For the third time in as many restrictor plate races in 2016, the NASCAR Xfinity Series had a controversial finish in Friday’s Subway Firecracker 250 at Daytona.
After taking the white flag, Aric Almirola led the field down the backstretch for the last time when all hell broke loose. David Ragan, subbing for Matt Tifft in the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, was turned sideways after contact with Jeff Green as the pair raced for fifth in the outside line.
The contact forced Ragan into the outside wall and collected several other cars, including Darrell Wallace Jr., Ryan Ellis and J.J. Yeley. With chaos erupting behind the leaders, NASCAR chose to not throw the caution flag, giving way to what looked like would be another thrilling side-by-side finish at Daytona.
However, as Justin Allgaier and Almirola raced in a dead heat out of Turn 4, NASCAR elected to display the yellow, freezing the field less than a mile from the finish line. Replays shown by NBC Sports made it too close to call for some, but after several minutes of review, NASCAR declared Almirola the winner.
If this feels familiar, it should. At Talladega, NASCAR had a similar situation when Brennan Poole took the checkered flag first, but Elliott Sadler was correctly ruled the winner after replay showed him in first place as the yellow flag waved due to a crash in the tri-oval.
Got the muppets up there officiating tonight! Never know how to react under pressure… Whatta joke
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) July 2, 2016
Friday night’s finish was yet another example of NASCAR making things much harder than they need to be, inexplicably complicating the finish of another superspeedway race. In fact, all NASCAR needed to do was throw the caution as soon Ragan was sideways in front of oncoming traffic and there would be no controversy, and Almirola would still be celebrating in victory lane without a senseless replay.
Instead, they seemingly chose to wait it out, to see exactly how the crash was going to unfold, and if no one was injured, allow the leaders to race back to the finish. That’s fine until the what-if moment happens, as was the case when Ellis radioed to his team that he needed some medical assistance.
At that moment, NASCAR had no choice but to throw the caution to get help sent to Ellis as soon as possible. The finish left fans, media and drivers confused as they all waited for NASCAR to declare a winner. Following the race, Ellis’ mother tweeted that he had been suffering from dehydration.
Friday’s race had it all: three-wide racing, crashes, fuel strategy and a number of underdog drivers and teams near the front of the field in the closing laps. But it also had more inconsistency from NASCAR, which might be the only thing that’s consistent at Daytona.
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