Restarts at Richmond International Raceway lead to clarifications
JOLIET, Ill. -- NASCAR officials outlined new rules in the pre-race driver's meeting at Chicagoland Speedway, clarifying double-file restart procedures before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason begins and ruling that the second-place can is permitted to beat the first-place, or control, car to the start/finish line.
Race director David Hoots outlined those changes in the meeting, saying that the restart zone and the procedures around it remain the same. “The change is,” Hoots said, “that once we go green, we’re racing green. You can’t change your line or your lane until you reach the start/finish line. In essence, No. 2 can beat No. 1 to the line. The leader restarts the race in the zone and then we’re going green, to simplify the rules for you.”
Hoots then opened the meeting, as usual, up for questions. In most driver's meetings, there are no questions regarding race procedure. Sunday, questions were asked by Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr.
Hoots answered Gordon’s request for clarification by saying, “The leader starts in the (restart) zone. No. 2 can beat No. 1 to the start/finish line; he just can’t be in front of him when the green (flag) comes out.”
Hoots answered Newman's question by saying that the green flag will be unfurled when the race leader accelerates in the restart zone.
“It’ll take out one area of subjectivity on our part,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. “And we know it’ll move it around to some other area. It’s just too competitive out there now and it needs to be in the hands of the drivers who decide these races for the most part, not the (control) tower when it comes down to those calls.”
“Basically the restart rules are the same. The thing that is changed is, once the lead car goes or the flag is thrown, you have to stay in line but the second-place car can beat the leader to the line.”
The changes came in the wake of two late-race judgment calls in last weekend’s races at Richmond International Speedway. In the Sprint Cup Series’ Federated Auto Parts 400 on Sept. 7, Carl Edwards beat race leader Paul Menard to the start/finish line on the final restart after Menard, who gained the position by staying out on much older tires, lost traction at the green flag.
Pemberton said Sunday that NASCAR’s no-call on that restart took Menard’s older tires into consideration. “We felt like they left as even as they could,” he said. “Paul spun his tires and therefore got passed.”
Edwards, who pulled away to his second win of the season, said in Thursday’s Chase Media Day in Chicago that he had a tenth of a second to decide whether to accelerate past Menard or allow him to regain control and lead the field at the restart.
“Sure enough, Paul spun the tires, he actually ran into my door a little trying to get his car straightened out,” Edwards said. “I thought, ‘Man, what am I supposed to do here?’ I didn’t know if I was supposed to lift or how much I would have to lift. Fortunately NASCAR saw that he spun his tires and Paul said he spun the tires, but I think that is something that is very difficult. What if he had 100 laps on the tires and no grip and the whole field had four. Are we all supposed to go at his pace? I don’t know the answer to that.”
The previous night at Richmond, race-long leader Brian Scott and Brad Keselowski came across the start/finish line in a virtual dead head, but Keselowski grabbed the position and drove to a NASCAR Nationwide Series victory. This led to a cautionary mention from NASCAR competition officials in Saturday’s drivers’ meeting.
Keselowski likened the call to a football referee having to decide a pass-interference penalty. “What you might call jumping a restart, another person might not,” he said.
Gamesmanship has long been a part of resuming the race, ever since double-file restarts were introduced midway through the 2009 season. But Hoots cautioned drivers about dragging their feet or laying back a certain distance before the green flag as a restart ploy.
“I’m not going to give you a measurement because that puts us in a box,” Hoots told the drivers. “Everybody knows how to do this. Stay closed up to the car in front of you, and we won’t have to micromanage your restarts. So everybody do this right and we’ll have a great afternoon.”
Said Pemberton: “I don’t think anything we do eliminates gamesmanship. It just shifts it to another area that we’ll have to police or look at later. These are the best guys in the world and when they see an area that they can gain positions on, that’s what they do. That’s what they’re paid to do; that’s what they’re supposed to do. We have to do what we have to do.”