether or not somebody intentionally wrecked somebody else, as they should, then there shouldn’t be much of a problem no matter who says what. They have the final say in the matter.

But we all know that that won’t be enough to keep some from complaining about certain drivers getting away with certain things and others being punished.

And now that the “consistency” precedent has been set, expect to see more instances of drivers trying to take advantage by accusing a competitor of intentionally hooking them in the right rear, whether it’s true or not.

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Is that what Dillon is doing? Maybe, maybe not. He certainly doesn’t feel that he is in the wrong, and he has a right to his opinion. But on the surface, what Cindric did didn’t appear to be even remotely as egregious as what Wallace or Elliott did.