Race Weekend Central

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

Did he stay or did he go? After a caution flew for a spinning Kyle Larson with just a handful of laps remaining in the 2024 Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway, some drivers had a second chance.

Martin Truex Jr. had a solid lead, and while both Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin were chipping away at his lead, Truex looked to have the race in hand as the leaders worked through lapped traffic.

But when Bubba Wallace got into Larson and sent Larson around, the caution would, at the very least, close the gap on a restart. Instead, when the leaders came to pit road for tires, Hamlin beat Truex out of the pits. And in a two-lap overtime shootout, Hamlin drove away to the win.

But was the restart clean?

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

At first, there was no thought otherwise—the FOX broadcast didn’t show the cars coming to the restart zone. 

Then came questions: was the restart clean? Did Hamlin jump the start and go too early? Did Truex lay back to make it look like that?

In the clip, Hamlin moved about three-quarters of a car length ahead of Truex by the time he entered the restart zone, which is marked on the track. In this view, it’s pretty apparent that Truex doesn’t back up because the cars behind him don’t stack up.

That leaves us with Hamlin jumping the start.

Here’s the restart from Truex’s in-car camera.

Hamlin certainly appears to accelerate before the zone.

From Hamlin’s in-car:

It’s not as obvious, but it’s still there.

Yeah, Hamlin went early.

Why, then, did NASCAR allow it, declining a full review, though the sanctioning body said it looked at the tape?

The conspiracy theories got laid on pretty thick on social channels afterward: NASCAR favored Toyota. NASCAR favored Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin is the Golden Boy for NASCAR this year. NASCAR didn’t want Team Penske/Ford/Logano/Truex to win. 

It’s probably a whole lot simpler than that.

It was an overtime restart and NASCAR missed the boat. What should have happened was an immediate yellow flag as soon as Hamlin restarted the race. Two laps at Richmond is not a lot of time to make a call and instead of throwing the flag and taking time to review it correctly, NASCAR missed the opportunity.

NASCAR actually flubbed the whole thing several laps earlier with the Larson caution. Larson spun (no, Wallace didn’t do it intentionally), but gathered it in quickly. He barely lost any track position and didn’t hit anything. Race control was too quick on the yellow (as it had also been with Kyle Busch brushing the wall earlier; so at least there was consistency on that front) and threw a caution it didn’t need. 

If that unnecessary caution doesn’t happen, there’s nothing to see here, move along, please.

But because it did, here we are. Hamlin went early; we all saw it. NASCAR either didn’t see it soon enough to do anything about it or chose not to.

If it’s the first, it’s still shame on NASCAR, but it’s harder to make that call after the race is over and everyone has pulled off the track. Well, it’s not really hard, but it does open a can of worms. At that point, all it could have done was disqualify Hamlin and give the win to runner-up Logano. That still would have been the right call, but it feels less right because it was Truex who got screwed by the jump, not Logano. 

After all, if Hamlin hadn’t had that extra car length advantage, Truex might have been able to stay with him and pinch him to the bottom longer. It might have affected Truex’s finish.

Had NASCAR caught the jump immediately, there was time to re-rack and try it again.

See also
The Big 6: Questions Answered After Denny Hamlin's Home Track Win

But was it simply giving Hamlin a little leeway because it was an overtime restart? Former driver Josh Wise says that’s a possibility.

Wait…if it had a hard line?

Except it does. It’s painted on the track. 

That’s what fans see—those white lines on the track. That’s where the leader controls the start and can go at any point between them. Fans saw Hamlin go before the first line. Not a lot before, but before. As soon as you paint a line on the racetrack, it becomes a hard line and not a judgement call.

And perception is everything. The rules can’t change because it’s in overtime for a win. The rule is drivers can’t go before the box. It’s not they can go a little before the box if it’s overtime. 

NASCAR has to stand pat on the rules whether it is the first lap or the last one. NASCAR has taken positions for dropping below the yellow on a superspeedway on the last lap for a position, and this is absolutely no different.

If you paint a line on the track, it has to be a hard line.

Let me say that again: if you paint a literal line on the track, fans see that line, and you have to enforce that line. Speed zones on pit road, the yellow line on a speedway, the restart zone—these should be indisputable and enforced as such. You can’t have a literal line in the sand and then differentiate whether someone crossed it by a toe or a city bus length.

In this day and age, NASCAR has the data from the cars. It would be easy to see if Hamlin accelerated too soon—or if he didn’t. So, why not show it and, if you think Hamlin’s move looked legit, prove it?

In an era where NASCAR can tell if a crewman’s foot touches the ground a fraction of a second too early on pit road, surely there’s a better way to review a restart than to rely on what it looked like.

There should not be any grey area here: Hamlin jumped or he didn’t. Everything fans have seen says he jumped. The only thing that didn’t jump was NASCAR’s finger on the caution the second Hamlin did—the one thing that should have.

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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Christopher

Expecting consistency in any NASCAR ruling is like expecting to win Powerball every week.

Echo

Good one Amy. Please inform your fellow writers about that hard line. Some seem to think it’s a judgement call, even after Hamlin admits he went early. Who sponsored this race.

Ed Rooney

Say it with me now: The only thing consistent about NASCAR is their inconsistency. Nothing new under the sun. Been this way for decades.
“EIRI”.

Kevin in SoCal

I didn’t know what EIRI mean so i went searching, and found this:

Except In Rare Instances (NASCAR rule book)

LOL, even the dictionary knows what’s up.

DoninAjax

The caution for Baby Busch says all that is necessary about NA$CAR thinking. And Brian’s product was past the network allotted time slot.

Kevin L

Anyone having been a viewer and/or fan over the past couple of decades (actually, since Bill France Sr and Jr passed) are well aware of the all too frequent nonactions of NASCAR’s “governing body” when it suits them.

In this case, and obviously so, those in a position of making difficult decisions simply missed making the call in a timely manner; from the flag stand to the Front Office. By all accounts — after the fact — they had an opportunity to remedy the situation; while at the same time somewhat quelling the impact of a reversal (penalizing the #11 for jumping the start).
He, she, or they did not do so.

Yet again those in charge chose to take the high road and refused to correct their mistake. In other words, NASCAR (much like a guilty politician) is telling us we did not see what we surely saw occur with our own eyes; even with the multiple video camera angles to confirm exactly what we saw.

Since the early 1960’s, I have witnessed countless mishandled situations in NASCAR. These type of Power Play scenarios, where NASCAR is for all intents and purposes unaccountable for its actions, are not something I ever get used to enduring. However, for me personally, I do get more disappointed with every Elitist, sometimes ignorant final decision made behind closed doors. A governing body investigating itself rarely results in an unbiased conclusion. If nothing else, in-house judgements often raise doubt and distrust.

In this particular case NASCAR fueled a minor flame into a small bonfire. Once again they missed an opportunity to ensure what could have been a relatively benign outcome by ignoring evidence and refusing to admit its collective mistakes.

Sure, in Life’s Big Picture, “it’s just a sport”.
That said, when such antics and mishandled situations keep resurfacing they remind me of a Chinese philosopher’s words (perhaps Confucious):

Life can be really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.

NASCAR seems to have a ‘gift’ for doing just that.

Steve

Nascar couldn’t wait to throw that caution flag for Larson, even though they never should have. So more fake drama with an undeserving winner. And Nascar wonders why nobody watches this “sport” anymore.

Did anyone happen to see the lack of people in the stands Sunday. Guess most of them didn’t want to go on a Sunday night on Easter. Maybe they are planning to go to Martinville this weekend instead. (Another brilliant decision by Nascar scheduling 2 races in Virginia in back to back weeks)

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