NASCAR’s admission that William Byron failed to watch Denny Hamlin spin cautiously during Sunday’s Cup playoff race is disturbing.
With video evidence of impropriety and Hamlin’s team pushing for relief, there were plenty of reasons for series officials to put Hamlin back in second place before the race returned to green flag conditions. Or any other remedy even after the race has resumed.
Add the lack of access to serial officers to Byron’s in-car camera: something fans can easily see on NASCAR.com and the NASCAR Mobile App — and changes should be made before this weekend’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.
While NASCAR should make every effort to assess matters between drivers regardless of their playoff status, two playoff drivers involved in an incident demanded more attention. With three races per lap, one misstep could mean the difference between continuing or being eliminated.
Just as more is expected of drivers and teams in the play-offs, the same should be expected of officials.
“Had we seen that (contact) well enough to respond to it in real time, which we should have, if no excuse there, there probably would have been two ways,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of league Sunday night. . “One would have been to get Hamlin back where he was, or the other would have been to have William start in the back.”
Here’s how the incident played out:
The warning waved on lap 269 Martin Truex Jr.crash at 8:19 p.m. ET.
As Hamlin slowed down, Byron closed and hit him from behind.
Byron admitted after the race that the contact was intentional, although his intention was not to destroy Hamlin. Byron was upset about how Hamlin raced him on lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin force him against the wall as they exited Turn 2 side by side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the warning.
— Dustin Lang (@dustinlong) September 26, 2022
About 90 seconds after the warning lights came on, the US broadcast showed a replay from a low angle of Byron directly behind Hamlin’s car and clear contact.
Contact can take place in several ways. It can come from the car in front slamming on the brakes and forcing the car behind them to hit them, or it can come from the car behind which rams into the vehicle in front. The initial video replay did not clarify the cause of the contact, making it difficult for an official to somehow make a decision based solely on that.
This is also a time when NASCAR officials kept an eye on the safety vehicles on the track, checking the lineup and making sure the pit lane was ready to be open. It’s something NASCAR often does effortlessly. Just not this time.
Another replay aired on the US for 11 minutes and 16 seconds after the warning that Byron and Hamlin’s car was together. That rerun aired about a minute before the green flag waved at 8:31 p.m. ET. During the warning, Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart, claimed that Hamlin should have restarted second.
But once the race resumed, the matter was over for NASCAR. Or so it seemed.
Three minutes after the green flag waved, the NASCAR Twitter account posted a video in the car showing Byron hitting the back of Hamlin’s car while the warning was over. Such action is usually a fine – often a driver is parked for the rest of the race. Instead, Byron was allowed to continue and nothing was done for the rest of the event.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) September 26, 2022
After the race, Miller told reporters that the series officials did not see Byron’s contact.
“The cameras and monitors that we have are mainly devoted to monitoring and seeing our security vehicles and how to steer them,” Miller said. “By the time we put up all those cameras (on the monitor in the control tower), we won’t have room to monitor all the cameras in the car.
“Having immediate access to (Byron’s) in-car camera would have helped us tremendously as we could find it quickly. That’s definitely one of the things we’re looking at.”
But that’s not how it went.
“By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do something about it, we were green again,” Miller said.
We were on the radio screaming what had happened. I challenged my place. What are they doing there then?
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) September 26, 2022
NASCAR did not act. By then it might have been too late to do that. But that is also an issue. Shouldn’t the violation be dealt with immediately if it is clear what happened rather than days later? Shouldn’t officials have been able to access the in-car cameras so they could have seen Byron’s actions earlier and served the appropriate punishment? Instead, Miller hinted at a potential penalty to Byron this week.
Miller hasn’t revealed any details, but it wouldn’t be surprising to drop Byron in the field, costing him points. He is 24 points away from the cutline, so a penalty that drops him from seventh to 30th (the position for Truex) could make sense and that would cost Byron 23 points, putting him below the cutline.
Texas winner Tyler Reddick said something should have happened. He knows. He was parked in a 2014 Truck race in Pocono for wrecking German Quiroga in retaliation for a previous incident.
“In William’s situation, whether he ran over him by accident or on purpose, there should be some kind of punishment for him on that side for completely ruining someone’s race, whether it was on purpose or not,” Reddick said. “I have the feeling that something has to be done there.
“I’m sure (NASCAR will) make some sort of decision. I’m sure they’ll be discussing something this week, updates, from NASCAR’s side. I’m curious what that is. We can’t really have this where you gently dump someone, they go backwards and you don’t. That could be an interesting situation in the future.”