Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Removing the Judgment Calls From Restarts

1. What can we make of Martin Truex Jr.’s start to 2024?

Martin Truex Jr. won three races and the regular season championship in 2023, but all the talk over the 2023-24 offseason was whether or not the No. 19 team could regain the speed that it clearly lacked in the final 10 races of last season.

Flash forward to April 2024, and it’s abundantly clear that Truex’s dismal 2023 playoffs were an aberration. Through the first seven races of the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season, Truex currently has the points lead, the best average finish (8.1), the most top 10s (five) and second-most laps led (352) of all drivers.

He was oh-so close to returning to the win column for the first time since July this past weekend at Richmond Raceway (March 31), but a late caution, a slow pit stop and a questionable restart caused Truex to self-destruct post-race after a dominant performance completely unraveled.

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Should that painful ending raise concern for Martinsville Speedway and the weeks ahead? Not really. Last week’s race was deja vu to another Richmond win that slipped out of Truex’s fingers, as he was coasting to his first victory at the track in September 2017 until a caution forced overtime. He then lost the lead on pit road, fell to second for the final lap and was wrecked before reaching the finish line.

How did Truex respond to such a bitter defeat? By dominating and winning at Chicagoland Speedway by more than seven seconds the very next week.

Next race on the 2024 schedule? Martinsville Speedway this Sunday (April 7), a place where Truex has won three times.

Hendrick Motorsports may lead the way with four wins between Kyle Larson and William Byron to start the year, but Joe Gibbs Racing is firing on all cylinders with all four of its drivers inside the top six in points. The redesigned Toyota Camry has had speed across the board to start the season, and while Truex may be the oldest full-time driver in the Cup field, he still has what it takes to be a championship contender and win multiple races in 2024.

2. Is it possible to remove judgment calls from restart violations?

I imagine everyone is starting to grow tired of the restart debate that’s raged on for the last four days, and while I wasn’t going to cover it again after writing about the matter earlier this week, I’m switching gears thanks to a brilliant proposal by Kevin Harvick on the situation.

No one likes judgment calls deciding the outcome of games or races, so how would you remedy the situation? By removing the need for judgment calls entirely.

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“None of us want NASCAR to be involved in it, but NASCAR wouldn’t even have to be involved in it,” Harvick said. “Put a speed line there, just like they do on pit road. Make the speed entering the box X amount, give them 5 mph, whatever the pace car speed is plus 5 mph. Put a line across the racetrack, and if you’re faster than that, with the length of the car — that would be the nose of the car at the line of the restart zone — the computer can call the penalty at that particular point.”

To Harvick’s point, no one is up in arms about speeding penalties on pit road because they are done electronically. Same for driving through too many boxes, pitting outside the box or having crew members over the wall too soon, as all of those actions are recorded and put on tape.

If a driver gets up in arms about a restart penalty or lack thereof for another driver, there’s not a leg to stand on when the computer calls out a speeding penalty.

Such a rule may initially lead to more restart penalties as drivers try to figure out the absolute limits, but it would remove the gray area of enforcement that was so controversial after Sunday’s ending.

3. Should NASCAR stay hands off when teams switch between rain and slick tires?

Sunday’s race at Richmond also made history as the first points-paying NASCAR Cup Series event on an oval to be run with rain tires. The tires were on for the first 30 laps as the pavement began to dry up, but the intrigue was ended once NASCAR called all of the field down pit road for a switch to slick tires in a set of non-competitive pit stops.

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There was plenty of frustration to go around about why NASCAR wouldn’t allow the teams to decide when to remove the rain tires, but to play devil’s advocate, I understand why NASCAR made the decision it did.

Rain tires have been used countless times on road courses, but for ovals, last week represented untrodden ground. Given the uncertainty of how long the rain tires would be able to last on an ever-drying oval surface, it was better to be safe than sorry.

But now that the first use on rain tires on an oval went off without a hitch, NASCAR needs to be more hands off in these situations going forward. Tire strategy is all part of the game, and there are few things more fun to watch than the transition phase where teams decide to switch between the two tires.

To that point, the Cup race at Watkins Glen International in 2022 started in wet conditions, but the track was completely dry by the end of the first stage. Some teams elected to do the whole stint on rain tires, while others bailed out early and switched to slicks while the track was still damp. The result was an absolutely beautiful display of strategy, where the teams that pitted for slicks just zipped by everyone that elected to stay on rain tires as the sun continued to shine.

