Chase Elliott's NASCAR Cup Series title hopes hung in the balance after a blown tire knocked him out of the lead at Texas Motor Speedway. But minutes after a hard hit into the SAFER Barrier, the last thing he cared about was competition.
"I just hope nobody gets hurt," Elliott said. "Outside of that, I really don't care."
Elliott was one of three different drivers who crashed while leading during this chaotic 500-mile event. A race that took over five hours to complete was highly competitive, producing a record 19 leaders and 36 lead changes at what's typically a mundane 1.5-mile tri-oval.
But the why behind it left drivers and teams calling this race an unmitigated disaster. Another record, 16 caution flags, came with tires popping roughly 35 laps through a green-flag run at one of the sport's fastest tracks.
A number of those one-car incidents led to serious bouts with the outside wall. Cody Ware was loaded by ambulance onto a stretcher, treated and released at the infield care center while Kevin Harvick complained about neck and back soreness through Twitter.
Just one week after a rash of failures at Bristol Motor Speedway, both safety and Goodyear durability were at the forefront of post-race conversation once again.
"The tires…" explained Joey Logano. "They were shaking like crazy. That is what happened there the last run."
And that's coming from a driver who finished second. Even the winner, Tyler Reddick, fought back from a lap behind after pitting under green for a possible flat.
"It's very subtle," Reddick explained. "You get a little bit looser, the car starts to have a slight vibration. A lot of times the vibrations I had tonight were very, very, very intense.
"Probably about 50% of my brain was thinking about [three leaders crashing earlier]; the other 50% was just on running clean laps."
Goodyear Director of Racing Greg Stucker claimed the issues were a combination of things, from higher speeds due to PJ1 resin being applied to teams messing with recommended air pressure settings.
"People get aggressive," Stucker said. "If you look at races these days, people don't ride very much anymore. When the green flag falls, everyone's up on the wheel and they race hard."
The same type of tire compound will be used in two upcoming playoff races next month -- Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami. Concern immediately shifts to those events along with this weekend's race at Talladega, where 20-car wrecks called the Big One are a regular occurrence at speeds over 190 miles per hour.
"It's on us to get with the teams, to get with NASCAR," Stucker said. "and make sure they understand what we saw, what they saw, and make adjustments accordingly."
But not every driver or team owner is convinced, openly venting on Twitter after the race.
If your thinking that maybe NASCAR will look into someone else for tires, keep dreaming. GY pays them a fat check so they are allowed to gouge the teams each week.— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) September 26, 2022
As safety and tires overwhelm the NASCAR news cycle, overshadowing the playoffs, can everyone put emotions aside and work together to find common ground?
"It's gone directions I think some of us didn't really predict," Reddick said about the first year running the Next Gen chassis. "I think we'll continue to make improvements and everyone will do everything they can to try and help the reliability and the durability of the tires."
Green: Richard Childress Racing. Reddick's third victory of 2022 numbed the sting of first-round playoff elimination with both his No. 8 and Austin Dillon's No. 3. Four wins is the most for this organization since 2013 and with free agent signee Kyle Busch coming soon, the future is bright.
Yellow: Team Penske. Joey Logano's runner-up finish gave him the points lead. Ryan Blaney won a stage and had arguably his best all-around race in three months. Even rookie Austin Cindric shined before a mid-race wreck left him limping home 15th. The problem? None of these drivers wound up victorious, extending their winless drought to 15 races and leaving them without a locked-in playoff spot to the next round.
Red: Kyle Busch. Busch was distraught after a third DNF in four postseason races left him 15th in points, his worst performance since his 2005 rookie season. It's not the way Busch wants to go out with a No. 18 team that's earned 56 wins and two championships since first coming together in 2008.
Speeding Ticket: Pit road openings. Ware's scary wreck, shown below, could have turned tragic if his No. 51 car hit just a few feet to the left into the concrete side wall on pit road.
We've seen these types of near misses before, most notably with Mark Martin's 2012 wreck at Michigan where the concrete wall actually tore into the driver's side portion of his car.
With Texas headed toward a major reconfiguration anyway, there has to be a better way to reconstruct those pit road openings. We have water or sand barrels often positioned in front of the beginning of a track's pit wall to soften the blow. Is there something, anything we can do there to mitigate potential tragedy? Or how about just closing the hole altogether?
This incident between William Byron and Denny Hamlin's a double whammy. Byron, for his part, claims he "didn't mean" to spin out the No. 11 under caution after he got angry his rival crowded the No. 24 Chevrolet off turn two.
Here's a look at what made Byron mad and how Hamlin paid the price.
Went back and found the original incident with William Byron and Denny Hamlin. Byron said after the race that this wall brush bent the toe link. If that's true, then the toe links are more fragile than your grandmother's fine china pic.twitter.com/pvYkDgxvpm— Nick Bromberg (@NickBromberg) September 26, 2022
The contact appeared pretty blatant, but Byron was not penalized on the racetrack. Instead, Hamlin got sent back to 20th when the duo had been battling inside the top five, leaving Hamlin's crew chief Chris Gabehart beside himself.
"The man wrecks you under caution and he gets no penalty? What are we doing?"— Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverRA) September 26, 2022
Why the disconnect? NASCAR officials admitted after the race they missed the wreck altogether, a major mistake that left both Hamlin and others fuming.
2 texas races, 2 press conferences explaining how i got screwed.— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) September 26, 2022
NASCAR will try to make up for it this week, Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller claiming points penalties and fines could still be assessed. Byron wound up seventh in the race while Hamlin was 10th, involved in yet another dust-up with a playoff rival after engaging with Ross Chastain earlier this summer.