Race Weekend Central

Denny Hamlin’s Restart Sets Awkward Precedent for Future Races

Sunday’s (March 31) Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway was controversial for more than one reason, but the big focus has centered on Denny Hamlin‘s controversial restart that propelled him to his 53rd NASCAR Cup Series win and his fifth at Richmond.

Martin Truex Jr., who led 228 laps and restarted on the outside of Hamlin after losing the lead on pit road, went immediately on the radio after the race to say that Hamlin jumped the restart, and he said the same when interviewed on pit road after the race.

Hamlin’s questionable restart wasn’t even on the broadcast’s radar until Truex brought it up, because this was the (lack of) view that everyone saw of the front two cars on TV.

See also
Martin Truex Jr. Angry After Dominant Richmond Run Comes Up Short

FOX ultimately showed a replay of the restart below.

You be the judge.

To me, Hamlin appeared to step on the gas about 20 feet before reaching the restart line. It was close, but it was clear enough that he jumped to a sizable gap by the time his car reached the line.

The onboard camera from Hamlin’s No. 11 car (the video from Ryan Pistana), also shows the jump, as Hamlin audibly stepped on the gas pedal before reaching the white line and red wall marker (the beginning of the restart zone) at 0:06.




On his podcast, Hamlin said that he went “pretty early in the zone,” and he explained that he was trying to watch Truex on his outside and the No. 22 car of Joey Logano behind him to time the perfect launch for the restart. He also conceded that it looked worse on TV than it felt behind the wheel.

But what he said at the end of the clip should raise some eyebrows.

“All I’m doing is looking mirror side,” Hamlin said. “When I see [Truex] starting to creep, I’m like, ‘I take off.’ So I don’t see where I’m at in the zone, and so I can concede, definitely, that it is a few feet early.”

Did Hamlin just admit to jumping before the zone, knowing that the result can no longer be overturned? If so, that might explain the April Fool’s Day joke he posted about the situation.

As for NASCAR race control’s response to the situation, Elton Sawyer — NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Competition — said that NASCAR reviewed the restart and deemed that there was no issue with it.

Whether NASCAR deemed it good or is trying to save face for missing it doesn’t matter too much, but you can clearly see and hear Hamlin gas it up before reaching the line. He even admitted that it was “a few feet early.”

UPDATE: Sawyer has since stated on SiriusXM that “there’s no doubt [Hamlin] rolled early.”

Now look.

No one likes it when sporting events are decided by judgment calls and referees. I understand NASCAR’s dilemma in this situation; some part of the fanbase will be happy while another will be mad, and it wouldn’t surprise me if NASCAR wants to be as hands off as possible when the battle for the win is on the line.

But judgment calls have to be made when infractions occur, and jumping the restart is barely a judgment call in itself. SMT and telemetry data are available, and it would clearly show if a driver went too soon, but that is a story for another time.

It may be unpopular for a driver to lose a win or their finishing position because of a restart violation, but missing an infraction that occurs is not any better. And worse, it sets a precedent and opens up a can of worms as to what drivers can or cannot get away with, especially when hearing Clint Bowyer’s reaction to the final restart.

Kevin Harvick: “Definitely rolled before the line.”

Bowyer: “Well, I’ll tell you what [Hamlin] did — he won.”

See also
Holding a Pretty Wheel: NASCAR Jumped the Line with Richmond Non-Call

So, is it okay for drivers to commit an infraction as long as it wins them the race? Should the leader be able to jump any start or restart if they wish to do so? Should cars be allowed to pass below the yellow line at Daytona International Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway or Talladega Superspeedway if it allows them to win? Is it fine for a driver to go five miles per hour over the limit on pit road if they win the race off?

All of the above are penalties and would be called as such. But Richmond’s final restart puts NASCAR in a gray area that allows drivers to test and push the limits for an advantage.

Could a driver do a slight jump on a restart and get away with it, or would they have to really jump it for an infraction to be handed down? That’s a legitimate question that’s on the table, and it begs the question of what drivers will be able to do on the restarts in next week’s events at Martinsville Speedway.

Of course, nothing could come out of last weekend. While controversial, it’s possible that it gets brushed aside and largely forgotten about as the season goes on.

At the same time, there are more restart games on the table for drivers in the upcoming races, and it only took one no-call to make it happen. Could we see drivers push the limit and force NASCAR to step in and rectify the situation?

There’s only one way to find out.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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25 Comments
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Christopher

There has always been restart games in NASCAR; all this handwringing by Frontstretch writers is hilarious.

Last edited 17 days ago by Christopher
Echo

True. But Denny Hamlin drives a Toyota for JGR, and oh yeah, Denny Hamlin is also a team owner in partnership with THE Michael Jordan. All Nascar ever sees is dollar signs.And Stephen, your story for another time with today’s technology, Nascar had the proof within seconds. Think Hamlin isn’t arrogant, He admits it in an interview. Like him or not, Kyle Larson is a pretty down to earth guy who just wants to race. He. Once said, “oh that’s just Denny, he is never wrong, about anything”. Think Hamlin and Jordan didn’t laugh hysterically while smoking their cigars.

