Kurt Busch was upset with NASCAR’s pragmatism at the end of Sunday’s race at Talladega. And he has a point.
Busch was leading when a crash happened behind him in turn 1 on the final lap. Matt DiBenedetto’s car slammed head-on into the wall in a wreck that included Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Trevor Bayne.
NASCAR decided to not call a caution for the crash to Busch’s detriment. He ran out of gas in turn 4 and was passed by teammate Aric Almirola for the win.
“There were two human element calls there at the end,” Busch, who finished 14th, said after the race. “I don’t know why we ran an extra lap under yellow and I don’t know why there wasn’t a yellow for the dispatch of an ambulance.”
A spokesperson for NASCAR said after the race that the series made “every effort” to get the race finished without a last-lap caution.
“We were closely monitoring each car involved, and were actively communicating with spotters and safety trucks in turn 1. All cars were able to either roll off under their own power or signal they were clear. As always, we make every effort to end under green for our fans in the stands and at home, which we did.”
Independent of anything else, the explanation makes perfect sense, especially in a playoff race. No one wants NASCAR figuring out who was where at the moment of caution on the last lap to figure out the finishing order.
But this finish has a hard time being independent. A similar situation happened in Saturday’s Truck Series race. And NASCAR didn’t exercise the same pragmatism that it did Sunday.
As Noah Gragson and others crashed on the backstretch during the last lap of the race Saturday, NASCAR threw the caution as the crash was still happening. There was no opportunity to communicate with spotters and safety trucks.
The wheels of Gragson’s truck briefly came off the ground on two separate occasions during the crash but his truck never came close to flipping over. And if you’ve watched NASCAR for any extended period of time, you know a crash like Gragson’s can be far less severe than the head-on hit that DiBenedetto experienced on Sunday.
NASCAR typically throws a caution on the last lap of a race if cars involved in the crash are unable to get back to the finish line. Multiple trucks failed to get back to the finish line on Saturday, including Gragson’s, though the wreck was no more violent than the crash in Sunday’s race.
Multiple cars failed to get back to the finish line on Sunday too. Both Elliott and DiBenedetto failed to finish the race. And there’s even a car sitting in the infield grass inside turn 1 after the leaders take the checkered flag.
Should NASCAR have thrown the caution early on Sunday because of what it did on Saturday? It’s up for debate. And while Busch is certainly biased — he would have won the race if a caution was called as early as it was Saturday — he’s got a legitimate complaint. Had NASCAR acted differently during Saturday’s race, Busch’s gripe would have a lot less legitimacy.
Brad Keselowski’s in a big hole
Keselowski was one of three drivers who had to pit with just over two laps to go in the race for gas. Keselowski, like many others in the field, last pitted on lap 138. With a scheduled 188 laps, Keselowski was good on fuel. But the late-race caution sent the race to 193 laps, a couple too many for Keselowski’s fuel tank.
He finished 27th.
As a result, he’s ninth in the points standings and 18 points behind eighth place heading into the final race of the second round. The top eight drivers in the standings advance to the third round of the playoffs.
“It’s certainly not ideal, but it is what it is,” Keselowski said.
Front Row Motorsports brings up the rear
It was not a good day for Michael McDowell and David Ragan. McDowell finished last on Sunday and Ragan was just ahead of him in 39th. Ragan’s day went south first, as he suffered a power problem just a handful of laps into the race.
Jeffrey Earnhardt is causing a lot of cautions
The first caution of Sunday’s race was brought out by Jeffrey Earnhardt’s spin. That’s the fourth caution Earnhardt’s been involved in over the last seven races. That doesn’t even count his last-lap issue at the Charlotte Roval, when Kyle Larson passed his stopped car before the finish line to survive in the playoffs.
Earnhardt’s making quite the late-season impact.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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