Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick said Tuesday that he did not intentionally cause an accident at Talladega last Sunday. Meeting with members of the media for the first time since the incident Tuesday, Harvick said he wasn’t about to quit when the opportunity for a higher finish, and a chance to advance to the next round of NASCAR’s championship Chase, presented itself.
“Look,” Harvick said at the NASCAR Hall of Fame Tuesday. “I’ve thought about this a lot, as you listen to what other people say. Obviously we were in a unique position with the caution still out, the way that things all shook out.”
“You know, they can look at it a hundred different ways, “ he added. “But you can’t just roll over and be done with it and say, We tried our best. I quit once in my life and I’ll never quit again.”
The incident occurred late in Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500 mile. Earlier in the week NASCAR announced that there would only be one attempt at a green-white-checkered flag finish at Talladega instead of the traditional three.
With only five laps to go Sunday, Jamie McMurray lost an engine setting up what should have been the one and only attempt at a green-white-checkered flag finish. On the first attempt, Jimmie Johnson was spun behind the leaders and NASCAR threw a caution prior to the field crossing the start-finish line. NASCAR officials then ruled that there would be another attempt.
On the second attempt, Joey Logano held a slight lead over Dale Earnhardt Jr. as they crossed the line. However, another crash occurred behind them and NASCAR was forced to throw the caution again. The second crash was caused when Harvick, who had already reported troubles with his engine that slowed him down dramatically compared to the rest of the field, appeared to veer right and up into the car of Trevor Bayne. Bayne was forced into the wall, back down across the track and multi-car crash ensued.
After a few minutes to review the results, NASCAR ruled that the field had crossed the start-finish line the second time, and that Logano was the winner and Earnhardt was second. Earnhardt was eliminated from the next round of the Chase. Harvick meanwhile finished 15th despite his sour engine and was able to advance into the next round of the Chase.
Tuesday Harvick defended his actions. He said he was simply trying to stay out of everyone’s way.
You know, look, I didn’t cause the first wreck,” Harvick said. “I definitely don’t believe that I caused the second wreck either. It’s just one of those situations where I did the best I could on the restarts to get going. I got out of the way. I never even really saw the 6 (Bayne) car until he was by me and doing what he was doing. “
The tone of Harvick’s fellow drivers was a little different Sunday. Immediately after the race many drivers were questioning Harvick’s move. Chief among them were drivers Matt Kenseth, who finished 26th and Denny Hamlin, who finished 37th. Both were caught up in the final crash and eliminated from the Chase.
“He pulled out of the way the first time because he knew he was blowing up and this time he said he was going to hold his lane, so we went up to go round him and then he clipped the 6 (Bayne),” said Kenseth. “He knew if he put him in a slow spin the race was over and he’d make it, so, like I said, it feels we lost control here the last two weeks. I don’t think that’s what racing is about. The spot they put us in, it’s hard to blame people, but that’s not what racing’s about.”
“4 (Harvick) could only run about 30 miles per hour,” said Hamlin. “So I think he saw people coming and he knew he was going to be 30th, last car on the lead lap so cause the wreck.”
Tuesday the opinions were still mixed. Four time champion Jeff Gordon said to him the evidence that Harvick did anything deliberate was inconclusive.
“I don’t think that it’s a clear-cut thing,” Gordon said. “Do I like the fact that there’s somebody with an engine that is under-powered starting right in the middle of the pack? No. If this Chase format wasn’t the way that it is, I don’t think somebody would do that.”
There’s no doubt that the way that Kevin started that last restart was to cause chaos,” Gordon added. “I don’t think that he intentionally tried to do it. I can’t see anything from what I saw that he was intentionally trying to take somebody out. I think the restart before that he moved up and got out of the way and let people go by. This one he didn’t. I think that’s pretty clear that he wanted there to be chaos. That was his shot. He did what he had to do.
“You can’t blame somebody for that. “
Carl Edwards still had a strong opinion on Tuesday. He saw two of his teammates, Kenseth and Hamlin, swept up in the final crash and get eliminated from the Chase.
“It appears that Kevin (Harvick) and the 4 team, they had to have a caution in order to preserve their position,” Edwards said. “They were aware of that and it appears that they caused that caution. That’s tough, to be completely frank, that makes me uncomfortable that if that’s the case that a team could do something like that – that’s calculated to alter the outcome of the most important race of the year. Things happen in the heat of battle, we’ve all done things in the heat of battle, but if that’s the case, if that’s what happened then that’s just too bad. I guess NASCAR looked at it closely and if they think there was nothing wrong there, then that’s the way we move forward. Nobody really knows.”
Edwards finished 5th Sunday. Tuesday he said his personal opinion about the Harvick incident isn’t important.
“I can say that at the end of that race, it just didn’t feel right to me the way that went and there’s only one person that knows if it was intentional or not and that’s Kevin (Harvick) and man, I hope it wasn’t,” Edwards said. “I just have to hope for our sport, for all the hard work that everyone puts in and all that’s on the line that kind of thing number one, I could see how you could be tempted to do something like that, but I really hope that NASCAR makes sure that kind of stuff isn’t common place for sure.”
Earlier Tuesday NASCAR issued a statement saying they had reviewed an “extensive” amount of data from Sunday’s race and that based on their review, Sunday’s results are considered official. Tuesday NASCAR Chairman Brian France speaking on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, defended the call for the second yellow flag at the end of the race.
“There is a safety element that will always come first,” France said. “You saw when we have that kind of calamity of a crash and there is smoke and fire with (Denny Hamlin’s) car, that is going to get an instant caution from us and it should.
“We have to look at safety and balance it. I think we balance it very well and we probably balance it better than anybody in motorsports,” France added. “We’re fans, too. We want to see the best teams win it on the track and not have to end it early for any reason.
“Safety in auto racing and NASCAR will always come first. It has to.”
France later said that no decisions have been made concerning the one attempt at a green-white-checkered flag rule at superspeedways in the future. Sunday was the first time the rule had been in place.
“We’ll try to balance always wanting to put the best race forward, let the drivers win it on the track,” France said. “That’s our preference. And we’ll balance against that goal but safety will always remain at the top.”
Harvick said Tuesday that in his situation Sunday, his entire season was on the line. Despite a car with a sour engine his goal was to keep trying until the very end.
“If it falls on its face, you crash, whatever the case may be, but you still have that little glimmer of hope,” Harvick said. “That’s your season. That’s it.”
“You just have to hope,” he added. “Look at the football game a couple weeks ago. Who would have thought the guy drops the ball, guy picks it up and runs back for a touchdown, Michigan State wins the game. I mean, it’s just sports. But it’s a more cut-throat system, for sure, just for the fact that it’s three, and you got to survive to stay in.”