Friends, competitors and racing fans – I come to explain Kevin Harvick, not to praise him.
He is a stout competitor. But like all others he makes mistakes. He has admitted so. To be honest, some of them never do.
But in Harvick’s case what occurred at Bristol was so obvious and had such negative results the Stewart Haas Racing driver could do nothing more than beg forgiveness.
Which he did, to his credit.
It happened on lap 161 of the 500-lap Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol, an event well known for mayhem and flaring tempers.
Let’s face it, when cars race at high speeds in close quarters on a 0.533-mile, high-banked track – the likes of which does not exist anywhere else – the margin for error is slight. And when mistakes occur, well, the result can be a mass of battered sheet metal.
There often follows explosive anger on the part of more than one competitor that has, in the past, led to confrontation – even fisticuffs.
But let’s be honest here, OK? That this is part of racing at Bristol is certainly a portion of its appeal. Fans expect a blown temper or two, even a nose-to-nose debate in which drivers question each other’s ancestry.
Now, it didn’t come to all of that when Harvick triggered the Hamlin accident.
Problem was Hamlin, driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, was the leader at the time. He had won once this year and was in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, barely.
When a driver has a chance to win a race, there is nothing that makes him more furious than to be robbed of it.
Which is exactly what happened to Hamlin on lap 161 when Harvick, trying to take the lead, slid up into Hamlin’s Toyota and triggered the mishap that brought out the race’s fourth caution flag.
It gets worse. Hamlin’s sliding Toyota crossed directly into the path of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Chevrolet. Heavy contact was made.
The result? Both Hamlin and Earnhardt Jr. were removed from the race. Hamlin finished 40th, Earnhardt Jr., 39th.
Incidentally, if for some reason you are a driver who wants to provoke the most fans possible, just wreck Earnhardt Jr. You may not make it home.
Earnhardt Jr. dropped to second in points behind teammate Jeff Gordon and Hamlin remained in 20th place.
Earnhardt Jr., a member of Hendrick Motorsports, has little to worry about. He has three wins this year and is Chase bound.
Hamlin? Well, his win lets us assume he will make it. But there are eight winless drivers ranked higher in points and if any one of them wins over the next two races, well, Hamlin’s seeding drops – even though he should be safe in the Chase.
No doubt he realized this at Bristol.
Hamlin emerged from his car unscathed but ticked. He tossed his HANS device at Harvick’s car as Harvick drove by.
“I just wish I had some kind of car left so I could show him the favor back,” Hamlin said. “We’re not even halfway, we’re racing for the lead – it’s a misjudgment.”
Harvick apologized on the radio (and on Twitter) afterwards and said the move was not intentional.
“Too many driver mistakes tonight,” he tweeted. “Apologize to my team for the speeding penalty and to ruin our night and to Denny for ruining his.”
The point of all this is nothing much has changed at Bristol.
Yes, Harvick goofed and ultimately wrecked two competitive cars.
But one driver, Earnhardt Jr., other than losing the points lead, is still locked into the Chase.
The other, Hamlin, has a more tenuous situation. He has a win, but, as mentioned, there are eight drivers ranked higher in points who could surpass him with a win at Atlanta or Richmond.
Now, to be honest, it doesn’t seem likely that will happen. But it is very possible.
As for Harvick, with two wins and a seventh-place in points, it’s not likely he’ll miss the Chase.
I’m pretty sure that doesn’t make him feel better. He goofed at Bristol. He knew it and admitted it. He receives no exoneration here.
None of this does anyone a bit of good – especially Hamlin.
But remember, this is racing. And this happens – time and time again.