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Joe Menzer: Carl's controversy costs him

May 01, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

Carl Edwards wasn't too happy with NASCAR after being black-flagged for jumping a late race restart. (Getty Images)

RICHMOND, Va. -- Edwards black-flagged for jumping restart after leading 206 laps in Richmond

Confusion reigned at Richmond International Raceway during a late and pivotal restart during Saturday night's Capital City 400.

Kyle Busch eventually reigned as the race winner, but it was all Carl Edwards could do to rein in his frustration over a race that got away. Except Edwards didn't believe that was exactly the case.

"I think NASCAR made a little mistake here. I got the best start that I could. Tony either didn't start or spun his tires, and NASCAR black-flagged us. I don't know why they black-flagged us. I don't think it's right and I don't agree with it."

--CARL EDWARDS

"I feel the chance to win that race was taken from us," Edwards said.

Edwards felt that way because of a penalty that was dealt to him by NASCAR for jumping a restart on Lap 319 of the 400-lap event. Edwards thought he was leading at the time based on what he said his team had been told by NASCAR officiating, and by the fact that his spotter and entire team had seen his car number -- the 99 -- atop the electronic scoring pylon that rises high above the center of the track.

To Edwards' credit, he stopped himself before he went on a real rant, telling reporters he wanted to go talk to NASCAR officials about it, "before I say something real stupid because I'm so frustrated." After he and crew chief Bob Osborne did so for several minutes inside the NASCAR hauler, everyone but the driver did appear to have a clearer understanding of what had transpired and why he was penalized.

Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition for NASCAR, said it actually was quite simple. He said Tony Stewart and not Edwards was the leader on the restart in question, and that, in any case, Edwards accelerated before his No. 99 Ford reached the clearly marked restart zone, defined by white lines on the apron of the race track.

"It's as clear as that," Pemberton said.

*Edwards black-flagged in wild turn of events

Clarification

Edwards was black-flagged as a result of the violation and had to serve a pass-through penalty. Suddenly, instead of racing Stewart for the lead, he was running 15th with a whole lot of lapped traffic between him and the front of the field.

"I think NASCAR made a little mistake here," Edwards said. "I got the best start that I could. Tony either didn't start or spun his tires, and NASCAR black-flagged us. I don't know why they black-flagged us. I don't think it's right and I don't agree with it."

While in the hauler, NASCAR officials showed Edwards and Osborne a videotape replay of the restart in question. That appeared to satisfy Osborne, but not Edwards.

"At the end of the day, it comes down to jumping the restart. That's pretty straightforward," Osborne said. "Our issue was about who was the leader and who wasn't the leader. But, at the end of the day, their stance was that we jumped the restart and we got black-flagged for that."

Edwards said that there was so much confusion over who might be leading that he thought perhaps NASCAR should have thrown another caution flag and done the restart over -- sort of ordered a restart of the restart, if you will. Pemberton countered by saying there shouldn't have been so much confusion, and disputed the contention that any NASCAR officials told Edwards' team or spotter that he was leading -- even though the 99 was listed atop the scoring pylon for all to see.

"What you've got to understand is that with transponders (in the cars), you're (electronically) scored when you cross the start-finish line," Pemberton said. "Unfortunately, when Carl scrubbed off his tires (during the caution), he beat the 14 to the line. So that instantaneously puts him on top. It happens all the time, but these circumstances don't usually stack on top of it. So that just put him on top of the board because they were scrubbing tires and he happened to cross the start-finish line ahead of the 14, coming to the one-to-go (signal), as a matter of fact.

"He wasn't the leader. The 14 was the leader. And the 14 should have started the race."

Even if he had been the leader, Pemberton added, Edwards still illegally jumped the restart and would have been penalized for it.

"They were a couple of car lengths before the zone. There were a couple of different things that went on, but you have to get to the zone first. That didn't happen," Pemberton said.

"It's really as simple as that. He wasn't the leader. The 14 was the leader -- and the 14 didn't even get to the zone to restart the race. Carl was doing everything he could to get a good restart, using the outside lane, and he jumped the start."

Good night gone sour

Even after emerging from the hauler and hearing this explanation, Edwards wasn't satisfied. On a night when he thought he had his first Sprint Cup victory in more than a year within his grasp -- a night when he led five times for a race-high 206 laps -- he was understandably exasperated.

"We had to agree to disagree, and that's the way it is," Edwards said after meeting with Pemberton and other NASCAR officials. "They run this sport and they do the best job that they can. I drive a race car and do the very best job that I can. This is one of those circumstances where I don't know if it's ever happened before, and I don't know that it'll ever happen again. I think the best thing for me to do now is to go home, and relax a little bit, and go race at Talladega (next week)."

A subdued Osborne seemed more mollified after watching a replay of the restart.

"I would have liked for them to say, 'you know, we're going to put you back up in second.' The reality is they can't do that," Osborne said. "They've got a job to do, to officiate these races. It was a tough situation that happened there. At the end of the day, it didn't work out in our favor.

"We had a great race car. I think we would have easily ran in the top five -- and probably in the top three, no problem -- and would have been in the hunt for the win there if the race had shook out. It didn't happen like that. We'll move onto the next race, work a little harder -- and hopefully a win will happen for us soon."

Pressed on if he thought Edwards had indeed jumped the restart, Osborne adopted his own air of resignation.

"At the time, I obviously didn't feel that we did. But looking at the video, we were too aggressive on the restart. That's all there was to it," he said.

In the end, Edwards had to settle for a 10th-place finish that matches his current position in the point standings. On a night when dark skies threatened early and Kyle Busch ultimately reigned supreme late, Edwards was left feeling like someone had rained all over his planned victory parade.

"They knew we were here. My Ford Fusion was fast, my pit crew was spectacular," Edwards said. "I'd just give anything to have that restart over and race to the end. That was going to be a heck of a race."

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.