Look, I’m as big of a NASCAR fan as they come, but even I have to admit that this year’s All-Star Race was a total shitshow.
From a confusing format that nobody could understand to a lack of action on the track, it seems like NASCAR has got some work to do on getting the All-Star Race back to being the exciting event for fans that it once was.
But that doesn’t mean that the race didn’t have ANY drama, because there was plenty of it there at the end.
Other than a couple of big crashes involving some major superstars in the sport, we can pretty much skip to the last couple of laps of the race when it comes to things worth talking about. And specifically, the race’s finish…or should I say, finishes.
Ryan Blaney was comfortably in the lead and on his way to victory in NASCAR’s All-Star Race, which was held at Texas Motor Speedway for the second year in a row.
But just as Blaney was about to take the checkered flag and head to victory lane to collect that cool $1 million check, NASCAR threw a caution flag for Ricky Stenhouse smacking the wall way behind the rest of the field.
The caution came out before the leader took the checkered flag.
Obviously that begs the question: What was the point of the caution? Stenhouse was in 12th when the caution came out, and the race would have been over so it wasn’t like the rest of the field would have had to drive through his debris with the entire field was well past him by the time the caution flag flew. And Stenhouse was able to keep rolling after hitting the wall, so it wasn’t a situation where the safety crews needed to get to his car immediately to check on him.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. took to Twitter immediately after the caution flag came out to say what everybody else was thinking:
And after the race NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition Scott Miller even conceded that they probably shouldn’t have thrown the caution flag, seeming to blame the race director for being a little too trigger happy:
“I think everybody knows that we probably prematurely called that yellow flag. The way that works in the tower is that we’re all watching around the racetrack, and obviously the race director who has the button and makes the call is the final say of when the yellow gets put out.
We all watch, and we saw the car and mentioned the car against the wall, riding the wall down the back straightaway. And the race director looked up and I’m not sure what he saw but he immediately put it out.
So wish we wouldn’t have done that, but we did that, and we’ll own that we probably prematurely put that caution out.”
Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller on the conclusion of the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway. pic.twitter.com/l3258FjXkZ
But the caution flag did come out before the leader, Blaney, took the checkered flag.
And in any other race, it wouldn’t matter. In a regular race, if the caution flag comes out after the leader has taken the white flag for one lap to go, the field is frozen and the race is over once the leader comes back to the checkered flag under caution.
The All-Star Race has different rules, though. And one of those rules is that the race has to end under green – so if a caution comes out before the checkered flag, there will be a two laps of “overtime” for a green-white-checkered finish.
Even if it comes out one second before the leader takes the checkered flag – which it did.
The problem, though, is that Blaney didn’t realize the caution had come out before he crossed the finish line, and had already dropped his window net to celebrate his win before he was told that the race wasn’t actually over.
#NASCAR … Ryan Blaney was celebrating with his team over the radio when told the race is not over because of the yellow.
"Are you serious, the race is not over? What the (adult world)."
Now obviously not having a window net to protect the driver in the event of a crash is a serious safety concern, and usually would result in a driver being black flagged to come down pit road so that his team could put the window net back up.
But Blaney struggled with the net and was able to get it latched himself – although it’s unclear whether it was fully latched, because the only person who would know that is Blaney himself.
Either way, NASCAR accepted that the window net was up, let Blaney maintain his position on the track, and once the green flag flew, he held off Denny Hamlin to take the checkered flag – again.
Well obviously Denny wasn’t happy – and he’s never been one to hold back when he’s upset.
Never should have been a yellow in the first place. They put Blaney in the situation he was in. To make up for it they let him break a rule. 2 wrongs don’t make a right. Blaney W, NASCAR L
After the race, Hamlin said that NASCAR should have shown Blaney the black flag and made him come to pit road to put his window net back up:
“This isn’t a Denny Hamlin judgment call. I’m just saying whatever the rule is, let’s be consistent and play by the rule.
It’s unfortunate because he made a mistake. He should have won the race. He’s 100 yards from winning the race. But many cars have not won races because of green-white-checkered or because of a mistake on the restart at the end.
Those things happen. All I’m asking is that we know what the rules are and we play by ’em.”
An irate Denny Hamlin says NASCAR should have black-flagged Ryan Blaney for the window net. He says he would have stayed out like Blaney did, but rules are rules. pic.twitter.com/5OVeD1pd84
But it wasn’t just playing by the rules that concerned Denny. He also pointed out that it could have been a dangerous situation if Blaney had wrecked and not had his window net in place:
“We nearly crashed off two, so when I send him headfirst into traffic and the window net’s down…I dunno. Then they’ve got a lawsuit on their hands.”
And Denny said there was no way that Blaney could have gotten the window net up on his own from inside the car:
“Inside the car, you can’t get it back up. It’s impossible. They’ve got those things so tight anyway.”
Denny insists that Blaney deserved the win, and that he’s not asking for charity, but he just wants NASCAR to play by their own rules – although he admitted that if he were in Blaney’s position, he would have done the exact same thing and stayed out until NASCAR made him come in.
Hamlin: "They make up rules. They answer to themselves. That's what they do."
This after discussion on the radio re: Blaney's window net, which they claim wasn't properly latched. Hamlin and Gabehart also agree Blaney should've won it regardless.#NASCAR
For his part, Blaney said he understands where Denny’s coming from, and he would have said the same thing if the roles were reversed:
“I’d be upset too if I was in his position. I mean, you’re running second and the guy makes a mistake and puts the window net down and you’re expecting it to be handed to you and the leader get black flagged.
So I can understand his frustration for sure. But I’m obviously not gonna say I’m frustrated about it. We had the best car all night. We were leading by 3 seconds before the last caution.
But I can understand where he’s coming from. That’s just a product of running second compared to winning. He would be over the moon elated in my position if he won the race, and I would be ticked off just like he would if I was second, so it just kinda depends on the spot you are, so I can’t blame him.”
So yeah, it wasn’t a great night for NASCAR for more reasons than one, and I’m sure there will be some tough conversations at HQ about both what happened at the end of the race and about how to fix the All-Star Race going forward.
Because based on the reactions on social media, and the results from The Athletic’s Jeff Gluck’s weekly “was it a good race?” poll on Twitter (where currently 90% of responses have been “no”), something’s definitely going to need to change.