Race Weekend Central

Fire on Fridays: Mr. Flagman, Bring Me to Green

What a boring week for NASCAR, huh?

In actuality, it’s hard to go a few hours in the NASCAR world without hearing about how the Cup Series finish at Richmond Raceway has been mired in controversy over the fact that Denny Hamlin jumped the restart over Martin Truex Jr. en route to a home track win.

The NASCAR world is more or less split. There are some who believe Hamlin should have had the win rescinded and given to Joey Logano, who finished second. Others are more upset with NASCAR missing a fairly cut-and-dry call in crunch time.

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

The latter opinion has only been exacerbated by NASCAR Vice President of Competition Elton Sawyer (a former driver himself) essentially confessing that NASCAR missed the call and the call may have been different at other stages of the race.

There have been several reactions as to how the controversy will affect future races. For example, will another driver try the same maneuver at, say, the next race at Martinsville Speedway and get away with it? What if Chase Elliott, NASCAR’s perennial most popular driver, tries it? How much will the backlash be if he gets penalized?

To paraphrase my colleague Jack Swansey from a few weeks back: Fans are quick to beg for change and then lament said change. One could only imagine how fans could react if Elliott tried that and got penalized.

We haven’t seen this much controversy over jumping the restart in probably a decade. Sure, restart violations have been called since then, but normally restart violations occur early in the race, not crunch time.

Who could forget the slew of second place drivers beating the leader back to the line and getting penalized? Luckily that rule has since been scrapped; it wasn’t fair to penalize second if the leader spun their tires on the restart.

There was also a span from 2011-2013 where crunch time restart violations had a direct hand in the finish of the race: David Ragan changing lanes before the start-finish line in the 2011 Daytona 500. Elliott Sadler jumping the final restart in the inaugural Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2012 after getting a shove from Austin Dillon, and race leader Brad Keselowski spinning his tires. Jimmie Johnson jumping the restart in 2013 at Dover Motor Speedway that gave Tony Stewart his penultimate Cup victory.

And of course, right back at Richmond, Carl Edwards jumped a late restart that ruined his shot at winning way back in 2012. Now, 12 years later, the restart zone has made its way back into conversations with the yellow line rule and track limits as poorly officiated rules.

Much like common opinion on the always-maligned yellow line rule, the solution to the restart zone could be quite simple: Get rid of it.

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

Between the restart zone and the caution lights around the racetrack, the role of the traditional flagman has essentially been reduced to nothing more than symbolic for tradition’s sake. Drivers don’t pay attention to the flagman as much as they do said caution lights to inform them whether or not a race is green or yellow. When a race goes red, that’s usually communicated from the team or race control themselves.

At this point, the flagman waves flags for the fans at home and the fans in the stands more than anything. Drivers more or less don’t need the flagman … well, except for the winner when they’re looking for the checkered flag.

Instead of fussing about a restart zone and whether or not someone jumps the restart, put the race in the flagman’s hands. When the field creeps up for a restart, no one can jump until the green flag is visible in the air, whether the driver can visibly see it or their spotters are in their ears yelling that the green flag is out, like they always do.

Then there’s no real possible way to jump the restart. It’s more of a matter of a driver on the front row catching their counterpart napping. The only real restart violations that exist at that point would be if a driver changes lanes before the start finish line like Ragan did.

Even if there is a violation for jumping the restart, it’d be more visible to see if the green flag was out instead of whether or not the leaders reached a painted line.

Think of it like the reaction time of NHRA drivers. In the NHRA, drivers can’t take off until the Christmas tree turns green. Then it’s a matter of who can get off the starting line faster, and usually the driver who jumps first wins the race.

I know, I know, apples to oranges. NHRA and NASCAR are completely different, and I agree. But in this instance, the NHRA has a good system going here and NASCAR can follow suit.

If we want to make it easier (and more like NHRA), remember those caution lights around the track? They can aid the drivers if they can’t see the flagman. When the flagman waves the green flag or yellow flag, s/he typically has control of the lights as well — when the caution is out, the flagman waves the flag at the same time s/he switches the lights from green to yellow.

So when the flagman waves the green flag and switches the lights from yellow back to green, that can also be a visual cue for drivers to launch. Either way, it might be a simpler way to go about restarts: a more reaction-based restart instead of an anticipatory-based restart.

It would make restarts at Phoenix Raceway easier at the very least, with its giant LED cactus on the flag stand. That would be a good thing as long as Phoenix is the site of the championship race.

Not to mention, every car in the field is supposed to have an onboard camera. Regardless of the path forward for the way restarts are handled, use of the onboards can settle whether or not someone jumped the restart once and for all.

No matter what solution is available, if any at all, the fact remains that NASCAR needs to get a handle on this issue before it gets out of hand and unable to be officiated consistently — much like the yellow line rule.

And it’s no secret that a poorly officiated rule is a widely-scrutinized rule among NASCAR fans.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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Joshua

Seriously…DO give the control of the restarts back to the flag man and do away with the god forsaken yellow line rule. If a driver can make a move below it and make it work, good for them. If it causes a big wreck-let the garage area police that.

Kevin in SoCal

Disagree on the yellow-line rule. Fans already complain that D & T are crapshoot races, why add more carnage to that mix with a driver making risky passes “out of bounds” ?

DoninAjax

Jeff Gordon is responsible for the double yellow lines.

DoninAjax

The “restart zone” is another example of a change made by the Brain Trust without realizing the law of unintended consequences will take effect. But it is “sponsored” which brings in $$$$$ which is what NA$CAR wants more than anything.

ArkyBass

(Years ago) in Memphis Busch Race, I watched Harvick jump a restart, Pass throuogh pits penalty cost almost two laps. He then laped the field to win the race. Fun to watch and understand how much more skill Kevin Harvick had than most of the field on that day.

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