TALLADEGA, Ala. — As Joey Logano made his third straight trip to Victory Lane, questions swirled about reigning Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick's late-race tactics.
Several competitors accused Harvick of intentionally causing a race-ending caution in Sunday's Campingworld.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, where Logano completed a sweep of the second round of NASCAR's playoffs.
It came at the expense of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was eliminated from the Chase for the Championship at his best track for the second consecutive year. Earnhardt led a race-high 61 laps, but settled for second in a race he had to win when the Harvick-triggered crash ended the race under caution.
NASCAR's most popular driver did not question his fate.
"When the race is over, I can live with the result as long as everyone else is going by the same rules," Earnhardt said. "I felt like per the rule book, it sorted out and I finished second. I'm okay with that."
NASCAR said last week it would make just one attempt at Talladega to finish the race under green instead of the usual three tries in a nod toward creating a safer racing environment.
Eliminated Sunday were Earnhardt, Ryan Newman — the runnerup to Harvick last year — and Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin. JGR was considered a heavy favorite in this Chase after a dominant regular season. Both eliminated JGR drivers were furious with Harvick.
Harvick had radioed to his crew under caution that a mechanical issue was preventing him from accelerating. But if he moved out of the way, he risked falling to the back of the field and potentially being knocked out of the Chase. So he stayed put, and when his car failed to take off on the restart, he hit Trevor Bayne as Bayne tried to dart around him, triggering a wreck. Earnhardt was unable to race Logano for the win once the caution was called.
"It was a pretty tough ending. (He) knew he was blowing up and told everybody he was going to stay in his lane," Kenseth said.
Denny Hamlin was even less diplomatic on Twitter after the race-ending accident, which ended with him climbing from his flaming car.
"What a joke we have a car with no motor wreck the field to end the race. Complete (junk). Sorry to anyone who spent $ coming to this circus," Hamlin's Twitter page read.
NASCAR reviewed video of the final restart several times and president Mike Helton said officials did not find anything amiss from Harvick.
Harvick said his issue was a broken exhaust pipe and "at the end, I was trying to get out of the way."
Logano's car was showered in beer — a show of disdain from the pro-Earnhardt crowd — as he entered Victory Lane.
"I was aiming for them … it's kind of a cool explosion when you hit beer cans," he said. "Kind of a shame they're throwing their beers full. It was like it was raining out there. But that's okay. Everyone's passionate about their driver. That's what makes our sport great."