October 30, 2020

by a NASCAR fanatic - not affiliated with NASCAR

It wasn’t exactly the Pass in the Grass 2.0, but one of the most dramatic moments of the Monster Energy All-Star weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway was close.

With four laps to go in the Monster Energy Open last-chance race, Chase Elliott and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet led through the tri-oval, with the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Daniel Suarez to his outside.

Suddenly, Erik Jones got a tremendous run from third place and tried to go underneath Elliott for the lead just before the start-finish line.

Some likened Jones’ move to the famous Dale Earnhardt Pass in the Grass in the 1987 Winston at CMS. There were crucial differences, of course: Earnhardt was ahead of Bill Elliott, Chase’s dad, when he got tapped and went through the infield grass.

But Earnhardt never lost the lead, so it wasn’t truly a pass, although he was most definitely in the grass. And Earnhardt went into the grass further back on the frontstretch than Jones did.

Still, the Earnhardt move in ’87 and the Jones move 30 years later evoked comparisons.

But the biggest difference may have been this: Earnhardt’s Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo didn’t have a front splitter like Jones’ Furniture Row Racing Toyota.

And the instant Jones took to the grass, his splitter dug in, sending grass flying and causing severe damage to the front end of his car, knocking him out of the race.

“I got a good run and tried to go to the top and there wasn’t any room on the top,” said Jones. “So I went to the bottom and couldn’t really see behind the 24 (Chase Elliott) where the grass began so just hoped there was enough pavement down there to make a move and get clear, but unfortunately there wasn’t and that was the end of our day.”

Jones was disappointed, obviously.

And on his post-race Periscope video, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he hated to see Jones’ car get torn up, too.

“That sucked to watch that 77 (Jones) literally making a pretty awesome move,” said Earnhardt. “I think if he goes through the grass and nothing bad happens, they’re three-wide, battling for the lead. That’d been pretty awesome.”

That didn’t happen, of course.

“It’s just like anybody else,” said Earnhardt. “They go into the grass and that (splitter) is like a damn shovel. And it’s mounted to the chassis, so when it rips the (splitter), it bends the chassis. It busted oil lines and all kinds of crazy (stuff) on that car. It shouldn’t happen. That’s not what should happen.”

After the race, several drivers took to social media to suggest a flexible valence might be a better alternative than a rigid front splitter.

“I think … is a valence the right answer? I think you could go through that grass and at least continue to race,” Earnhardt said on Periscope. “You might bend the valence up and hurt the car aero-wise, but, hell, at least you can finish. Come down pit road, pull that out and keep going.”

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