Edwards, Stewart question NASCAR calls

I think the penalty we saw go against Carl Edwards on Saturday night in Richmond was right there on the edge.

The penalty came late in the race, when NASCAR flagged Edwards for jumping the restart. That cost him a shot at the win in a race where he had led more than 200 laps.

Now we felt pretty confident of what we were saying Saturday evening on air when this happened, because we have had a lot of conversations this year with NASCAR about restarts.

Our NASCAR on FOX team meets with NASCAR every race-day morning of a Cup event. It’s a way to discuss issues or questions that either side might have. We were pretty clear about where the restart area was Saturday night and I think the aerial shot we had is the smoking gun in Carl’s case.

In the case of Saturday’s race at Richmond International Raceway, there are two different ways the restart area is marked for the drivers to see. There are lines on the wall the drivers can use for reference, plus there is essentially a box down on the inside of the apron. It is a box that is about 20 to 30 yards long.

The procedure is that once the leader gets to the leading edge of that box, he can restart the race. If he gets to the far end of the box and hasn’t started the race, then the flagman will restart the race. You can distinctly see where Carl Edwards restarted the race before he reached the box.

Keep in mind, all this is regardless of whether he was the leader or not. Either way, he clearly jumped the restart. Was it by a lot? No, not really – but when Tony Stewart, who was on the inside and actually the leader of the race, spun his tires, Carl’s error was simply magnified that much more.

Also know that throughout that issue, NASCAR had maintained that Tony was the leader of the race and not Carl. I know the scoring tower in the infield showed Carl at the top, but that’s not always accurate as cars are jumbled back up for a restart. It simply is not uncommon for a scoring tower to say one thing but the reality is it is something else.

This isn’t like it is a gray area for the drivers. I mean NASCAR even incorporates the restart areas for the specific track they are at that week into the video presentation shown to the drivers in their meeting the day of the event.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate it for Carl Edwards. That man led 206 laps in his Ford Saturday night. He struggled a bit just past the halfway point, but he really did have a dominant car. They basically went from being the odds-on favorite to win the race to barely being able to finish in the top 10. With that said, we all have to also recognize it’s the way it is. I mean the rules are the rules and they apply to all 43 cars. I applaud NASCAR for upholding the rule.

The other confusion and controversy of the night was the caution with about 14 laps to go that was called for debris. I have to be honest. I really don’t care what it was. I don’t care if it was a water bottle, as Tony Stewart maintained, a shoelace or a bumper from a car.

I know there is a segment of the audience that has been very unhappy these last few weeks due to the lack of cautions. That doesn’t mean NASCAR can just go out and blindly manufacturer cautions. It doesn’t do that. If it did, don’t you think it would have created ones late in the race at Texas and Kansas?

There was something bouncing around that racetrack and so NASCAR threw the caution. NASCAR doesn’t have the luxury of having the time to sit and analyze whether whatever it is could be a plastic bottle, a can or a piece of sheet metal. They can’t analyze it too long or someone might run over it, cut a tire and hit the wall. I appreciate them erring on the side, literally, of caution.

Believe me when I tell you that NASCAR will get beat up a whole lot more for not throwing a caution if someone wrecks out because of it, or even worse, takes out a lot of cars because the yellow flag was not thrown for it.

So whatever it was that brought out the caution, it sure set up one hell of a finish. Do I feel as bad for Tony Stewart as I did for Carl? I absolutely do because Tony was the second-most dominant car who led the second-most laps of the evening. Unfortunately, it was another hiccup on pit road, which Stewart’s team has suffered through lately, which cost Tony the win.

That combined with yet another bad restart by Tony helped ensure that Kyle Busch would walk away with his first NASCAR Sprint Cup win of the season. It is even more puzzling about Tony’s restarts because you have to go clear back to about midway in the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup and all the way through mid-March of this year and Tony had become the King of Restarts.

I think it also shows the marked difference between our sport and the stick-and-ball sports. Carl and Tony combined to lead 324 of 400 laps Saturday night. If you had a baseball or football team that was that dominant and that far in the lead, you probably would have left early to beat the traffic home.

It just doesn’t work that way in the sport of NASCAR. You literally have to stay to the very end because you simply don’t know what might happen. What we just saw at Richmond is a perfect example of that.

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