The outcome was the same: a crumpled racecar and a driver’s day ended early (two, this time, actually), though fortunately uninjured.
The circumstances were the same: two drivers racing hard for position and every point they could manage.
But was it the same?
No, it wasn’t—and NASCAR’s reaction shouldn’t be either.
This time it was Austin Dillon trying to work over Austin Cindric at World Wide Technology Raceway (also known to…well, everyone as Gateway), with just over 20 laps to go in the Enjoy Illinois 300. Cindric’s left front and Dillon’s right rear made contact, and Dillon spun toward the outside wall, collecting Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Dillon and car owner (and grandfather) Richard Childress called for NASCAR to suspend Cindric after the incident, calling it the same as one that happened six days earlier, in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
In that incident, Denny Hamlin pinched Chase Elliott into a narrow lane at the very top of the racetrack. Elliott bounced off the wall as a result and then turned his car hard left into Hamlin’s right rear, causing Hamlin to crash hard into the outside wall. Hamlin was uninjured, but his No. 11 car was destroyed.
NASCAR suspended Elliott from Sunday’s race at Gateway for the incident after reviewing both video and telemetry data from Elliott’s car. No, it wasn’t because Hamlin “told them to.” It was because there was plenty of evidence pointing to intent, and if anything is sacred in racing, it’s that you don’t intentionally hook a driver in the right rear.
Unintentional hooks have claimed lives. Making a move with malice that causes the same type of wreck is unacceptable. Period.
NASCAR should police those.
But it should not police racing incidents.
Sometimes that’s a fine line. Sure, a driver can make a move that looks accidental that maybe wasn’t. Sometimes a slip can look like something more sinister, and sometimes two drivers are simply after the same strip of real estate at the same time.
It certainly looks like that was the case on Sunday. Keep an eye on the No. 2 car, Cindric, in the video clip. Cindric stays a pretty constant distance from the outside wall; he does drift down a little bit, but it looks like more than it was because Stenhouse moves away from him, opening the distance between them, but that’s mostly an illusion caused by Stenhouse moving toward the wall.
Does Cindric move down a little? Probably a little. Maybe he moved a few feet while preparing to make his entry into turn 1. But Dillon does not hold his line — the distance between the No. 3 and the wall shrinks just before the pair makes contact.
Unfortunately, there was a communications fiber outage at Gateway and some telemetry data was not recorded, meaning all there really is to go by is a couple of video clips.
One more clip, from a more overhead angle, is a little harder to read because as the cars enter the corner, the angle of them in reference to the stationary camera changes. In this one, Cindric does appear to move to the left, setting up for the upcoming corner, but not to turn to the left.
Again, it looks like he moves more than he actually does because Stenhouse is moving away from the No. 2 toward the outside, looking for a higher corner entry than either Cindric or Dillon.
But watch the space between Dillon and the inside wall, and it’s clear that he moves up, again, trying to set up his corner entry. He’s not trying to crowd Cindric, but he isn’t clear to his outside.
Cindric did have a little room as Stenhouse moved up the track, but he was looking for a different angle into the corner, and he may not have seen Stenhouse moving away from him.
There’s nothing in either video that suggests that Cindric turned into Dillon intentionally. There may have been a miscommunication between the driver and his spotter, or they may both have been counting on the other to back out.
Cindric made contact with Dillon’s right rear and Dillon did crash. But from what little information has been available, there’s nothing to suggest that he crashed Dillon on purpose.
From the available angles, this incident looks like nothing more than an unfortunate racing incident, and, unless something that proves otherwise pops up, NASCAR should treat it as such.
About the author
Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.
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