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Drivers Want Consistency in Regards to Restart Rule Enforcement

Will NASCAR make changes to restart rule? What do drivers think about Denny Hamlin's jumped restart?

Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images

NASCAR missed a call on the final restart of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway, where Denny Hamlin jumped the start and went on to win the race. In the days after the no-call, fans, and the industry as a whole have lit up social media with debates as to whether the no-call was right or wrong.

Following Sunday’s race, NASCAR’s Elton Sawyer admitted that Hamlin jumped the start, but that if the restart had happened earlier in the race, the penalty most likely would have been called. Sawyer called the final restart of the race a, “bang-bang” call. While it was good to hear NASCAR admit they made an error on the call, hearing that the restart zones are enforced differently based on what lap the race is in, really made some competitors uneasy.

The consensus among the majority of the drivers following the no-call is that they simply want the rules to be enforced consistently regardless of what lap the restart comes on, and who the drivers are that are involved.

“I think if it’s a call at Lap 300, it should be a call at Lap 397,” Joey Logano said on this week’s Behind The Wheel on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It should be the same. It should be the same. And there’s more time to review it after the race than there is during the race. I know that. Because you have all the time in the world to review the restart, the race can be over, and you have 10 minutes to look at it if you want to before you make the call. Like I said, I’m probably a little too close to the fire on this one, because it would have really affected my life, but I don’t know what to tell you.”

Logano continued by saying, “I just want it to be the same every week. That’s all I want. I think that’s what any competitor wants. If that’s okay, what happened this weekend, that’s fine. I’m okay with that as long as that’s okay next week, and it’s okay at Lap 200, and it’s okay at Lap 300, and it’s okay at Lap 500. I just want it the same. That’s all I look for.”

Josh Berry, a Rookie of the Year contender for Stewart-Haas Racing, says the issue of the no-call is only an issue with the fanbase because it was involving one of the sport’s most polarizing drivers — Hamlin.

“If it was one of us, people wouldn’t even think about it, honestly,” Berry said in a Tuesday media availability. “It’s subjective, right? If it’s myself or Ryan [Preece] going for our first win, are you going to really call it if we go a foot or two early? I don’t know.”

“It’s just a tough situation. All I know is at the end of the day, I don’t want to see judgment calls,” Ryan Preece explained. “I am a purist. Definitely, we’re going to go race, right? We all know how to perform restarts.”

Preece continued by saying that he doesn’t feel NASCAR needs to step in unless its an ultra-egregious jumped start.

“If he started in the middle of [turns] 3 and 4, then we could have a real conversation about it. We’re talking within a half of a car length. If you lay it out on the ground, that’s probably the distance that he went early,” Preece said.

Berry likewise doesn’t see anything wrong with the restart performed by Hamlin, and he would like to see more flexibility shown for the leader in late-race restart situations.

“I didn’t see any issue with what happened, personally,” Berry stated. “I have raced a lot of short tracks, and I’ve raced a lot of different rules, restart lines and restart zones, all of these different things. It’s really easy to completely handicap the leader. I think there has to be some flexibility there. I think the leader is the leader for a reason. He needs to have the right to control the restart. And a lot like what Denny said, a lot of times, you’re judging what you’re going to do as the leader based off of the car in second or car in third. Like he said, these guys are laid back trying to time the run, they’re all trying to time it right. Sometimes you have to push the envelope a little bit to not end up getting screwed out of the lead.”

Berry continued, “Just in general, I think it’s all really blown out of proportion. I don’t think that its that big of a deal. I don’t think there needs to be data, and policing. We need to have flexibility, and drivers need to be able to race and make decisions.”

“Any short track I’ve ever gone to, you’re almost at a disadvantage at times when you have a box like that,” Preece said. “Because you’re at the mercy of if I don’t go at the first line, and you wait further into the box, what happens if the guy in second goes and has a nose out there and that’s not called? Well, now you’ve lost the advantage. Or if you wait, and Joey rolls up and has momentum on you, and pulls out at the start finish line, you get put three wide going into Turn 1. It’s a lose-lose situation. At the end of the day, that’s racin’. I would have done the same thing.”

While Preece and Berry don’t feel Hamlin’s restart was foul, Hamlin’s restart was indeed illegal, and should have been flagged by NASCAR, at least according to how the rule is written in the NASCAR Cup Series Rule Book, currently.

If the rule isn’t ammended to include an, “in NASCAR’s judgement” clause, what methods could NASCAR take to better police the restart zone to ensure what happened on Sunday doesn’t happen again?

Perhaps a system of cameras pointed at the restart zone, much like the esses at COTA, which captured when cars went off course for cutting-the-course penalties, or perhaps SMT data, and scoring loops could ensure 100% clean restarts in the future.

Brad Keselowski cautions that added technology could further complicate restarts, and throw a cloud over the finish of races just about every weekend.

“Realistically, you’d like to solve for challenges like that. Just being careful that you don’t fall into the natural law of unintended concequences that seems to follow that,” Keselowski explained. “I saw Chad Little a few weeks ago, and we were sharing a joke about COTA with respect to track limits and things of that nature. This is what happens when you have definitive perfect technology, you end up with 20-something or 40-something penalties over a race weekend. I think COTA was a perfect example of how this could go the other way.

“Where you have technology to solve challenges, you create black and white, you remove some of the gray judgment calls, and people don’t like that either. I totally understand the challenge those guys must face while picking a path for this challenge. It’s the challenge of the week, and honestly, if that’s the worst challenge coming out of Richmond, I think we had a pretty good week.”

What is the magic answer? Nobody knows for sure. But what is for sure is that most drivers feel Hamlin didn’t jump too early by their judgment, however, per the NASCAR Rule Book, he did. Either the definition of the rule is going to have to be overhauled, or NASCAR is going to have to potentially start assessing end of line penalties for drivers that jump the restart on overtime finishes.

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One Response

  1. Let me see if I understand this. Drivers want #InconsistentNASCAR to be more consistent? Cheating is cheating! Egregiously or Inconspicuously. If you want to be respected as a sport you call the same foul on lap 1, 100 and 300. NASCAR might just have changed the outcome of who does or doesn’t make the playoffs! Denny would have bend placed last on the lead lap, lost 10 points and 1 playoff point, but more importantly all the other lead lap cars would have received at least 1 point for position and the eventual winner would have received I playoff point and at least 10 points. So after Darlington, lets see who missed out by 1 point.

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