Chase Elliott said one thing, the data said another, and everything is changing in NASCAR

“Upon further examination…” as they say.

On the bright side, at least it’s not artificial intelligence invading our lives and threatening upheaval.

She’s the real smarts, technical guy, and while she recently led to Chase Elliott being suspended from a race, she failed to do the same with Austin Cindric, suggesting that there are still gray areas in all that our gray matter generates.

Unsure whether to believe their instincts, Denny Hamlin, or their own lying eyes, NASCAR officials went to the data after Chase’s crude retaliation against Hamlin in Charlotte last Monday.

The trouble started when Hamlin, on the inside of Elliott, broke away through Turn 4 and raced up the track, pressing Elliott a bit against the outside wall.

In the blink of an eye, Elliott then clipped Hamlin to the right rear panel of his No. 11 car, a move that has been called the ultimate no-no of the race, especially at high speeds, as it spins the victim hard to the right and into the outside wall.

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The aftermath of Denny Hamlin's violent crash in Charlotte.

The aftermath of Denny Hamlin’s violent crash in Charlotte.

Yes, it’s a “soft wall”—the life-saving SAFER barrier—but it’s not a beanbag.

Denny considered this a blatant affront on Chase’s part, while Chase went to the race’s age-old script when asked to respond.

“The 11 put me in the fence, and once you take the good bits out of those things, it’s kind of over,” Chase said. “Once you hit the wall in these things, you can’t drive them anymore.”

He then hung a label on the entire ordeal: “Unfortunate Circumstances”.

Ah, the old UC. Often followed by another proven combination: “It’s racing.”

If any discipline were to be imposed, it would have to be a little borderline justice, which has occasionally spawned a cycle of incidents over the years that eventually escalated into outright feuds – Allison-Waltrip, Earnhardt-Bodine, Chastain-Everybody.

But here’s something the ancestors of the stock car never had to worry about: data. The black box information made available to industry insiders, which, by the way, includes Denny Hamlin.

Denny, shortly after dusting off his helmet, took to “social” media to show off the steering data for Chase’s #9 Chevy.

Oh oh.

The data showed a sharp steering wheel turn to the left by Chase, and wouldn’t you know it, just as Denny latched onto the right rear and was sent into the wall at high speed.

Kyle Busch was quick to suggest he tried to get NASCAR to use data six years ago when Joey Logano destroyed it in Vegas. Kevin Harvick brought up Bristol two years ago, when Chase intentionally held him up (he says) and cost him a win – it pushed the feud between these two forward a bit.

Since we’re introducing the Way Back Machine, is there any chance we can retroactively attach a data box to Richard Petty and David Pearson’s cars to see what really sparked the mayhem on the final lap of the ’76 Daytona 500?

Can we relive, thanks to technology, the best hits of Buckshot Jones against Randy LaJoie, Jack Sprague against Ron Hornaday, Jimmy Spencer against Kurt Busch and so many others? Technicians’ heads would spin for weeks if they got their hands on the Sprague-Hornaday readings. Believe me, you had to be there.

Jim Spencer

Jim Spencer

By now, you might be wondering what could go wrong?

We’ll see, but it feels different from the use of modern technology in traditional stick and ball sports. In football, for example, the replay referee simply determines whether a goal line has been crossed, whether both feet have fallen inbounds, etc.

In the race, the data will tell them what happened mechanically – the wheel was turned to the left, the brake was engaged, the throttle was disengaged… whatever. But he cannot measure the human element, the emotional end, the potential of mere physical error.

You are on the slippery slope when deciding whether to weigh these factors – or not – in a decision whether or not to punish.

In fact, after watching the stream, Austin Cindric’s dumping of Austin Dillon last Sunday was deemed unintentional.

“One car goes up a bit and another car goes down,” NASCAR competition director Elton Sawyer said on Sirius/XM’s NASCAR channel.

Then maybe it’s racing lives on. Let’s hope so.

Contact Ken Willis at ken.willis@news-jrnl.com

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: NASCAR data condemns Chase Elliott’s alibi in Denny Hamlin hit

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