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Long: The third round of the Chase is set! (Unless it’s not)

TALLADEGA, Ala. - Kevin Harvick did nothing wrong.

Unless he did.

Ryan Newman is out of title contention.

Unless he isn’t.

NASCAR made the right call.

Unless they didn’t.

Welcome to the world of big time stock-car racing where the notion of cars going around in circles could not be any more convoluted, conspiratorial and contradictory.

Sunday’s Chase race at Talladega Superspeedway finished with fans booing, drivers challenging the reigning champion’s sense of fair play and questions about if the eight Chase drivers who advanced to the third round will be the same come Monday. Or Tuesday.

After spending 30 minutes in the NASCAR hauler after Sunday’s race, Vice Chairman Mike Helton emerged to absolve Kevin Harvick of any wrongdoing - for now.

“We don’t see anything that is suspect so far,’’ Helton said after reviewing video of Harvick’s contact with Trevor Bayne that triggered an 11-car crash on the final restart and assured Harvick a spot in the next round of the Chase.

“The only thing I mean about so far is that I’ve been around long enough to know that something could crawl out of the woodwork the next 24 hours.’’

Well, then.

Maybe Harvick’s quest to repeat as series champion continues next weekend at Martinsville Speedway. Maybe Newman, who missed advancing to the third round by three points, suddenly finds his way back into title contention. Maybe NASCAR got it right Sunday.

Maybe it didn’t.

If it didn’t, would NASCAR be prepared to change who is in the Chase in the next 24 hours or so if additional evidence arose?

“We historically have been,’’ Helton said.

Many will point to 2013 when NASCAR penalized Michael Waltrip Racing for seeking to manipulate the fall Richmond race. The penalty, which came a couple of days after the race, knocked Martin Truex Jr. out of the Chase and put Newman in it. NASCAR added Jeff Gordon as a 13th title contender later that week.

That case featured clear radio evidence of one of the Waltrip cars being told to pit in the final laps to help Truex make the Chase that year.

Sunday, Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers, said on the radio before that final restart: “Hopefully, they wreck right past the start/finish line and we end up with something. If not we’ll be out.’’

Later, Childers said on the radio: “I know you ain’t got much option, but I would try to block as many positions as you can because that’s what it’s going to come down to.’’

Harvick responds by telling his spotter to get the message to Trevor Bayne, who was behind Harvick, to push him.

Is that enough to alter the list of Chase contenders for the second time in three years? Is that enough to disrupt NASCAR’s Chase system again?

Clearly there wasn’t enough video evidence or NASCAR would have reacted Sunday night as fans drove away from this 2.66-mile speedway.

The video shows that as the field headed for its second attempt of one green-white-checkered finish - the previous attempt was halted and never truly happened in NASCAR’s eyes because cars did not cross the start/finish line - Kevin Harvick was 10th with a sick car. Harvick was going to fall back as soon as the green flag flew, all but dropping him out of a transfer spot.

Harvick’s car belched and bellowed while not responding to the driver’s command to pick up speed when the race resumed. As Bayne went by on the outside, Harvick’s car drifted to the right and hit Bayne.

“I don’t know if I clipped (Bayne) or he came across as I was coming up,’’ Harvick said.

Bayne, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth all noted how convenient the caution was for Harvick.

“That’s a crappy way for Harvick to have to get in the Chase is to wreck somebody - what I believe to be on purpose - maybe it wasn’t,’’ Bayne said.

As Helton’s 24-hour period - or however long it becomes - ticks, the search for more evidence will continue.

So, there you go folks, those who believe that certain drivers have won certain races with NASCAR’s favor or that certain drivers have been punished for something that upset those in NASCAR’s office, this is your time to comb through the video and audio from late in the race and come up with your best guess.

Maybe NASCAR will agree with you.

Maybe it won’t.

Follow @dustinlong