‘We needed to make the call’: O’Donnell explains why Keselowski was black flagged

NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said Monday that the sanctioning body’s decision to black flag Brad Keselowski for jumping a restart in Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was the correct call.

Keselowski was penalized for jumping the restart on Lap 242 of 300, when NASCAR said he accelerated before leader Greg Biffle.

“When we looked at it – we’ve repeated over and over and over again that it’s the leader’s prerogative to restart the race in the zone, and in this case we didn’t see the 16 (Biffle) have that opportunity,” O’Donnell said on Monday’s “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We saw the 2 (Keselowski) actually restart the race in the zone, so at that point it doesn’t matter. Once you get outside the zone the violation has already been committed. In our minds, we needed to make the call and we did.”

Although Keselowski got the initial jump on Biffle in the restart zone, he fell in line behind Biffle by the time the field reached the first corner. Despite that, NASCAR determined Keselowski did not allow the leader to restart the race and issued the penalty as a result.

The Team Penske driver was able to recover to finish 12th, but had harsh words for the sanctioning body before leaving the one-mile track, indicating NASCAR had made an example out of him. 

“It’s a pretty basic understanding,” the 2012 Sprint Cup champion said. “It’s an entertainment sport, not a fair sport, but we had a great car.”

'Not a fair sport': Brad Keselowski black flagged by NASCAR for jumping restart

NASCAR’s officiating of restarts has been one of the most controversial issues in the Sprint Cup Series garage throughout the summer months and leading into the Chase.

Competitors were reminded of the restart rules each week during the pre-race driver-crew chief meetings, drivers were warned to let the leader restart the race and told additional resources had been brought in to ensure consistency.

The Keselowski penalty came one week after NASCAR decided not to penalize veteran Jeff Gordon for a questionable restart during the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway. NASCAR reviewed Gordon’s restart, but ultimately decided not to penalize the Hendrick Motorsports driver.

Unlike the Gordon restart last weekend at Chicagoland, Sprint Cup Series managing director Richard Buck called Keselowski’s restart at Loudon a “very clear-cut” violation.

To help with consistency and overall coverage of restarts, NASCAR has implemented cameras that remain focused on the restart zone, as well as calling on senior officials to help monitor the situation, all of which came into play when making the decision on Keselowski.

“We’ve got the additional resources, with the video we’re able to cut to that screen and multiple screens almost in real time so that we can call that and call it under review that so all the competitors know,” O’Donnell said. “That last check, we can go down to the boots on the ground, make sure they saw what we saw, and obviously if they don’t we’re not going to make the call.

“In this case, all of those things lined up, everyone agreed and ultimately we made the call,” he said. “It’s never something you want to do, but that’s our job to make the call as we see it. We did that in this case.”

While teams can argue the call over the radio, both O’Donnell and Buck indicated the sanctioning body is in communication with the team throughout the race about restarts, keeping everyone on point on restarts. If a violation occurs, O’Donnell said NASCAR would be clear when making the call it needs to make.

“Ultimately we’ve got to make that call. We’ll use all the resources before we do that,” he said. “We know how much is on the line each and every race. It’s every restart, not just this one. It’s something that we’ve got to make the call and know that not everybody is going to agree. That’s part of sports, but that’s our job to do.”