RELATED: Can Harvick bounce back and advance in Chase? Editor's note: The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author. Jimmie Johnson was at fault for slamming into the side of Kevin Harvick during Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway . And Harvick's team was wrong to leave its driver out on the track following the contact, taking an unwise and unnecessary gamble in a race that had just reached the halfway point. And this was not just any race. This was the opening event in the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and the first of three races that will determine which 12 teams from the field of 16 will advance to the next round, the Contender Round. Sure, hindsight might be 20-20, but we're not talking about a couple of Johnny-come-latelys here. Both drivers are former Sprint Cup champions -- Johnson a six-time winner while Harvick captured his first title this past season. RELATED: Hear the scanner from the incident There are several reasons why the two teams are considered among the very best on the track each and every week. They rarely make mistakes and when problems do arise, the teams don't fall apart. If anything, adversity draws the respective groups closer together. They haven't won races and championships because they've made bad decisions. They've won races and championships because they’ve made smart ones. In Sunday's Chase opener, both made bad choices and it had nothing to do with Johnson's visit to Harvick's bus in the motorcoach lot after the race. That's fodder for another day. Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet shot underneath Harvick on a restart on Lap 135, and the reason he took to the track apron is open for debate. Replays made it appear as though a shove from Joey Logano forced the Hendrick Motorsports driver to dive low to keep from running into the back of Harvick's No. 4 Chevrolet. From other angles, it appeared Johnson went low not because of any contact, but simply to avoid hitting Harvick, whose Stewart-Haas Racing entry didn't seem to get quite as good of a launch on the restart. Either way, Johnson was in no man's land and he knew it. With Turn 1 just ahead, he had two options -- try and force his way back onto the track or lift and give up track position as others sped past. RELATED: Where do both drivers stand in Power Rankings ? Maybe Johnson didn’t win six titles by giving up ground, but it could have just as easily been his car that sustained a tire rub and eventually found itself in the wall. It was a pretty questionable decision with so much on the line. No doubt Harvick was aware of Johnson's predicament and perhaps he openly chose to keep his fellow racer pinned on the bottom. Maybe Harvick didn't slide up a lane and let Johnson in line for fear of another car being on his outside. Logano was there somewhere; Jeff Gordon was as well. Maybe he chose to hold his line because he never expected Johnson to come rocketing back up onto the track and slam into the side of his car. There's no way of knowing, of course, but one has to wonder what decisions would have been made had the roles of Johnson and Harvick been reversed. Would Harvick have tried to force his way back onto the track? Would Johnson have moved up a lane to avoid contact? Once the contact took place, Harvick's team felt any damage was minor enough to leave their driver on the track. Smoke from a tire rub had lessened; radio chatter informed Harvick that all appeared OK, keep pushing. And then he hit the fence. In the opening Chase race and with nearly half the race remaining. RELATED: Harvick looks to Loudon for redemption There was no way of knowing how significant the damage to Harvick's car was after the contact with Johnson without coming to pit road. But why take the chance? Why put your entire season in jeopardy when a trip to pit road would have alleviated any concerns for both driver and crew? Yes, a pit stop for fresh tires and to check for damage would have put Harvick a lap down, perhaps two. According to NASCAR statistics, however, there were only 16 cars on the lead lap at that point in the race. The likelihood that he could have raced his way back onto the lead lap was extremely good. Denny Hamlin went on to win the race after nearly losing two laps in the opening stages of the race. Carl Edwards , his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, rallied to finish second despite falling off the lead lap when he was penalized for speeding on pit road on Lap 52. Instead, the No. 4 team chose to roll the dice. By the time repairs had been completed and Harvick returned to the race, the driver was 57 laps down. Harvick, who finished 42nd Sunday, has only two races to climb back into contention. His is not a lost cause, but the team can't afford any more mistakes. Johnson dropped six spots, falling from first to seventh and that's not the way his team expected to open the Chase. It's not unusual to see teams with nothing to lose take risks. But for those who repeatedly succeed by making the right decisions at crucial moments, putting an entire season on the line with a questionable decision is totally out of character.
See what's coming this week to NASCAR.com Here's what you'll see on NASCAR.com this week: MONDAY: The drivers get most of the attention, so we will introduce you to the 16 crew chiefs that will be making the calls for the teams in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup ... Who has the best pit crew of all the Chase teams? PitTalks.com's four-part series analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of each over-the-wall crew ... @nascarcasm recaps the Richmond action as only he can. TUESDAY: Will there be any movement in this week's Power Rankings presented by Outback? We'll see how the top drivers are ranked heading into the Chase ... @nascarcasm drafts up a Facebook page using his wit and comedic puns ... Hear the best in-car audio with Scanner Sounds. WEDNESDAY: See the fresh looks that will be on track at Chicagoland Speedway with Paint Scheme Preview ... High 5 presents the best NASCAR content from around the web ... Which team is the favorite to win the championship? Holly Cain tells you ... Kenny Bruce reports on the open test at Kansas. THURSDAY: Chase Media Day is here and NASCAR.com will have a live stream from the event so you can hear from all the drivers in the postseason field ... Driver Reports is back this week and highlights the 16 drivers in the Chase ... Jimmie Johnson turning 40? @nascarcasm has something to say about that. FRIDAY: There is plenty of on-track action with all three NASCAR national series in action at Chicagoland Speedway . A busy day is capped off by Coors Light Pole Qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at 6:45 p.m. ET followed by the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series American Ethanol e15 225 at 8:30 p.m. ET. ... Kenny Bruce and Zack Albert will be on the ground as drivers prepare for the start of the Chase ... 8 Tweets highlights the best from social media in the past week. Also coming this week: Chase Across North America kicks off on Tuesday with drivers taking to the cities hosting Chase races and a few other locations for special appearances ahead of the Chase ... In light of Denny Hamlin 's torn ACL, we take a look at drivers who have raced injured.
Jimmie Johnson overtakes Matt Kenseth in the standings and Power Rankings ; do you agree? Make your picks on the Fan Rankings tab!
Stewart-Haas Racing driver rides third-place finish back into Power Rankings
Talladega produced some shakeups in this week's rankings ; do you agree?