It’s time to examine restart rules

Lately it seems like another NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, another restart complaint from five-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

However, I almost have to agree with him this time — not that he’s necessarily getting screwed on these deals, but that he is getting the short end of the stick on late-race restarts for one reason or another.

But in the end, the restart rules are ridiculous. They’re too convoluted. They cause confusion and problems and need to be changed. NASCAR should rework the procedure and do it soon to avoid all this controversy that is not good for the sport.

On his team radio at Kentucky Speedway last weekend after a restart, Jimmie Johnson said the “20 (Matt Kenseth) should be penalized for stopping everybody on the (expletive) restart.” Then in his post-race interview, crew chief Chad Knaus said, “I just know the guys sitting on the front row are just sitting ducks with the way the restarts are now. The guys sitting behind us have learned how to manipulate the leaders …”

That is a bunch of bull. The guys behind the leader are not sitting ducks. The leader of the race has control of the restart. The rules say so. That is not a good argument, but the so-called “restart box” is a mess.

I say get rid of it all together. The story at the end of the race shouldn’t be the restart box and who thinks it’s a legitimate procedure and who doesn’t. The headline should be about a good battle for the win, but it instead is about who snookered whom on the restart and who may or may not have jumped the restart or exceeded pace car speed.

NASCAR says it’s a simple concept — that no one can beat the leader to the restart line. But look at recent examples. Jimmie Johnson jumped the restart at Dover because leader Juan Pablo Montoya wasn’t paying attention when they dropped the flag and Johnson passed him. Matt Kenseth beat Brad Keselowski to the line at Bristol. Elliott Sadler got screwed at Indianapolis in the Nationwide race last year on a crucial restart when Keselowski dragged the brake. I could go on and on.

There is a simple fix, though. Make one restart line. When the field gets there, NASCAR drops the flag and everyone goes. Whoever gets going first simply gets out in front of the field and goes. It doesn’t have to be the leader. To me, that’s as simple as it can be. What’s not simple is this policy of the guy who jumped the restart needing to “slow down and give the position back” to the leader, and all the judgment calls inherent with that policy. That does not work in most cases. It would be a lot easier just to change the restart rule.

It’s not your imagination — restart controversies are increasing this year and I think that’s a product of the new car. These cars are so aero-sensitive that drivers are scratching and clawing for every opportunity to be out front in clean air where their car performs best. Look at how Kenseth won the race last week — by taking fuel only when everyone else took tires. He got out in front and won the race. Since when can a driver on old tires beat the rest of the field on new tires? It’s an embarrassment to NASCAR that a team can win in that manner. Pay attention in the next few weeks and you’ll see teams taking all kinds of risks, whether taking no tires or not getting the car full of fuel simply to beat a couple of cars off of pit road and increase their chances of getting that clean air. But they’re risking it because they need to be up front, which is exactly why they’re trying to tiptoe over the line on restarts.

The easy fix for this is to change the restart rules. The controversy, complaints from teams and inconsistency by NASCAR each week are getting old. We don’t need a situation where a restart controversy affects the outcome of the championship, but if NASCAR doesn’t change the rules soon, that may be the case.

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