Sunday’s second race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup was shaping up nicely for Brad Keselowski when NASCAR penalized the Team Penske driver for jumping the restart on Lap 242 of the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Keselowski lined up alongside leader Greg Biffle but appeared to accelerate a bit early, prompting NASCAR to throw the black flag.
After coming in under green flag conditions to serve a stop-and-go penalty on Lap 248, Keselowski returned to the track in 25th and the final car on the lead lap.
Although the 2012 Sprint Cup champion managed to claw his way back to a 12th-place finish and leave New Hampshire eighth among the 16 Chase drivers, Keselowski was not happy with NASCAR’s call.
“I got the chance to do something again for the first time — first person to be penalized for jumping a restart when I didn’t pass anyone,” said Keselowski, who actually never moved ahead of Biffle on the restart. “So that’s a new one. But we moved on and made the most of a good day with the Miller Lite Ford and got a solid finish that will hopefully make our Dover (next weekend) a little bit easier, so that was good.”
Clearly agitated, Keselowski also added another little nugget.
“It’s a pretty basic understanding: It’s an entertainment sport, not a fair sport, but we had a great car,” he said.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series managing director Richard Buck later defended the sanctioning body’s questionable call to penalize Keselowski.
“We reminded them before the race and on each restart about the rules and if we saw something that was creeping toward (being wrong), we informed the spotter and the crew chief, so they knew how we were thinking in the tower and what we were seeing, and that’s what brought us to the decision,” Buck said.
So what exactly did Keselowski do wrong in NASCAR’s eyes?
“There’s a double red mark on the (outside) wall and there’s a single red mark on the wall,” Buck explained. “The leader is the control car and has earned the right to restart the race. He must restart the race in that zone, and the 16 (Biffle) was the leader at that point. The 2 car restarted in the zone before the 16 did. … We got 100 percent confirmation from our senior official on the ground, as well as what we saw on the tapes and the data that was available to us.”
Keselowski’s crew chief, Paul Wolfe, didn’t completely disagree with the call — but he didn’t completely buy into it, either.
“It depends how you look at it,” Wolfe said. “We did leave the zone, I guess, before the 16 (Biffle) but the 16 looks like he checked up there right at the end. So I don’t know how they’re calling it. No denying we left the zone first, and it looked like we accelerated, but it seemed like right at the same time he checked up, because they were running in the back of him. So that’s the part where it’s frustrating to call that. If they looked at it, you would see the 16 checked up.”
Calling NASCAR’s decision “very clear based on the video we have, the different angles we have,” Buck insisted that NASCAR wasn’t trying to single Keselowski out. Although multiple restarts have been questioned by drivers in recent races, Keselowski is the first driver in a long time to actually be penalized for jumping one.
“We’re not out to get anybody,” Buck said. “We’re the keeper of the rules and the enforcer of the rules, and we wanted to make sure everybody understood. All anybody asks for in this garage area is that they be treated fairly, and we believe we did our job today.”
Keselowski did not meet with NASCAR officials after the race, nor did any members of his No. 2 team, but Buck said NASCAR plans to meet with them this week to further clarify the decision.
As for Keselowski’s Chase standing, it could be a lot worse. He’s four positions ahead of bubble driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and 16 points ahead of 13th-place Kyle Busch, who is the first driver among four Chase drivers currently not in position to reach the next round of the Chase.
But there’s still next weekend’s race at Dover left in the opening round.
“It’s very frustrating,” Wolfe said. “We knew this (New Hampshire) was a strength of ours in this round, and to have an opportunity to get a win or a top five would have been huge, and take a little bit of the pressure off going to Dover. Yeah, we recovered to 12th and gained a few points and are not in terrible shape, but at the same time Dover’s been hit or miss for us, so it would have been nice to come out of here with a win or some more points.”