Race Weekend Central

Dropping the Hammer: When NASCAR Rules Are Recommendations

I’d like to start off this week by thanking two people for making this week interesting.

Martin Truex Jr. and Elton Sawyer.

First, Truex is my MVP of NASCAR’s Richmond Raceway weekend.

Truex went above and beyond the call of duty.

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

Sunday (March 31) night, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver could have been his usual calm, cool and collected self.

The kind of driver that reminds one of Mark Martin.

Instead, his inner Kyle Busch made its first appearance since the inaugural race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL in 2018.

It wasn’t until Truex roughed up Denny Hamlin‘s car on the cool-down lap of the Toyota Owners 400 that anyone had any idea something may have been fishy on the overtime restart.

Not that whoever directs the FOX broadcasts did anyone favors when it came to the camera work on the restart.

If Truex had been his normal Clark Kent self and not clued us in, what would we be talking about this week?

The successful use of wet-weather tires for the first time in a NASCAR Cup Series points race on an oval track for one stage and then yet another mind-numbing race at Richmond.

Brief sidebar: Give credit to NASCAR for pulling off the wet tires experiment after last year’s initial try in the heat races for the All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

That will be immensely beneficial to the sport going forward, as long as they don’t tempt fate and try it anywhere a mile or bigger that has significant banking.

Second sidebar: According to Jordan Bianchi at The Athletic, Richmond is “the leading candidate” to lose one of its two race dates in favor of a potential international race in 2025.

If so … good.

It’s not the late ’90s and early 2000s anymore.

Richmond lost the ability to be called the “Action Track” more than a decade ago.

A result of a dwindling race product has seen the dwindling amount of butts in seats in the grandstands.

Other tracks have lost their second race dates and flourished.

Just look at what Pocono Raceway — a track that hasn’t always been known for competitive Cup races — has produced attendance-wise in the last two years. In 2023, the Tricky Triangle had a sellout and the biggest crowd since 2010.

If Richmond does go down to one race, while NASCAR is at it, do the same to Kansas Speedway.

While racing on the 1.5-mile track has been phenomenal the last three years, it’s not reflected in the grandstands.

If we can make out the “Kansas Speedway” that’s spelled out by the painted seats, it’s not doing good (also, the track’s facilities are stuck in the early 2000s. It and Michigan International Speedway need to be brought into the present. Though Kansas made some improvements last year with its Highline District, the infield amenities are bleak).

Anyway, back to the feature presentation.

Thank you, Elton Sawyer, for going on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Tuesday (April 2) morning.

Less than 48 hours earlier, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition had told reporters that NASCAR had reviewed the final restart in Richmond, and while “it was awful close, but we deemed it to be a good restart.”

To be honest, I wasn’t all that fired up over Hamlin’s perceived “jumping” of the start Sunday night or even Monday.

But then came Sawyer’s appearance on “The Morning Drive.”

“First and foremost, the [No.] 11 is the control vehicle,” Sawyer said. “They have earned the right to be in that position. They won the battle off pit road. They put himself in a position to be able to control the restart.”

Nothing wrong with any of that.

Sawyer continued: “As they looked at it yesterday, again multiple times, there’s no doubt he rolled early.”

Um … OK.

“Again, it’s a bang-bang call,” Sawyer said. “It’s at the end of the race. You know, 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.”

Remind me what the caution flag is for again?

I’ve lost count of how how many times NASCAR has announced “the restart is under review” in my career.

Was anybody in the control tower watching the restart zone?

See also
Denny Hamlin's Restart Sets Awkward Precedent for Future Races

Did they just not see it? Like the time in 2022 when they somehow missed William Byron sending Hamlin spinning through the fronstretch grass under caution at Texas Motor Speedway?

Is everything alright up there, guys?

“If this happens at lap 10 or 50 or 300, you know, the call could have been different,” Sawyer said.

But … it was the end of the race.

You know, the most important part of it.

I’m team “when it comes to the checkered flag, anything goes.”

But that’s more from a competition standpoint, not rules enforcement.

This is Daniel McFadin’s 11th season covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his fourth year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021.

About the author

Daniel McFadin is a 10-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He currently works full time for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is lead reporter and an editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR podcast "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" presented by Democrat-Gazette.

You can email him at danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

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kb

Always chuckle at the narrative of MTJ being a “nice guy”…etc. One of the whiniest bitches driving and he gets touchy-feely with his car, since forever.
Give me a freaking break.

John

So at the next overtime restart, what does the leader do? If the limit isn’t the painted advertisement on the race track, where is it? The other drivers not directly involved want to give Nascar some latitude in making this call…ok, then go back to a simple start line and not a zone and if the start is bad, throw the yellow and do it again. If that one is bad, move the second row up, and the front row back. Works nicely in other forms of racing.

Echo

We all saw Hamlin being 3/4 of a car length ahead before the hard line painted on the track. Sorry you didn’t realize it until truex tapped the back of Denny’s car. No human error judgement call needed, Nascar has a camera across that line that is watched and determined in seconds. Nascar and Sawyer had to spin the story somehow to all us fools. Couldn’t take the win away from Toyota, they sponsored the race. Nor Joe Gibbs or Denny Hamlin, both Toyota team owners. Follow the money Daniel, you’ve been around long enough to know that.

Bob

In other forms of racing when there is questionable situations for possible infractions there are post race penalties. Time penalties are handed out such as 1,2,3minutes added on to finishing time. But then this is nascar. Don’t want to upset the top owners such as Gibbs, Hendricks….etc!!!

DoninAjax

There are only TWO “top owners” and they are Reverend Joe and Mr. H! If Jr. joins there will be three and NA$CAR would have interesting choices to make.

Steve

I will ask again……why have a restart zone if you aren’t going to enforce it when someone jumps a restart?

DoninAjax

Like all NA$CAR “rules,” which are printed in block letters on the head of a pin in invisible ink, they are subject to enforcement based on the offending team owner.

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