Carl Edwards went from walking the dog on the field during Saturday night’s Capital City 400 at Richmond International Raceway to barking like one… and not without good reason. A restart on lap 318 of 400 proved the pivotal moment in the race, ultimately won by Kyle Busch, and it hinged on some confusion in communication.
Edwards, who had led 210 laps to that point, thought he was the leader and restarted the race as if he were, only to find out that NASCAR considered Tony Stewart to be in that position. The No. 99 car was black-flagged and had to serve a pass-through penalty, knocking him from the second spot to 15th and out of contention.
To add agony to misery, Stewart put him a lap down with 28 circuits remaining. Although Edwards did get back on the lead lap, earning the free pass on another pivotal caution flag [for a plastic bottle on the race track], the once-dominant leader could muster only a 10th-place finish at the end.
Afterward, a visibly frustrated Edwards had to bite his tongue. Hard. A couple of times, really.
“This takes a minute to explain, so bear with me,” the Missouri driver started. “I was on the outside and thought Tony Stewart was the leader on the inside. NASCAR told my spotter about three seconds before the restart that the 99 was the leader.
“They put us on the scoreboard as the leader and I realized I was at a disadvantaged position on the outside lane and NASCAR made a little mistake. I got the best start I could and Tony didn’t start or spun his tires and NASCAR black-flagged us. I don’t know why they black-flagged me. I don’t think it is right and I don’t agree with it. Before I say something stupid because I am real frustrated I would like to go talk to them.”
He did, along with crew chief Bob Osborne. The pair spent several minutes inside the NASCAR hauler pleading their case, but emerged with no clearer understanding of what had transpired than they did when they went in.
At least, that was true for Edwards.
“We had to just agree to disagree and that’s the way it is,” Edwards said. “They run the sport and they do the best job they can, and I drive a race car and do the very best job I can. I’d rather not say what was said in there. This whole thing is very frustrating. I don’t feel like we did the wrong thing.”
It depends on who you ask, apparently.
Robin Pemberton, Vice President of Competition for NASCAR, said it was quite simple from the sanctioning body’s perspective.
Pemberton said that Stewart was indeed the leader, and that Edwards did accelerate before the restart zone, which is marked by white lines on the apron and red marks on the outside retaining wall.
“It’s as clear as that,” Pemberton said.
It wasn’t clear to Edwards, who saw his number atop the scoring pylon as the field entered Turn 3 for the restart, and who asked his spotter, Jason Hedlesky, to ask NASCAR who was leading the race.
“Right before that start, Jason Hedleskey was told by NASCAR officials that the 99 was the leader, the 99 is the leader,” Edwards said. “Jason told me and I had a split-second to decide what I was going to do. I thought, ‘OK, NASCAR made a mistake and they lined us up wrong.’
“I was at a disadvantage being on the outside, so I thought I was getting the best start I could get. It looked like Tony waited or spun his tires so they black-flagged me. I still don’t understand why they black-flagged me. They said we were the leader and I restarted the best I could given the disadvantaged position I was in. The problem is I don’t know if NASCAR is going to take the stance that I jumped the start. If they are saying that I jumped the start then that would be real frustrating.”
NASCAR did, and as Pemberton so aptly put, it was as simple as that.
That begs the question who was to blame for the faulty information being passed to Edwards through his spotter. The pylon had the No. 99 at the top, and NASCAR told Edwards he was the leader. What else was Edwards supposed to do?
If he waited for Stewart to go, he would have stacked up the high line and probably triggered a crash that would have jumbled the order even further. But, believing he was the leader, that probably never entered his mind.
NASCAR is in control of the information that teams and drivers use to create strategies. They share some, if not most, of the blame for the incident.
It’s kind of like when drivers on restrictor plate tracks dive below the yellow out-of-bounds line to avoid triggering a multi-car crash, then get penalized for driving below the yellow line…which also happened to Edwards at Daytona one year.
For Edwards, it was a disappointing end to what had been a stellar night in Virginia’s capital. He was fast, led a ton of laps and was in position to win for the first time in quite awhile.
“Everyone knew we were here and our Ford EcoBoost Fusion was fast and our pit crew was spectacular,” he said, once the frustration gave way to resignation. “I would give anything to be able to have that start again and be able to race to the end. That was going to be a heck of a race.”
It was, indeed, and it turned out to be quite a battle to the end… between Busch and eventual runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr. Tony Stewart had a gripe with the timing and the reason for the final caution flag, so he joined Edwards as disgruntled drivers in the aftermath of the event.
Edwards can do one of two things: put it by and take it out on the field — and NASCAR – at Talladega, or let it fester.
My bet is he’ll be a holy terror on the high banks of Alabama.
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