The earth-shattering news that NASCAR was implementing double-file restarts with all lead-lap cars at the front is still ringing in everyone’s ears, especially after the first week’s implementation went off without any hitches. There were no extra caution-flag laps to get the field in order. There weren’t any penalties for drivers being out of position. There weren’t any Big Ones at the front of the pack that took out 10 or 15 of the leaders. But while everyone is sitting around singing Kumbayah and reveling in the fact that the top brass at NASCAR’s headquarters got it right, let’s take the time to reserve a little judgment.
I’m the first one to admit that double-file restarts make more sense than restarts with lap-down cars on the inside. It should make for more competitive racing for the lead and actually give cars that are 10th or further back a chance to make some meaningful progress towards the front. However, the restarts will make for some very interesting competition on tighter racetracks and tracks where the line is rather limited. Fortunately, there aren’t too many of those on the circuit.
The first test will be in two weeks when the series heads to Sonoma. Other than the original drop of the green flag, we’ve never had double-file starts on the road courses. Now, any time we have a caution flag, there are going to be two rows of cars barreling off into the first turn. The first turn on any road course is always hair-raising at the start, and now it will be for every restart throughout the race. There is a very good chance that there will be cars all over the place, more than once, when the field heads into that turn, and there is a very good chance that some good cars will be eliminated because someone goes short on a turn and comes back on the track right into someone’s side.
There is also going to be some interesting strategy involved with which side of the front row the leader will choose when the race restarts. While the track bends to the left after the field crosses the start/finish line, the first real turn is to the right. Will it be an advantage to be on the outside or the inside going through the bend? Is it more important for the position to be had on the inside of the right hander or going around the bend on the way to the first turn? It is going to be the first real test of what the double file restart has in store for us going forward.
The second test is the very next week when the series heads off to New England to race at New Hampshire. The track at Loudon tends to be a single groove race track. Getting to the preferred groove is going to be at a premium, and with multiple lead-lap cars able to see that groove at the drop of the green, there could very well be some intense beating and banging as the cars take to turn one on each restart. This will be a very real test of the carnage capability of the double file restarts. After the race at Loudon, we’ll have a better idea of how great an idea double file restarts is.
Many people have been touting the fact that there have been double-file restarts on local short tracks for years. That is a true statement, but most of the racers who run every week at local tracks also work on their cars and aren’t running for hundreds of thousands of dollars. When the opportunity to run for that kind of money presents itself, they often don’t do so well with the double files. Last year, for the first time, the Bailey’s 300 late model race at Martinsville had double-file restarts for heat races and the big race. While there are often quite a few dustups during the races considering there are local racers running for $10,000, there was an inordinate amount of them this time around. Having leaders fighting side-by-side going into a single groove first turn on each restart led to far more caution flags than there have been in the past.
I realize we’re talking about late model racers versus the best stock car racers in the world. But we’re also talking about guys who put their blood, sweat and tears into every nut and bolt on their cars instead of retiring to their motorhomes while the hired hands fix up their torn up sheetmetal. When the ramifications aren’t so personal, drivers will take more chances and, in the long run, tear up more stuff.
As I said at the beginning, I like the idea of double-file restarts and I think they’re going to be good for the sport. However, they aren’t perfect and there are going to be a lot of people howling about their driver getting dumped at more than a few tracks before the year is over.