NASCAR drivers want stricter policing of restarts – USA TODAY
BRISTOL, Tenn. âÂ Itâs no secret how NASCAR feels about restarts. The double-file dashes into Turn 1 are the most exciting parts of many races, and NASCAR wants drivers to control the exact moment when the race goes back to green.
But how serious NASCAR is about punishing those who donât play by the rules on restarts is unclear. Though there were no problems Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, drivers believe there could be some questionable circumstances as the Sprint Cup Series heads towards its final 12 races.
âAll the drivers really want is for NASCAR to police that stuff with a stern hand,â Dale Earnhardt Jr. said after the race. ââ¦ You see a guy breaking the rule and you just want to see NASCAR come down on people. You just want NASCAR to run the show like you read in the rulebook.â
There seems to be uncertainty among drivers because NASCAR oftenÂ says one thing about restarts while doing another. Officials threaten to penalize drivers for not following the proper procedure, but rarely call a penalty in those situations.
Essentially, itâs the âDonât make me come down there!â approach favored by parents worldwide. And as a result, drivers and teams push the limit to see what they can get away with.
Many drivers feel like they can get away with quite a bit âÂ and do.
âThey say itâs a judgement call, but you want them to really rule on the side of the penalty,â Earnhardt said. âKeep people honest. â¦ If you give us a little room out there, as drivers we are going to try to take it. We donât want the sport ran so loosely.Â We really want it to be structured very tight.â
In NASCAR, all restarts except the start of the race are supposed to beÂ controlled by the leader. When the leader arrives in a zone painted on the wall, he or she has the discretion to go at any time. The second-place driver isnât allowed to take off first, but can beat the leader to the start line âÂ the result of a rule change after more restartÂ controversy in Sept. 2013.
But what if the second-place car does jump first? Or what if it hangs back to get a run? And what if carsÂ further back in the fieldÂ break out for a passÂ before crossing the start line? Theoretically, all those cases should be subject to penalty âÂ but they usually arenât.
That resulted in Sprint Cup Series director Richard Buck getting peppered with questions in the pre-race drivers meeting at Bristol. Carl Edwards argued his restart with Austin Dillon earlier this month at Michigan International Speedway was called incorrectly (Buck disagreed), while Denny Hamlin asked NASCAR to return to the pre-2013 restart rule.
Even team owner Chip Ganassi asked Buck a restartÂ question in the meeting.
âThere were a lot of questions,â Joey Logano said after winning the race. âI spent a lot of time with NASCAR this week actually trying to understand what I can and can’t do, and being able to understand where their head is at and what they’re thinking when you look at a restart and what’s right and what’s wrong and what they’re going to police and what they’re not going to police.â
But, Logano acknowledged, “they’re always subject to change.”
In the Bristol drivers meeting,Â Clint Bowyer told NASCAR if officials would call a penalty once in awhile âÂ as they did in Wednesday nightâs Camping World Truck Series race âÂ it would force Cup drivers to respect the rule.
On that point, Earnhardt agreed.
âIt seems like in the Truck Series they really get after them guys and smack those guys on the back of the hand when they screw up,â Earnhardt said. âBut in the Cup Series, they have kind of let a little stuff here slide.â
Follow Gluck on Twitter @jeff_gluck
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