With restarts continuing to be a hot-button issue in NASCAR, Charlotte Motor Speedway became the second track in as many weeks to expand its restart zone.
The speedway expanded the zone off Turn 4 to 180 feet, but took things one step further by painting lines across the racing surface to mark the beginning and end of the zone. The restart zone was initially indicated by lines on the wall, but CMS becomes the first track to extend those lines to the track to help drivers, officials and fans clearly see the area.
The idea of painting the racing surface was somewhat of a concern to Chase contender Dale Earnhardt Jr., but he was in full support of the expanded zone and wants it even larger.
"I think it will feel small," Earnhardt said, looking ahead to this weekend’s race at Charlotte. "(The lines) are not for the drivers, but more for the fans to see where the box is and NASCAR to be able to officiate the box easier."
The Hendrick Motorsports driver pointed out the lines painted on the wall create a bit of a "gray area" when it comes to officiating the restarts, and he hopes the lines on the track will make things much more cut and dried.
"If the drivers had their way, the restart zone would’ve been four times bigger than it was this past weekend (at Dover)," he said during Tuesday’s Chase Contender Round Media Day at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. "Drivers want it as big as they can get it. When I saw it this weekend, I could barely damn tell it was doubled. It didn’t feel any bigger to me out there in the race, but I felt like the restarts were a lot smoother, a lot more predictable and a lot less weirdness going on."
The concern for the drivers with the paint on the track is wheel spin once the cars try to launch off at the drop of the green flag.
"I told (Marcus Smith, president and general manager of CMS) to make them no more than six inches wide, because we will have wheel spin over the paint," he said. "That’s just another challenge; it isn’t a problem with wheel spin. We’re going to spin the tires anyway on the restarts."
While drivers felt last weekend’s restarts at Dover went better than previous events, Earnhardt pointed out that no matter what NASCAR does to make things clear, drivers will always try to get an advantage.
"As long as there’s double-file restarts, I don’t care what you do with the box, I don’t care what you do with the rules you put in there, guys are going to try and get an advantage," he said. "You’ve just got to officiate with a strict hand, a firm hand and make decisions, call guys out to keep us honest. If you allow us a foot, we’re going to take two. Don’t allow us that first foot. Rule it with an iron fist and keep us honest and we’ll learn not to take advantage of the tolerance you give us. The only way to really get away from all this herky-jerky mess is to go to single-file restarts, and no one wants that. That’s not an option."
Despite the penalties and controversy about restarts over the past few weeks, Earnhardt said it is not necessarily a bad thing and provides something to talk about for fans, media and competitors alike.
"I don’t think you’ll ever fix the situation or cure it," he said. "The larger the restart box, I feel, puts it in the leader’s hand to be able to get the restart he deserves, because he’s in a deserving position to control the restart and not be snookered by anyone around him."