DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR officials say they felt the backstretch crash Sunday on the final lap of the Daytona 500 had enough hard hits with the wall that they had to throw the caution as leader and eventual winner Joey Logano entered Turn 3.
It resulted in a somewhat anticlimactic finish with the race ending on a judgment call under yellow-flag conditions without a scramble to the finish line.
But it was a finish that NASCAR said was necessary for safety reasons.
NASCAR rules dictate that once the leader has taken the white flag, it will not restart the race if the caution comes out. Drivers keep their position as long as they maintain a reasonable speed to the finish line.
"We make every effort to finish a race under the green flag," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. "However, when cars get disrupted and hit the wall as they did on that last lap, we are going to react in the best interest of competitor safety."
Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson were left with no opportunity to make a move on Logano at the end of the race at a track where passes in the last couple of turns are common.
Earnhardt had gone from eighth to fourth on the first lap of the green-white-checkered finish and was up to third when the caution came out.
"I thought we were going to have at least a chance, back up to the 88 [of Earnhardt] there, come up to the 22 [of Logano] coming off Turn 4," Harvick said. "But in the end that didn't all pan out with the caution."
Logano had a strong car out front and would have been tough to beat, although Logano admitted afterward he was far from certain that he would hold them off because he doesn't consider restrictor-plate racing his strength.
Earnhardt didn't think they had enough time to get set up to make a good move.
"We sort of strung out, just not enough laps to form anything," Earnhardt said about the potential of a last-corner move. "Even if Kevin backed up [to me], I don't know whether I would have stayed with him or whether Denny would have stayed with me.
"You never know what decision you would have made. ... I wasn't in a good position to think about winning, but we were going to do what we could."
Hamlin was expecting Harvick and Earnhardt to try something and figured his move would be dictated by their move.
"I felt for sure that if the wreck was on the back [of the track], we were going to come back to the line [racing]," Hamlin said. "We had kind of a four-car breakaway. I thought second and third, Harvick and Junior, were going to do something and I was going to hope to capitalize on that move.
"From fourth, it was going to be hard to win it."