Carl Edwards left Richmond International Raceway believing that he did the right thing as the leader on the Lap-319 in the Capital City 400 Saturday night.
NASCAR officials, however, said he was wrong in several ways. First of all, he wasn’t the leader, NASCAR officials said, and he passed the real leader, Tony Stewart, before the start/finish line. And secondly, he didn’t restart properly, even if he was the leader, because he accelerated before the start of the restart zone.
So NASCAR officials believe they were justified in issuing a pass-through penalty that dropped Edwards to 15th a couple of laps later and led to a 10th-place finish.
“The 14 (of Stewart) is the leader and he didn’t even get to the zone to restart the race,” NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton said. “Carl, given the information he had, tried to get his best start and jumped the start.
“They were a couple of car lengths before the zone. You’ve got to get to the zone first. That didn’t happen.”
Edwards, who had led a race-high 206 of 400 laps, didn’t seem convinced.
“I feel that a chance to win that race was taken from us,” the Roush Fenway Racing driver said. “I’m real frustrated. … We worked real hard for tonight and that’s how it goes sometimes in sports. It’s tough.”
The confusion started when Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Stewart were the only drivers on the lead lap when the caution came out to interrupt a series of green-flag pit stops.
Johnson and Stewart had pitted, but Edwards hadn’t, and pitted under caution. Johnson was penalized for a crew member rolling a tire—crew members must have control of the tire until the middle of the pit box—and Johnson had to go to the rear of the field, making Stewart the leader.
But after the drivers lined up double file one lap prior to the restart, NASCAR had to wave off the restart so Johnson could get to the tail of the field.
As they rode in double file around the track, Edwards beat Stewart to the line one lap prior to the restart. That triggered the scoring monitors and scoreboard to post Edwards as the leader.
Edwards then asked his spotter, Jason Hedlesky, if he was the leader. Hedleskey said he was, later telling the team that he was told by the NASCAR official on the spotters stand and by Stewart’s spotter that Edwards was the leader.
So Edwards, thinking he was the leader, gunned it just as he thought he got to the restart zone.
“I thought Tony Stewart was the leader on the inside (and) NASCAR told my spotter about three seconds before the restart that (I) was the leader,” Edwards said. “They put us on the scoreboard as the leader, so I realized I’m at a disadvantaged position—I’m in the outside lane and NASCAR made a little mistake.
“I got the best start I could. Tony didn’t start or spun his tires. … I don’t think it’s right. I don’t agree with it.”
NASCAR penalized Edwards for jumping the restart and he had to do a pass-through penalty—meaning he had to drive down pit road under green, at pit-road speed.
Edwards said he wished NASCAR would have thrown a caution flag and restarted the race with him back in second.
Edwards, crew chief Bob Osborne and team owner Jack Roush met with NASCAR officials after the race.
“We had to agree to disagree. … I don’t feel like we did the wrong thing,” Edwards said. “I just feel we did the best we could with what we had there and if the same thing happened again and I hadn’t experienced this, I’d do the same thing every time.
“It’s just too bad we didn’t get a shot to race for the win.”
Team owner Jack Roush declined to comment on what he thought of the NASCAR explanation.
“I don’t have anything to say,” he said.
Osborne left frustrated and said it came down to straightforward jumping the restart.
“We were confused based on being told who the leader was by the officiating (people),” Osborne said. “They said we did both (violations). At the time, I didn’t feel like we did, but looking at the video, we were too aggressive on the restart.”
Stewart said he thought he was the leader and was prepared to restart the race.
“We were the first one to line up and we were the leader on the board,” Stewart said. “So I don't know how much clearer it could be that we were the leader.
“If that was the case (that Edwards was the leader), then they should have put the caution out and given him the opportunity to choose the lane that he wanted. It's a miscommunication between upstairs and the drivers.”
But what about Edwards saying that the NASCAR official supposedly told his spotter that he was the leader?
“Supposedly is a really strong statement,” Pemberton said. “As you are coming to the restart, there is a lot of finger-pointing up there and everybody has to look at the scoreboard but you really have to look at the fact of that they knew coming to one to go (before the restart), 14 was the leader and the 99 was second.
“It was as clear as that.”