BRISTOL, Tenn. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. wants NASCAR to follow its rules. It’s that simple, he says.
“All the drivers really want is for NASCAR to police that stuff with a stern hand,’’ Earnhardt said about restarts after Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway. “I saw in the Xfinity race at Watkins Glen … so many guys pull out of line before the start/finish line and pass people going into Turn 1. I’m like ‘What the hell? It’s right there in front of you. Hell, I can see it and I’m watching on TV.’
“We know those are rules, and you see a guy breaking the rule, and you just want to see NASCAR come down on people. I say that now, and I will probably jinx the hell out of myself and do something stupid next week, but you just want NASCAR to run the show like you read in the rulebook.’’
NASCAR’s rules state that “vehicles must maintain their track position/lane … until they have crossed the start/finish line.’’ Another rule states that “the leader of the race will control the restart within the designated restart zone.’’
Drivers don’t see those rules being enforced consistently. Carl Edwards questioned series officials about restarts during the drivers meeting before Saturday night’s race.
Edwards mentioned the previous race at Michigan when he led, but Austin Dillon beat him on a restart. Edwards claimed that Dillon took off when Edwards should have been first to go. NASCAR did not penalize Dillon.
“Are you going to enforce that?’’ Edwards asked Richard Buck, Cup series managing director, during the drivers meeting.
Buck told Edwards “we don’t went to get in and micromanage it, that’s for you to do it,’’ noting series officials reviewed the restart Edwards was concerned about and saw no issue.
Last week, NASCAR penalized Ryan Blaney during the Camping World Truck Series race at Bristol for jumping a restart when he was the leader.
“It seems like in the Truck series they really get after them guys and smack those guys on the back of the hand when they screw up,’’ Earnhardt said. “But in the Cup series, they have kind of let a little stuff here slide. It depends what it is. Like they say it’s a judgment call, but you want them to really rule on the side of the penalty.
“Keep people honest. Or else it’s just like these cars and these engineers and these crew chiefs, they are going to push the envelope on every rule. If you give us a little room out there as drivers, we are going to try to take it. We don’t want the sport ran so loosely. We really want it to be structured very tight.”
No drivers were penalized in Saturday’s Cup race for violating restarts rules, but the inconsistency has drivers flustered. They want to know what they can and can’t do because restarts are often the best chance to gain positions because passing is so difficult.
“There’s a lot of questions,’’ Joey Logano said after his victory Saturday. “I spent a lot of time with NASCAR this week, actually, trying to understand what I can and can’t do and being able to understand where their head is at and what they’re thinking when they look at a restart – what’s right and what’s wrong and what they’re going to police and what they’re not going to police.’’
Denny Hamlin suggested during the drivers meeting that NASCAR should go back to the rule that the No. 2 starter cannot beat the lead car to the start/finish. Buck said that could be discussed later. Earnhardt said maybe it will come up in an upcoming drivers council meeting with series officials.
Clint Bowyer just wants to see NASCAR do something.
“I understand they don’t want to step in, but nonetheless, it’s a rule,’’ he said. “In my opinion when there’s rules, you enforce them one way or another. I know it’s a judgment call, but that’s why there’s two stripes.
“I’ve been racing at short tracks with that kind of rule my whole life. It don’t bother them to yank the point leader or the crowd favorite or anyone else to make that call.’’