Kevin in SoCal

I thought it was Chevy and Hendrick that pays NASCAR off.

DoninAjax

It ‘s pretty much a tie right now and no place for Fords.

Ronald Thornton

Hamlin clearly went early. Hell, he did the same thing at the clash. Why would he change his ways. It’s clear that Nascar ain’t gonna penalize him. If it were Chris Buescher or Michael McDowell the conversation would be different. Nascar is going the same way as the ball sports. Making sure their stars win and clearly not penalizing an obvious foul. Tired of the bs.

Steve

So I guess my question is, why have a restart zone if you aren’t going to enforce it?

Matty

It was far worse when NASCAR took away Rusty’s win at Martinsville in the same fashion

Shayne

Now that NASCAR promotes online betting, I wonder how the last caution flag and GWC finish affected the natural order of things. Are team owners and drivers allowed to bet on the races? NASCAR is getting paid to promote gambling. No conflict of interest? The yellow flag wields an awful lot of power, especially when big money is on the line.

NASCAR failed big time to make the right call and we all saw it.

Old School

It’s time to put the start (green flag) back in the starter’s tower. It would end the games and also stop the the subsequent accordion damage.

Kevin in SoCal

I would say this is a case of NASCAR missing the incident (again), but I highly doubt they are intentionally missing these calls. Referee errors happen in every sport, its part of the human factor.
What they probably will do is OVER-referee the next incidents, like they did when they suspended Chase Elliott for a race last year when they missed punishing him and others for similar incidents.
Denny Hamlin has become the newest bad guy in the sport, replacing Kyle Busch. So anything involving him will be looked at with bias.

Jkad

Let’s make it easy to put in perspective. Would NASCAR throw the flag for restarting early if it was Ross Chastain or Noah Gragson? ABSOLUTELY !!!
Wonder why people are getting tired of NASCAR’s BS and watching something else. I totally understand and I still watch all the races all weekend long. So far…

Jeremy

EVERYTHING NA$CAR does is arbitrary and has an agenda behind it. Always been that way, probably always will. Denny won because NA$CAR approved him to win. As mentioned, if it was someone not approved to win that restart would have been called off. But this is nothing new, jumping restarts occasionally happens and is rarely called on the leader. I’ve seen 2nd place get called for jumping a restart, but can’t recall the last leader who was called on it.

Jeremy

Meaning; Denny knows the leader is seldom called, and knows that NA$CAR approves of his win. That’s why he’s bragging about it – he knows his standing with NA$CAR and that they won’t do anything about it.

Kevin in SoCal

Remember when Hamlin got fined for bragging about turning someone on his podcast, after the fact? He’s not really NASCAR’s golden boy.

Echo

He wasn’t an owner then. You just saw that he’s the golden boy now and a Toyota broke the rules to win a Toyota sponsored race. Don’t be blind.

DoninAjax

Who does Denny drive for? Perception is everything. Toyota pays a lot of money for ads and…

Shayne

Straight from the scapegoats mouth:

UPDATE: Speaking Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition Elton Sawyer said “there’s no doubt (Hamlin) rolled early”.
“It’s a bang-bang call,” he said on if to penalize a driver for a restart violation. “It’s at the end of the race. We’re a live sporting event. We don’t have the luxury of a timeout and go to the sideline and review it and make that call.
“If this happens at Lap 10 or 50 or 300 (of the scheduled 400-lap race), you know, the call could have been different. If I’m a competitor, I wouldn’t be playing that game every week. Sometimes you get the call that goes in your favor, sometimes you don’t.”
Sawyer noted that if the situation occurred earlier in the race, series officials have more time to examine it”.

Pool Medic

Ok Elton…clearly visible on live video

old fan

OK. So the next time we have a thrilling, exciting green-white-checkered finish and I’m the control car, I’m taking off in the middle of the back stretch, since NASCAR won’t have the time to examine the re-start and penalize me. Why couldn’t NASCAR assess Hamlin a 30 second penalty the way they did to the others who cut the corners at COTA?

Echo

It’s going to depend on who and what car it is, and every one of us have seen what happened and NASCAR was backed into a corner by the videos so they have to blame it on human error. They have no other alternative because we all saw it. Hamlin and Gibbs and Toyota got away with it. Thank you very much Nascar.

DoninAjax

Any bets that Mr. H gets away with one at Martinsville. Kind of like an umpire making makeup calls on balls and strikes.

Bill B

MTJ is the guy that got screwed, not any of the Hendrick drivers. Wouldn’t the makeup call need to benefit him?

Kevin in SoCal

I think he meant that Martinsville has always been a Hendrick-dominated track, and we know Hendrick is one of NASCAR’s favorites, so a call would go his way.

DoninAjax

I don’t think so. He got screwed by Bubba! It must have been a fun “team” meeting on Monday morning at Reverend Joe’s.
And Bubba just happened to have a bad pit stop. Karma!

Last edited 15 days ago by DoninAjax
Shayne

NASCAR made another statement. This time it was an unnamed. representative. SSDD. “…might affect the outcome of a race”. BS.

They’ve been doing this for years. What’s new?

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