Controversy marks NASCAR’s Nationwide debut at Indianapolis

The Nationwide Series debut at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was marked with controversy beginning with the green flag start and again on the final restart of the Indiana 250 

From the beginning of the race, fans were asking questions about why Kyle Busch was not penalized when he clearly raced ahead of pole-sitter Kasey Kahne to start the inaugural Nationwide race at the Brickyard. 

According to the NASCAR rules relating to starts/restarts, as posted by Dustin Long on twitter…

Section 10-2: GREEN FLAG
A. The green flag signifies the start or restart of racing conditions. At the beginning of the Race/restarts, when the green flag is displayed by the starter, cars must maintain position as designated by NASCAR Officials until they have crossed the start/finish line, and the No. 2 position must not beat the No. 1 position to the start/finish line. (Part B covering restarts of this rule will be discussed later.) 

This seems pretty clear cut and definitive as the start/restart rule in NASCAR’s rule book. With this rule, Kyle Busch clearly was in violation and it seems that he should have been penalized. It’s important to note, there is no indication of any exceptions to this rule under any specific circumstances. 

Also an important distinction to note is based on the stated rule, the green flag “signifies the start or restart of racing conditions.” The rule further states “when the green flag is displayed by the starter, cars must maintain position as designated by NASCAR Officials until they have crossed the start/finish line.” Kyle Busch clearly did not maintain his position 2 and did beat position 1, Kahne to the start/finish line. 

Here’s the rub for fans and drivers. In his post-race comments, Pemberton says, “The flagman starts the race at the beginning of the race. The leader starts the race on restarts in the restart zone.” Note in part A, there is no mention of a designated zone. Also, note that Pemberton totally disregards the definitive statement that “when the green flag is displayed by the starter, cars must maintain position as designated by NASCAR Officials until they have crossed the start/finish line.”

But apparently there is another caveat to this rule, according to Robin Pemberton, “The call on that was when we displayed the green flag, the leader of the race did not go,” said Pemberton. “In all our judgement, and on the replays, the leader absolutely didn’t go. That’s why there was a no-call on that.” 

At this point, it remains unclear exactly where it’s stated that if the leader doesn’t “go” on the green flag, the No. 2 position now has the right to beat the No. 1 position to the start/finish line. But there is a precedent, under different circumstances, that will be presented later. 

Keeping with the questions about the rules of starting the race, according to NASCAR reporter Jeff Gluck, Kahne’s complaint has to do with “when” the green flag waved.

“This was the first time I’d ever seen them throw the green that early compared to where the restart line is,” Kahne said post-race. “I’m looking at the restart line and I’m like, ‘OK, we just got by,’ and I’m getting ready to take off – and Kyle took off and he threw the green. I wasn’t ready to go yet, but he threw the green.”

Even after Pemberton’s explanation, Kahne maintained his position. “To me, it should be a consistency thing and the flagman should know where the f****** restart line is,” Kahne said. “And if he doesn’t then go look. But whatever.

“That is definitely not consistent, I’ll tell you that. I start about 55 – NASCAR races – a year, and that was the first one they started that soon. I was like, ‘Holy S***, are you kidding me?”

NASCAR’s position in response to Kahne’s perspective is that “go time” at the start of the race is designated by the Green Flag and not the ‘designated zone.’  Apparently, Kahne is under a different understanding and was using the zone as part of his decision to mash the throttle for the start of the race. Keep in mind, from Kahne’s perspective, accelerating before the zone could have been a penalty for him. 

The first question that comes to mind is, how many other drivers have that same impression as Kahne of the rule? That at the start of the race, he is not suppose to accelerate before the designated zone and if he does, he could be penalized. 

That brings us to part B of the NASCAR rule book pertaining to starts/restarts. 

Section 10-2 B. All restarts shall be made at designated zone on the race track and will be made known to the drivers in the Pre-Race driver’s meeting. 

So there is apparently a distinction between starts and restarts with regard to this rule. Note that in part B, there is no mention of the designated zone pertaining to the start of the race, only restarts are referenced. Part A includes both starts and restarts. 

Moving on to the Keselowski/Hornish – Sadler/Dillon restart, how do these rules pertain to their situation. 

The green flag waves and then the leader, “Keselowski started the race in the restart zone, while doing something he’s known for frequently doing” – he checked up by either using his brakes or letting off the gas. That’s when his teammate Hornish bumped into him resulting in Keselowski spinning his tires, slowing his progress forward. 

At this point – within the designated zone – Sadler had already mashed the gas and couldn’t slow up his car without causing a major wreck, because his teammate Dillon was pushing from behind with the 43 car directly behind him. 

Pemberton’s explanation this time is different and somewhat confusing. “He (Sadler) did not jump the restart, but the rules are that he cannot beat the No. 1 starter to the line. That’s what he did. He clearly did that. He had him cleared by the time they got to the start-finish line, made no attempt to give it back. That’s the rules of a restart.”

