The debate regarding restarts rages on and NASCAR plans to address the issue prior to Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Chicagoland.
NASCAR officials will take some time during Sunday’s pre-race drivers meeting at Chicagoland Speedway to reinforce their position on how race restarts are officiated, particularly as the Chase for the Sprint Cup gets underway.
We probably have to reemphasize our position on restarts and the fact that we’ve left that up to the drivers
NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton
In recent weeks, several drivers have complained about what they perceive are inconsistent calls on restarts from NASCAR.
The subjectivity of restarts
At the pre-race drivers’ meeting at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway last month, NASCAR officials were peppered with questions from drivers and team owner Chip Ganassi about the restart policy.
The issue drew attention this past week again after race-winner Matt Kenseth appeared to jump a late-restart in his win at Richmond, Va., last weekend but no call was made by NASCAR.
A lot of times someone isn’t happy about it but if it is something blatantly obvious you have to make the call
Joey Logano on the final restart at Richmond
“We probably have to reemphasize our position on restarts and the fact that we’ve left that up to the drivers,” NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio in an interview Thursday from ChaseFest in downtown Chicago.
“In the meantime, there is a right and wrong way to do it and it’s hard sometimes for us to figure out that line. It’s a subjective part of the sport that’s still left – highly visible, highly debated.”
One measure under consideration by NASCAR that could be implemented immediately is the re-positioning of track-side series officials to closely monitor the restart zone area.
The feedback from those officials would then be included in any NASCAR decision on issuing a penalty on a restart.
NASCAR looking at new technology to help officiating of restarts
Helton said NASCAR officials at their research and development center in Concord, N.C., are trying to figure out how to incorporate technology and take more of the subjectivity of the call out of the decisions.
“Until we get there though with something the industry will all buy in on as the step to take, it’s up to us. We’ve got to be quick in our decisions and we’ve got to make them,” he said.
“More often than not, I stand behind the calls we make. I think we try to do our best. Restarts is something that comes with a lot of debate particularly if you have one like we did at Richmond.”
Joey Logano, who would have taken over the lead had Kenseth been penalized last weekend, said he just wants NASCAR to be consistent.
“If the call is that you can jump the start that is okay, just let us know. If the call is you can’t jump the restarts, let us know,” he said.
“It is a tough position for them and I understand where NASCAR is with it. It is a ball and strike call. But baseball does that every week with every pitch. They make a ball and strike call. A lot of times someone isn’t happy about it but if it is something blatantly obvious you have to make the call.
“You have to do it. It is a tough position for them when you look at angles and when there is a race win or possibly a championship on the line, it could be a lot larger than what happened last weekend.”
Varying opinions on restarts
Drivers’ positions on restarts have changed over the years. NASCAR used to have a rule which forbid the second-place driver from crossing the start/finish line before the first-place car on restarts but that was abandoned as being too rigid.
The current policy allows the race leader to start the race in a restart zone. The leader is not supposed to be allowed to start the race before the zone, and if the leader doesn’t go by the end of the zone, the second-place car is free to go.
Some drivers, including Kenseth, believe the race leader should have the right to restart the race regardless as they’ve earned the position.
Kenseth’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin, would like to see the restart zones increased in size.
“I think it would be better to open that zone up two, three times the size of it right now and then don’t let that second place guy beat the first one to the line,” Hamlin said.