Cup rivals come to Hamlin’s defense after Richmond’s restart

By | April 2, 2024

A trio of NASCAR Cup Series drivers were unfazed by the final restart at Richmond Raceway on Tuesday as leader Denny Hamlin left early.

“I didn’t see any problem with what happened,” said Josh Berry of Stewart-Haas Racing. “I’ve done a lot of short circuits and a lot of different rules – restart lines, restart zones, all these different things – and it’s very easy to completely hinder the leader. I think there should be some flexibility in that.”

Hamlin admitted that he rolled early because he saw Martin Truex Jr. and saw Joey Logano stay behind to get a point. As the leader, Hamlin did not want to lose his advantage as a control vehicle, and video footage clearly showed him taking off before hitting the line, which marks the restart zone.

“I think the leader is the leader for a reason; he should have the right to control the restart and, just like Denny said, you’re often judging what you’re going to do as the leader based on the car in second and third place,” Berry noted. “These guys are relaxed and try to time the run. They all try to time it well, and sometimes you have to push the limits a bit to avoid losing the lead. Overall, I think it’s really blown out of proportion.

“I don’t think it’s that big of a problem. I don’t think there is a need for data and police. We need flexibility and drivers need to be able to race and make decisions. If you want to make a call over a distance of a few feet, early in the restart zone or before the restart zone, I think you can just as easily make the same call if someone is 3 feet back instead of 2 feet. I don’t think there is a big problem with the reboot for me. It’s just been blown out of proportion.”

Berry’s teammate, Ryan Preece, was equally passionate about the fact that there was no need for a ruling from NASCAR. Preece, who also has a short track background, agrees that the leader is sometimes at a disadvantage with a restart zone.

“You’re at the mercy of if I don’t go to the front row and you wait further in the box, well, what happens if the guy goes in second and has a nose there and it doesn’t get called?” Preece said. “Well, now you’ve lost the advantage. Or if you wait and then Joey [Logano] rolls up and has momentum on you and pulls back at the start/finish line, you will be put three wide going into Turn 1. It’s a lose-lose situation.

“So at the end of the day that’s racing. I would have done the same thing (as Hamlin).”

Both agreed Hamlin did what he had to do. On Sunday night, in the immediate aftermath, NASCAR senior vice president Elton Sawyer said it was “terribly close” but that the restart was good. Tuesday morning, during his weekly appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Sawyer admitted that Hamlin left early, and if it had been earlier in the race, it would have been parsed and judged differently.

“I think we all feel like they’re definitely controlled differently (depending on the round),” Berry said. “The reality is that everyone wants transparency and they (NASCAR) were transparent, and now everyone doesn’t like that. We kind of know that if you just jump over the opening start, you’re more likely to get a penalty than if you race for the lead. Everyone will have a different opinion on whether that’s right or wrong, but I think that’s one thing. And as a director you have the feeling that that is something. So I do not know.”

Former Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski appreciated hearing from Sawyer. However, he was unaware of what had happened and pointed out that the conversation was about over-performance a week earlier at the Circuit of The Americas track.

“I really respected Elton Sawyer’s answer when he said they just missed it,” Keselowski said of the restart. “I think that’s okay. I think that happens in sports. In the ideal scenario, we don’t put them in a position where an official has to make a decision. We have all the technology and all the things where everything is black and white. But the world isn’t that perfect, and the technology to do it all is difficult to pin down and make bulletproof.

“Sometimes things slip through the cracks. You get mad at them and a week later everyone seems to forget about them. But I think you want to solve these kinds of problems holistically, but be careful not to fall into the natural law of unintended consequences that seems to follow. I saw Chad Little a few weeks ago and we shared a joke at COTA about track limits of: this is what happens when you have final and perfect technology. You will receive fines of forty percent during a race weekend.

“So I think COTA was a perfect example of how this can go the other way, where you have the technology to solve challenges and you create black and white, remove some of the gray judgment calls, and people love that too not from. I completely understand the challenge these guys face in choosing a path to do so. It’s the challenge of the week, and to be honest, if that’s the worst challenge we’ve had from Richmond, I think we’ve probably had a pretty good week.

Preece admitted it was a difficult situation, but doesn’t want to see judgment from NASCAR. In a sense, Preece said restarts are predictable if the field knows when the leader will leave due to the restart zone.

“We all know how to do a restart and how to do it,” Preece said. ‘We know when there are matches. Now I don’t want to see the leadership decide halfway through (turns) 3 and 4 to pick up 16 km per hour and then hit the brakes. That’s something you do when you race go-karts or quarter midgets. When you get into a full-size race car and you know there’s a box, it’s a consistent pace and then go. But I am in favor of not calling for a situation like this.”

In the end, the Stewart-Haas drivers humorously said that what matters is who was involved. If NASCAR had penalized Hamlin and taken away the win, there wouldn’t be the same uproar over the lead.

“No, because it was him,” Berry said. “If it was one of us, people wouldn’t even think about it, to be honest. It’s subjective. If me or Ryan go for our first win, are you really going to call it because they went a meter too early?

The story originally appeared on Racer

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