Houff’s gaffe alters complexion of Texas race, playoff hunt

A late-race miscue by rookie Quin Houff carried major ramifications for the outcome of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, dramatically altering the playoff picture at the season’s midpoint.

Houff’s ill-timed dive toward the pit-road entrance clipped two cars — the No. 95 Toyota of rookie Christopher Bell and the No. 21 Ford of Matt DiBenedetto — before sending his own No. 00 StarCom Racing Chevrolet careening into the outside retaining wall.

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That chain of events prompted a caution period with 29 laps remaining and in the middle of a pit-stop cycle, catching several contenders a lap down after stops. That sequence opened the door for Richard Childress Racing drivers Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick to vault ahead in the running order and ultimately claim a 1-2 finish. It also allowed Dillon to snatch up a playoff spot, tightening the postseason picture for drivers who have yet to clinch.

“An unfortunate ending to our day in Texas,” Houff said. “I’ll just go ahead and knock this out of the way, we were trying to get to pit road and I didn’t get called off in time and the guys that were committed underneath me were already there, and that’s my fault. I had a spotter mirror there that we use in the window on the left side of the car, and it had fallen off so I couldn’t see out of that. So, rookie mistake. It’s one of those really tough learning instances.”

Houff, who was several laps down at the time of the incident, exited with a 34th-place finish. DiBenedetto salvaged a lead-lap finish in 17th, and Bell placed 21st, three laps off the pace. DiBenedetto was among those critical of Houff, who was making his 35th Cup Series start.

Brad Keselowski, who shares a Penske-related affiliation with Wood Brothers driver DiBenedetto, was among those chiming in with his opinion on the late-race crash. Keselowski, who wasn’t among those caught a lap down at the time of Houff’s incident, led 15 laps and ultimately finished ninth.

“I think there are two ways to look at it. There’s the entertainment way to look at it and say that probably created a more entertaining finish, so if you like chaos, then that was good. I think on the other side of that there’s the, ‘Hey, I’m a professional race car driver that’s worked my entire career to get here. Had to jump through a lot of hoops to make it and would like to think that those efforts have created a spot for me in this series to be joined with peers of similar talent levels.’ ”

Keselowski also floated the idea of adding a relegation structure to NASCAR’s developmental ladder.

“One thing I would like to see, and I think I’ve been pretty consistent with this, is I would like to see drivers be able to graduate into this level and equally I’d like to see them be able to be removed from this level when they have repeated issues,” Keselowski said. “I can’t speak enough to the gentleman that had that issue today, but I have seen in the past where drivers that have had this issue multiple times somehow are still here, where I think they should effectively be placed in a lower series or asked to go back to a more minor-league level to prove their salt. But that’s ultimately not my decision to make. It’s what I would like to see, but it’s not my decision to make and until it is, I guess I should probably just shut up, but I certainly think there’s some merit to it.”

Monday morning in an appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Scott Miller — NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition — said that officials planned to consult with Houff before the next Cup Series race, scheduled Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM) at Kansas Speedway.

“I think nobody could argue that it was a very poor decision,” Miller told SiriusXM. “And yes, we do review every incident of every race. We didn’t speak to the driver last night, but we will before we get going again at Kansas. Got to do better than that. Racing incident, things are going to happen. Every decision that’s made out on the race track is an instantaneous, spur-of-the-moment decision, but I think that nobody could argue that wasn’t a poor one.”