From what I saw, NASCAR made the right call at Dover black flagging Jimmie Johnson but if you step back and take a look at how restarts are policed; you would agree that NASCAR needs to overhaul the entire process. There is a much simpler way of going about restarts that would be better for everyone if they implemented it. Before I get to what that exactly is, here’s a look back at other restart controversies that drastically affected the outcome of races.
There have been many restart controversies in NASCAR; too many actually. It’s a very gray area and it’s always a judgment call on NASCAR’s part. There really isn’t a black and white ruling with restarts and the calls are usually very inconsistent. That’s not a shot at the officials; it’s just a tough thing to police. NASCAR has a restart zone and the 2nd place car is not allowed to pass the leader unless they don’t go by the time the field gets to the end of the restart area. The leader can also be legally passed if they are unable to maintain a reasonable speed. The drivers mess with one another on restarts all the time trying to get that slight advantage that could potentially change the outcome of their race.
Earlier this year, we saw Carl Edwards brake-check the field at Phoenix allowing him to get a considerable gap over Jimmie Johnson. Technically, he didn’t maintain a reasonable speed by slowing down like that but NASCAR let it slide. Last year, there was a Nationwide race at Indianapolis where Elliott Sadler had the win taken away from him after a controversial restart. He beat leader Brad Keselowski to the line, there’s no doubt about that but the circumstances surrounding it is what makes it controversial. Not only did leader Brad Keselowski spin his tires, but Elliott’s teammate Austin Dillon was shoving him so there was no possible way he could back off and give the position back. NASCAR black-flagged him anyway costing him the victory and taking valuable points away from him.
NASCAR usually doesn’t care if the second place car beats the leader to the line as long as it’s by just a small amount but in situations like Sadler’s, there was nothing he could do about it. Another incident was last year at Richmond and that was just a complete mess in more ways than one. Not only did Stewart spin his tires in the worst way, but both he and Edwards thought they were the leader at the time and in control of the race. In the end, Carl was issued a penalty ruining his night. There have been so many problems with restarts the past few years that I could write a book on it and it’s all so unnecessary; there is a much better way to go about restarts. A couple other recent problems were David Ragan in the 2011 Daytona 500 and Johnny Sauter in a truck race at Texas a couple years back.
The question is, how should NASCAR police restarts? The best option in my opinion would be the complete abatement of the current restart rules. NASCAR needs to seriously consider implementing a rule just like Indycar’s. Everyone must stay in formation until the green flag flies and then all bets are off. Just start racing after the green flag is waved with no restart zones or being told to stay in line. That will instantly erase all these games played on restarts, take away all the controversy and it will actually make the races more exciting. With the way it works now, you are at the mercy of the driver alongside you which isn’t right.
This system has worked perfectly in Indycar and would work just as well in NASCAR. No more restart controversies, no more brake-checking, no more holding your breath until you cross the line and most importantly, no more judgment calls. It’s a simple idea that would be a great addition to the racing and make for a better race. You’ll have people fanning out 4-wide before they even get to the stripe as they race off into the corner instead of everyone slowing down and speeding up to make sure they don’t do anything wrong. The only issues they’d have is when an overzealous driver takes off before the restart zone which would be a fairly easy thing to police.
We have easily 10 or more issues with restarts every year across all three national touring divisions and that’s way too many in my eyes. NASCAR is doing the best they can trying to enforce the rules we have in place but it’s an unneeded burden for the drivers and officials to have to deal with. Get rid of the current restart rules and employ Indycar’s; it’s that simple.