Quin Houff shook up the entire complexity of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at the Texas Motor Speedway. He made a questionable move to pit while running in the middle of Turn 4.
That prompted a big crash which in turn shook up the running order.
See, the incident happened in the middle of a pit sequence. Fast cars like Ryan Blaney was pinned a lap down and had to take a wave around. He swept both stages and led a race-high 150 laps.
Blaney, wasn’t able to rebound from that caution.
“Yeah, to a point it’s frustrating when it happens,” Blaney said. “You’re like, ‘Man, bad break after bad break. What in the hell do we have to do to have things go our way?’
“We’ve been capable to win a lot of races this year, it, like I said, hasn’t played out for us. It’s frustrating at the time, but there’s no point in dwelling on things. You just focus on what you need to do and that’s just keep bringing fast race cars. If you keep running up front and leading laps, I hope and I think that things will eventually go our way.”
Some may ask, well how can a fast race car not come back up? Well, track position was key on Sunday. With this racing package, it normally is everywhere we go.
Anyone up front is fast. No matter who it is.
So, for Austin Dillon and his RCR teammate Tyler Reddick, they went aggressive to take two tires. Track position was so key, they figured why not try it?
“Could not believe it,” 3rd place finisher Joey Logano said on the RCR cars having older tires and beating him on four new ones. “Could not believe it. I was pretty certain when I was fourth, a little bit newer tires, a lot newer tires, 50 laps on their tires, I thought, Man, they’re sitting ducks, I got ’em.”
Logano, said the tire doesn’t help right now either. There’s just so small of a fall off on it, that it’s not helping the on track product.
“Tire is way too good,” Logano continued. “This is the same tire at Kentucky. The tire wears, it wears, it wears down to the cords. It does not slow down. Noticed that, made the calls to do that. You’ve seen other people do that throughout the day at times, too.
“Ultimately they made the right call because they realized that. The tire, it never slows down. Heat may affect it here and there, balance can make you slow down a little bit, but for the most part once you get clean air you can run the same speeds as you do early in the run. Actually faster, because I was stuck on the splitter for 15 laps, about 20 laps my car would finally get going.
“You saw what track position meant today. If you can hit it right off the bat, make small changes, it’s a huge advantage. So hard to pass these days. Especially when there’s no falloff in the tires, the opportunity to pass is tough.
“When your car’s not good, you have to come in and put four tires. If your car is decent, put two on, stay out, do fuel only, different strategies to get up toward the front. You have to get the right balance to get your car close enough unless you’re going to get eaten up on these restarts.”
That’s why Dillon and Reddick went aggressive. They know in order to win in NASCAR’s premiere series these days, you have to.
“If you can get the track position at some point, you can be fast,” Dillon said. “You saw when we got out front, we had a hot rod.
“But the call was the win, the call that Justin made. I asked him for something. Our car was fading. I thought Tyler, his car was a little better coming down the stretch. He had kind of caught me, but we had track position on him. I said, Man, I got to have something to finish this race off. He said, All right, we’re taking lefts.
“Lefts had freed my car up all day. I was tight. When we put the lefts on, it was the call we needed to go on and win the race.
“You got to be aggressive in this sport to win races. I’ve kind of noticed that a lot of the great guys that are doing it. We were aggressive with our call. We maintained our position and won the race.”
But, that pit call doesn’t win him the race if Houff doesn’t crash. When do back markers that affect the outcome get penalized?
I get you can’t get rid of them. If you do, the sport will eventually die with no new teams coming in. You have to start somewhere and in this sport, the starting point is almost always the bottom.
So, how can we police this? Brad Keselowski has a thought.
“I think there are two ways to look at it. There’s the entertainment way to look at it and say that probably created a more entertaining finish, so if you like chaos, then that was good,” said Keselowski. “I think on the other side of that there’s the, ‘Hey, I’m a professional race car driver that’s worked my entire career to get here.
“Had to jump through a lot of hoops to make it and would like to think that those efforts have created a spot for me in this series to be joined with peers of similar talent levels.’ I have nothing personal against anyone that has an issue like that because they do happen from time to time, but there are certainly a handful of drivers that kindly I wonder exactly how they got to this level.
“Part of it plays into all the rules. When you’ve got this rules package with cars that are super-easy to drive by themselves, it’s very hard for NASCAR, I think, to be able to tell who’s got it and who doesn’t.
“So it kind of puts them in a box until you actually get in a race, but one thing I would like to see, and I think I’ve been pretty consistent with this, is I would like to see drivers be able to graduate into this level and equally I’d like to see them be able to be removed from this level when they have repeated issues.
“I can’t speak enough to the gentleman that had that issue today, but I have seen in the past where drivers that have had this issue multiple times somehow are still here, where I think they should effectively be placed in a lower series or asked to go back to a more minor league level to prove their salt.
“But that’s ultimately not my decision to make. It’s what I would like to see, but it’s not my decision to make and until it is, I guess I should probably just shut up, but I certainly think there’s some merit to it.”
He’s not wrong. When you can’t pass and the cars are all going the same speed, track position is the name of the game. When you get a caution in the middle of the pit sequences for an incident that shouldn’t have ever happened, you get an artificial ending.