Now that we’ve had a successful stint with rain tires on an oval, the strategy should once again be in the teams’ hands for any rain races going forward.

4. A Stewart-Haas Racing downsize?

This is not the first time I’ve covered the possibility of Stewart-Haas Racing downsizing its operations, but what started as a rumor last August now seems to be coming to fruition this April.

Given the team’s struggles since the start of the 2021 season and the loss of its greatest driver in Harvick, it’s not a shock that this would be on SHR’s plate. This is also the final year for the team’s contract with Ford, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see rumors of a manufacturer change down the road either.

That said, if SHR were to downsize, who would be the odd one out?

Chase Briscoe has established himself as the new leader of SHR’s foursome, and he’s the only driver currently on the team with a Cup win. The No. 14 team also has solid backing from HighPoint.com and Mahindra Tractors, and Briscoe himself signed a multi-year extension with SHR at the start of 2023. Barring something drastic, Briscoe should be a part of the team’s long-term future.

Josh Berry and Noah Gragson are newcomers to the team, and both have had their moments to start the season. Gragson has a best finish of sixth and four top-12 finishes in the first seven races, while Berry just narrowly missed out on top 10s at Bristol Motor Speedway and Richmond after running toward the front all day.

Ryan Preece is currently in his second year with SHR after scoring two top 10s the year prior, and he is arguably on the thinnest ice when it comes to an SHR truncation, especially when a large portion of his schedule has Haas Tooling on the hood.

Following the report that SHR may be looking to sell charters, another report said that several teams are looking to expand their Cup operations with another car.

But the elephant in the room is that the future of charters beyond 2024 is currently up in the air despite a year of negotiations between the teams and NASCAR. How much would a charter be worth if a sale is made before a renewal is reached? All of that is a question mark as teams look to upgrade or downgrade heading into next season.

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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kb

….But, But, But…Preece was supposed to be THE MAN for years now, even when he was down at the kiddie league!

Bill B

I’m all for taking NASCAR’s conflict of interest officiating away and let the computer do it. If it is a reliable technology than that should be implemented in the near future. They also have the ability to monitor the throttle, so they could easily see if someone mashed the gas pedal before they entered the zone.
.

As for the rain tires, NASCAR should allow the teams to decide what tires they start the race with and when to switch. Perhaps one competition caution after so many laps if the rain tire is being used just to check on wear. Then business as usual. One thing is for sure, the locked in place non-competitive pit stops are not acceptable. I’d rather have them not run in the rain at all if that’s part of the deal.

Joshua

Take the GD computers out of racing and minimize the rules. Let the races unfold naturally.

DoninAjax

I kind of wish it had started to rain again after they changed to dry tires.

Bobby DK

Eliminate the luckydog, lap cars on the inside row, can’t beat the leader to the line and the flag man has control. Problem solved.

DoninAjax

Next question?

When will NA$CAR ever learn?

https://www.autoweek.com/racing/nascar/a60383594/nascar-targeting-long-beach/

You can’t make this stuff up!

Kevin in SoCal

A Long Beach double-header would be awesome. But I read that someone else bought the stake in the race and said no to NASCAR.

DoninAjax

Would you attend Brian’s product at Long Beach?

Echo

I just shake my head whenever Ben Kennedy says anything. Is he listening to Brian, or his clone. The clown show. But think about it, the networks keep raising the money to Nascar so nothing to stop the idiotic decisions about racing anywhere.

gbvette

The following was on RACER a week ago. NASCAR’s not going to Long Beach.

UPDATE: Any efforts by NASCAR, IndyCar, or Formula 1 to gain control of the 50-percent share of the Long Beach Grand Prix made available by the estate of the late Kevin Kalkhoven will not meet their desired outcome.
Gerald Forsythe, who purchased the country’s biggest street race with Kalkhoven in the 2000s, says the event’s fate will be settled in a different way.
“The estate has agreed to sell its 50% to me,” the industrialist and former owner of the Champ Car series told RACER. “If [any series] has its sights on Long Beach please tell them to look elsewhere. This [is] an IndyCar event, and it will be into the future.”

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