Clint Bowyer has his second win of 2018.
Bowyer took two tires on a pit stop between the end of Stage 2 and the start of Stage 3 on Sunday at Michigan and stayed ahead of teammate Kevin Harvick as rain halted an already rain-delayed race after 133 laps.
Bowyer previously won a rain-delayed race at Martinsville this season. But that race, run on a Monday, was run to completion. This wasn’t, as rain hit and NASCAR brought cars to pit road approximately 6:45 p.m. ET.
He led a 1-2-3 finish for Stewart-Haas Racing. Bowyer stayed ahead of teammate Kevin Harvick over the first 13 laps and Kurt Busch finished third. The rest of the unofficial finishing order is messed up because of issues as it started to rain before NASCAR called the race. Part of the field came down pit road while part of the field stayed on the track. That messed up NASCAR’s electronic scoring of the race.
The most defining moment of the delayed race may be NASCAR’s cluster at the end of stage 1. The sanctioning body was forced into a quick decision when Matt Kenseth spun late in the stage. Officials decided that having a green-flag finish to the stage was the best bet, so they closed the pits during the ensuing caution for Kenseth’s spin, meaning no one could legally pit.
That was a disaster. Kenseth pitted because he had flat tires from his spin. Chase Elliott also pitted because he apparently ran over debris during the caution. NASCAR was able to get a one-lap green-flag sprint to the finish to end the stage — won by Ryan Blaney — but chaos took over from there.
Kenseth came out on the track in front of the leaders during the restart. He thought he could take the wave-around from being a lap down during the stage caution. He couldn’t. Since he pitted illegally — remember, NASCAR closed the pits during the caution in the effort to get a green-flag finish — NASCAR refused to let him take the wave-around.
Elliott should have started at the back of the pack on the restart to start stage three. But he didn’t and was scored 21st after a caution for Daniel Suarez’s spin.
Simply put, NASCAR put entertainment value over officiating a fair race. It’s understandable why NASCAR wants fans to be entertained, but that excitement should never trump having a fair competition.
Since the pits were never opened in the caution for Kenseth’s spin, Kenseth was absolutely screwed. His only legal option was to stay out on the track with flat tires. That’s not ideal, obviously. Teams should always get at least one opportunity to legally pit during a caution flag and NASCAR didn’t give that opportunity on Sunday for the sake of a green-flag stage finish.
It was the wrong decision. No stage is that important. No one would have complained if NASCAR ended the stage under yellow and restarted Stage 2 quickly after Kenseth’s caution. But since NASCAR was looking for an epic moment it created a situation that it didn’t know how to solve, much like what happened in the 2016 All-Star Race when Kenseth tried to use pit strategy in the race’s first stage and got screwed by a loophole in the race’s rules.
NASCAR owes its fans a good show. But it also owes its competitors a fair race more. It failed on that account Sunday.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.