I love NASCAR. Actually, I love all motorsports (but who has time to watch them all???)
But for the past couple of years, restarts have been a problem in NASCAR — frustrating for drivers and for fans — and those problems to be getting worse.
Currently, when the field needs to restart, cars line up in 2 rows (the lead car gets to choose whether to drive the bottom line or the top line). I’ve created a rough diagram to approximate how cars are lined up. In this example, the lead car has chosen the lower line…
As the field of cars comes around to the start/finish line (the dotted line in the diagram above), the lead car is expected to lead everyone by accelerating first. They can do this in a space leading up to the start/finish line called “the restart zone”.
If the lead driver hasn’t accelerated and taken the lead by the start/finish line then everyone can go… but the lead car can accelerate at any point inside the restart zone.
Here’s why restarts are a problem
Sometimes the lead car can’t accelerate as fast as everyone else. Maybe they have old tires or they spin their tires on a dirty track or they have a mechanical problem or they miss a gear… whatever… there are times when they don’t accelerate, and sometimes they even actually slow down.
This puts the second car in a very awkward position. The second car needs to keep pace with the first car but can’t pull ahead… but there are times when it happens because the lead car doesn’t go.
In the past few races, we’ve seen this happen a couple of notable times.
NASCAR has on-the-spot video reviews and they’ll sometimes black flag a driver for starting too early… but they don’t always seem very consistent about their rulings (at least from my perspective).
Even drivers don’t like it (check out this great video of drivers voicing their concern).
NASCAR has doubled the restart zone but I don’t think that’s the solution either.
Here’s what I would do if I were in charge of NASCAR (which I’m most definitely not!)
I would put the first driver on the very front, with all other drivers in paired formation behind the lead driver. Like this…
And then I would make a rule that the lead driver’s rear bumper had to pass over the start/finish line before any other car’s front bumper.
- This ensures that the lead car always controls the race
- It forces the lead driver to make some strategic decisions about which line to race (and gives them a slight advantage by allowing them the option to race either line)
- It also forces subsequent cars (i.e. cars 2 and 3) to hold back, but…
- It gives those subsequent cars the ability to speed up strategically prior to the start/finish line (and potentially pass the lead driver right after the start/finish line… as long as the lead driver’s rear bumper passes the start/finish line before the subsequent cars’ front bumpers).
I think this will make for restarts that are clearer (less confusion) and more exciting (better strategy opportunities for the lead car and the cars in the second and third spots).
It’s not likely that we’ll see this change anytime soon. But if I were in charge of NASCAR, that’s a change I would make.