But isn’t that exactly what Kyle Busch also did at the start of the race?

Again, according to Jeff Gluck’s article, in the Sadler/Keselowski case,  NASCAR considers that sort of ‘gamesmanship’ to be legal, Pemberton said. “Officials permit drivers to use varying speeds and strategies when starting the race, and Keselowski is particularly known for using those tricks.” 

Once again, it’s not clear where exactly that “gamesmanship” caveat is stated within the start/restart rules. 

And, what about the other caveat – not included in the rules – NASCAR used with the start of the race? Remember their statement about the leader did not go? Is that not the same as the leader checked up and slowed his progress forward?  The quick answer is yes – it’s not the same. 

Let’s take a look at this from another incident creating questions about the restart rules. 

Photo – Yahoo Sports

Recall the incident with Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth at the spring Bristol race? 

With 154 laps to go in the Food City 500 on the restart, second-place Kenseth raced the leader Keselowski  and crossed the start/finish line just slightly ahead of Keselowski racing side-by-side through turn one before Kenseth prevailed, by clearly passing Keselowski. In this restart situation, Kenseth did not receive a penalty from NASCAR even though he crossed the start/finish line slightly ahead of the leader. 

Why not, you ask? According to Kerry Tharp, “race officials deemed that Keselowski hadn’t mashed the gas in the designated restart zone before the start/finish line, allowing the second-place driver – Kenseth – the right of way to accelerate on his own.”  Sound familiar? It’s exactly what happened at the start of the race with Kahne and Busch – and represents the precedent, referenced earlier. 

But there it is again, the old “race officials deemed” caveat that’s not indicated in the specific start/restart rules, but is apparently NASCAR’s way out of these sticky situations. 

What can be surmised between these two incidents is that the zone is not relevant in Kahne’s incident, because it was at the start of the race where the green flag determines when it’s “go time” for the leader. In the Kenseth/Keselowski situation, it was a restart and now the designated zone is the determining factor for the leader to accelerate and restart the race. Tharp’s statement says, “Keselowski hadn’t mashed the gas in the designated restart zone.” 

In Kahne’s case, it seems his understanding of the designated zone was incorrect – perhaps along with the rest of us – and he could have accelerated as soon as the green flag waved without regard to the designated zone. Based on Kahne’s statements, he clearly thought there was a zone in play at the start of the race. 

Are judgement calls the fine line
between stated rules and NASCAR Officials?

But there is also fine line that distinguishes the Bristol Kenseth incident from the Sadler incident with Keselowski. While in both cases, it seems Keselowski’s car either didn’t get started or slowed up, in the Sadler incident it’s stated that “Keselowski started the race in the restart zone and then checked up.” Based on Pemberton’s statements that is considered “gamesmanship.” In the Kenseth incident, the statement is that “Keselowski hadn’t mashed the gas in the designated restart zone.” Again, based on statements made by Pemberton and Tharp, that gives position 2 – Keselowski at Indy and Kenseth at Bristol – the right to accelerate past postion 1 – Sadler at Indy and Keselowski at Bristol. 

What is particularly interesting about these distinctions is again, they’re not articulated and do not appear in NASCAR’s stated rule about starts/restarts, but has now been used at least twice to support the officials’ actions in not issuing penalties. These are clearly judgement calls vs. stated rules. 

Here’s my take on these situations. There is a clearly stated rule on starts/restarts that does not include judgement calls from NASCAR officials. While NASCAR Officials seem to understand their judgement calls, their inconsistencies with the stated rules are confusing to fans and drivers alike, and weakens NASCAR’s credibility in calls to give or not give penalties. 

In the post race media conference with Pemberton, the question was asked, “This isn’t the first time there’s been gray areas with this, can this still be a judgement call or do you need to be more definitive on this rule?

“It’s hard. It’s a difficult call at best,” Pemberton said. “We use every means that we can. We’ve got a lot of video up there. We stand by the call that we make. There’s plenty of people up there in checks and balances to look at these type of situations. Moving forward, as the competition continues to close, you never know what will come out of things like this.”

So the question for fans is, what do you think? Should NASCAR solely use only the definitive rule they have in place? Or is it okay for NASCAR to use their judgement beyond the stated rules when making these calls?

2 thoughts on “Controversy marks NASCAR’s Nationwide debut at Indianapolis

  1. Pemberton and his arrogance combined with his massive ego trip is the worst thing to hit NASCAR since Brian France. Two people that are never wrong and not because of their brilliance.

  2. Pemberton's ruling on Sadler was his strike out. Even the broadcasters got this right. Pemberton got it wrong. Helton should replace him. Sadler got screwed by Nascar.

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