NASCAR faces credibility issues after Carl Edwards dispute, late caution at Richmond
By Bob Pockrass / Sporting News
RICHMOND, Va. — Kyle Busch has been the center of attention after each of the last five spring Sprint Cup races at Richmond International Raceway.
In 2008, it was because he wrecked Dale Earnhardt Jr. as they battled for the lead. In 2009-2011, and again Saturday night, it was because he won the race.
What we learned Saturday in the Capital City 400 as Busch won the spring race back-to-back-to-back-to-back.
NASCAR has credibility issues
The key moment in the race came when Carl Edwards was penalized on a restart on Lap 319 of the 400-lap event. NASCAR penalized Edwards, who thought he was the leader, for beating the actual leader, Tony Stewart, to the start/finish line. If Edwards had been the leader, NASCAR would have penalized him for restarting the race before the designated restart zone, NASCAR Vice President Robin Pemberton said.
Having to serve a pass-through penalty, Edwards could rally only from 15th to 10th by the finish. Edwards said he was told by his spotter — who said he consulted with the NASCAR official on the spotter stand — that he was the leader.
Pemberton said that even if the NASCAR official “supposedly” said Edwards was the leader, Edwards should have known that Stewart was the leader because that’s what they were told before they lined up for the double-file restart.
Edwards said he figured NASCAR made a mistake and he would have to restart the race from the outside lane.
“I was still don’t understand why they black-flagged me,” Edwards said. “They said we were the leader and I restarted the best I could given the disadvantaged position I was in.”
The situation could make people question NASCAR’s credibility with an official, delivering unclear or inaccurate information to Edwards’ spotter.
And if the official didn’t, there was another source of controversy — a caution flag with 12 laps remaining that resulted in pit stops during which Busch beat Stewart off pit road, setting up Busch’s win. That caution will be looked at as a questionable debris caution.
“It was out of the groove,” Stewart said of the caution for an apparent water bottle. “It had been sitting there for eight laps. … When the caution is for a plastic bottle on the backstretch, it’s hard to feel good about losing that one.”
Richmond is Kyle Busch’s house in spring
Busch couldn’t ask for a better place to get out of his early season funk. Sitting 13th in the standings with just one top-five finish, Richmond came just in the nick of time.
Having won his first career Nationwide race at the track in 2004 and having seven overall wins here, Busch can’t necessarily pinpoint what makes him so good on the 0.75-mile track and why more of his success comes in the race traditionally run in late April or early May each year.
“It’s just something that keeps going well for us,” Busch said. “It probably could have been spring in Richmond the year before that, too (in 2008) — unfortunately the last two laps I got into a little tangle with a pretty popular racecar driver. Aside from that, this race has always been great to me.”
Going into the race, Busch led in only two of eight races and only 132 of 2,526 laps (5.23 percent) this season. Last year at this time, he had led 19.3 percent of all laps raced, and for the season, he led in 26 of his 35 races.
“A year ago, I think you look back and we were leading the most laps and contending for the win nearly every week at this point in the season,” crew chief Dave Rogers said. “Now we’re not living up to that standard. That tells me we’ve got to work harder, bring better racecars to the racetrack. I feel this race is an indication that we’re turning the corner.”
Tires wear a factor, pit stops crucial
Goodyear has been scrutinized recently for bringing tires that are too durable to the track. But with Saturday’s tire showing more wear, none of the leaders dared stay out when the caution flag waved following a 70-lap green flag run and with only with 12 laps left in the race.
It was on that pit stop that Stewart lost his lead because of a slow stop. He came out of the pits second, and then fell to third on the restart, which is where he finished after leading 73 laps until that pit stop. “We gave it away on pit road,” Stewart said.
With tire wear at a premium, Stewart and the leaders couldn’t afford to stay out and not pit during the final caution.
Starting from pole means little
So far this year, no pole-winner has won a race. And in recent weeks, drivers who won the pole didn’t have great races. In the last seven races, only twice has a driver on the pole even finished in the top 10.
Mark Martin was one of those as he finished eighth after starting on the pole Saturday night, but he wasn’t a factor after leading the first 29 laps. His car needed a lot of work.
“I’ve never seen a (crew chief) improve one of my cars that much in one race,” Martin said.
Maybe being strong in the final practice was a better indicator. Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the final practice and finished second. Carl Edwards was second in the final practice (and started second) and led the most laps. Eventual winner Kyle Busch was fifth in practice and started fifth. Martin had been 13th in that final practice.
“The team is confident, we’re feeling good,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We feel like we’re competing well (and) really close to winning a race.”