NASCAR will not penalize Erik Jones’ team
NASCAR announced Monday night that it will not penalize Erik Jones’ team.
A NASCAR spokesperson stated that the sanctioning body conducted a review of the on-track competition and the radio communication on Jones’ radio during Sunday’s Cup race at Martinsville Speedway.
NASCAR also announced that no penalty will be issued to Kevin Harvick for wrecking Kyle Busch on the last lap at Martinsville Speedway.
Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that series officials would review the radio communication by Jones’ team in the final laps of the race and also the Harvick incident.
With 15 laps to go Sunday, Denny Hamlin was 12th and Jones was 13th. At that point, Hamlin was one point ahead of Brad Keselowski, who held the final transfer spot to the title race. Hamlin was two points ahead of Harvick, the first driver outside the cutoff.
Crew chief Chris Gayle said on the No. 20 team’s radio to Jones: “(Hamlin is) going to race you hard because he needs to, because it’s within like three points for those guys. He’s going to race you hard because it’s three points on those guys. Just so you’re aware.”
Jones responded: “I’ve got a huge gap behind me.”
About 80 seconds later, on the No. 20 team’s radio channel, spotter Rick Carelli said: “Don’t pass him, Jones. Stay with him and drive what you can.”
Hamlin finished 11th and advanced to the Championship 4. He finished nine points ahead of Harvick, who wrecked Busch on the final lap trying to get by him. Harvick lost seven spots before he crossed the finish line, costing him seven points on Hamlin and Keselowski.
Jones finished 12th, a spot behind Hamlin.
After the race, Jones said on the team’s radio channel: “Good car, Chris (Gayle). I don’t have much to say to you about the end. I’ll talk to you when I get in there.”
Gayle responded: “Yep. Exactly.”
Wally Brown, competition director for Joe Gibbs Racing, said Monday that “we don’t have team orders.
“It’s just not the way we race. If you listen to that whole transcript, there was a lot of talk about point implications across the board from multiple teams. Let’s face it, at that point in time, Denny was not going to let him around. They probably would have crashed if they would have tried to. If he would have tried to make a pass, he probably would have crashed both of them, no different than the last-lap effort (by Kevin Harvick in wrecking Kyle Busch).
“The stakes are high. You’re not going to give up those spots, you’re going to do everything you can. That’s the way I look at it.”
Chris Gabehart, crew chief for Hamlin also said Monday that there were no team orders.
“I think you can look back to one week prior at Texas where the stakes were honestly just as high or higher for Martin Truex, and Kyle Busch won the race. Really didn’t cut him any slack obviously,” he said. “If you look in that very same race, there was a situation where (Jones) was the Lucky Dog and (Hamlin) was the car one lap down. There were no team orders there. (Jones) ended up getting the Lucky Dog. We had to wave around and try to get on a lead lap another way.
“Each one of these teams and drivers and sponsors have a lot that goes into this, are expected to perform at their top level. I can certainly tell you where Martinsville was concerned, Erik was doing plenty of what he was needed to do to (Hamlin’s) back bumper to try to get by him. If there were some sort of team orders on, he wouldn’t have been beating our back bumper. I think Denny was very determined to not get passed, he knew how important it was, he was very difficult to pass, and that’s how it played out.”
Harvick was one point from advancing to the Championship 4 on the last lap of Sunday’s race when he drove his car into Busch’s car.
“It was just a move I had to try knowing that I needed one point,” Harvick said. “I needed to hit (Busch) square in the door, but at that point I was too late and wound up hitting him in the back. It was just a Hail Mary that didn’t work out.”