That’s a wrap on the 2016 NASCAR season and history was made as Jimmie Johnson tied Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt to become a seven-time champion. It was a huge moment in NASCAR, with plenty of strategy and drama being played out in the closing laps. In the end, Johnson edged out the dominant but snake-bitten No. 42 of Kyle Larson as the race went into overtime.
It was a historic night, and the championship wasn’t decided until the last lap. However, it was the high-pressure atmosphere of the event – win the race, win the championship – that led to the biggest incident of the night, when contact between Joey Logano and Carl Edwards resulted in a huge, fiery accident that ended Edwards’s championship hopes.
Going into the first turn on lap 259, Logano went low to pass Edwards for the lead. However, when Edwards went low for the block, Logano turned him headfirst into the frontstretch retaining wall. Edwards then shot back up the track and into traffic, collecting Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., and others.
Many took to social media to express even more disdain towards Logano, while others were quick to build onto Edwards’s admission that he was to blame for the incident. But although it was triggered by Edwards, the ultimate culprit to blame is NASCAR. That’s not saying the evening itself was a bad night. But when put into a situation like Homestead, where whoever wins or places the best out of four drivers is the Sprint Cup champion, things like this are bound to happen. Is it ideal? Absolutely not. It’s unnecessary.
Since the induction of the elimination system in 2014, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch became Sprint Cup champions in dramatic but clean events. Sure, it was exciting. Plus, the best drivers of the season were awarded properly. Also take into consideration that this wasn’t the only championship event to ever happen in NASCAR that the championship contenders were taken out in a crash. Just ask Brendan Gaughan about the 2003 Ford 200 at Homestead.
But to state a fact, it’s unnecessary. There are ways to achieve drama in the sport without sending guys into a catch fence. Resetting the points for the season finale is not one of them. It’s easy to say that Logano and Edwards would have raced like that even if it was under the 2013 Chase format, but that’s unlikely. If anything, those two probably would have raced more conservatively if they knew a title was on the line.
But conservative isn’t dramatic, according to some, and that’s what led to this current format. A format where one wrong move could spell disaster. A format where a slight misstep could mean another year-long wait to contend for a championship. Sure, it could be fun and dramatic, but that shouldn’t have to include airborne cars and cars burnt to a crisp.
It shouldn’t have had to come to this in the first place; the championship decided by some gimmick that’s constantly being overhauled. Maybe that’s spoken with a touch of bias and a bit of nostalgia for the old school formats, granted. But in all honesty, it’s true. The sanctioning body constantly switched out gimmicks instead of sticking to a cut-and-dry format that added prestige to the title “Sprint Cup Champion.”
Will they overhaul it? It’s doubtful. Probably not, to be honest. But this kind of thing was going to happen sooner or later, and instead of trying to avoid it, it now masquerades under “quintessential NASCAR.” It’s a joke, in all honesty. The only good thing to come out of it was Edwards’s stroll to Logano’s pit box to shake the hands of his crew and to take the blame for the incident. A class act, a great show of sportsmanship, and a great way to build goodwill into the new year.
Let’s just hope Homestead 2017 doesn’t see another travesty like this.