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NASCAR Official Suggests Hamlin's Winning Restart Call Was Situational (Updated)

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NASCAR: Hamlin Jumped Restart Call Was SituationalJonathan Bachman - Getty Images

Denny Hamlin took control of the NASCAR race at Richmond this past Sunday with a perfectly executed pit stop before overtime. That put him in position to lead a restart over his race-dominating teammate, but Hamlin seemingly started going before the restart zone. To viewers, that move seemed to be deserving of a race-losing penalty, but instead, NASCAR's Senior Vice President of Competition Elton Sawyer said post-race that officials called the restart fair after a review. Sawyer went on Sirius XM on Tuesday to discuss the non-call, and in an interesting exchange, seemingly explained that NASCAR decided on a no-call even though the review indicated a jumped start.

Updated, April 3rd 2024: A NASCAR spokesperson clarified to Road & Track that Sawyer did not mean to suggest the restart would be officiated differently at any other point in the race. The series simply has more time to review a potential jumped restart and make a decision from a larger pool of data earlier in a race, but a less marginal call would still have been made immediately by officials following the restart live. The original story about Sawyer's comments from April 2nd is below.

Sawyer says that "there's no doubt [Hamlin] rolled early," but adds that "it's a bang-bang call. It's the end of the race, we're a live sporting event, and we don't have the luxury of a time out to review it and make that call. If that happens at lap 10, or 50, or 300, the call could have been different."

In other words, Sawyer suggests the restart was a slight jump that could have been officiated differently if it occurred earlier in the race. It is unclear whether that means the call could only have been made of a penalty could have been announced before the end of the race or if NASCAR simply did not want to make a call that would change a result post-race.

Either is an odd position for NASCAR to hold. Sawyer goes on to caution that this exact situation could be officiated differently next time out, suggesting that Sunday's race is not exactly a set precedent going forward. This instead looks like a ball-and-strike call in baseball, something that is theoretically objective but in practice comes down entirely to the person looking at the lines and making a decision.

While the call made on Sunday went the other way, it was theoretically possible for NASCAR to announce the penalty after Hamlin crossed the line to win the race. The series has a previous precedent of holding race decisions until after a review is complete, as it sometimes does for photo finishes like the three-wide spectacle in Atlanta last month. The series announced a winner immediately in the Daytona 500, but even that finish was reviewed for the possibility that leader William Byron was passed just before the caution came out.

Whether or not this specific call was wrong is less of an issue than the precedent going forward. Drivers from Stewart-Haas and RFK Racing interviewed mid-week are not all that concerned by the idea of a leader having the extra control that a restart zone violation would afford, but the lack of firm rules opens up the doors for subjectivity. That can lead to uneven officiating, which could quickly become a bigger issue than any individual jumped restart. Rather than clarifying the concerns from the race, Sawyer's comments only raise more questions about how these restarts will be called going forward.

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