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NASCAR official explains why no penalty to Denny Hamlin on final restart at Richmond

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, conceded Tuesday that if Denny Hamlin’s overtime restart last weekend at Richmond had taken place earlier in the race, the “call could have been different” by series officials.

Sawyer made his comments on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Hamlin took the lead going into the final restart after his crew got him off pit road first. That allowed him to control the overtime restart.

Sawyer said Tuesday that “there’s no doubt (Hamlin) rolled early” for the final restart.

Sawyer said after Sunday night’s race that NASCAR reviewed the restart but did not issue a penalty. Hamlin won the race.

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Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Sawyer discussed the final restart more.

“It’s a bang-bang call,” he said on if to penalize a driver for a restart violation. “It’s at the end of the race. We’re a live sporting event. We don’t have the luxury of a timeout and go to the sideline and review it and make that call.

“If this happens at Lap 10 or 50 or 300 (of the scheduled 400-lap race), you know, the call could have been different. If I’m a competitor, I wouldn’t be playing that game every week. Sometimes you get the call that goes in your favor, sometimes you don’t.”

Sawyer noted that if the situation occurred earlier in the race, series officials have more time to examine it.

“You make the call and at that point in time in the race (at the end), there’s not a lot of opportunity there to undo that — but you want to make sure you get it right,” Sawyer said. “Because he was the leader, he did get some of that benefit. If he’s not the leader, then it’s a whole different conversation that we’re having.”

Rule 8.5.3.2.B of the Cup Rule Book states: “The initial start and all restarts shall be initiated within the restart zone on the racetrack. Double red lines on the outer wall designate the start of the restart zone. If the lead vehicle does not restart by the time it reaches the exit of the restart zone, designated by a single red line on the outer wall, the starter will initiate or restart the Race.”

Section 8.5.4.D of the Cup Rule Book states: “The Race leader is the control vehicle for each restart.”

Sawyer said Tuesday: “The leader has the right to start within that zone. Obviously, Denny took the liberties of going a little bit early there.”

Hamlin explained on his “Actions Detrimental” podcast how he determined when to go on the final restart.

“I concede that on TV it looks worse than what it felt like in the car,” Hamlin said. “The reason for that, when I’m restarting the race, I’m not looking at the flagman, I’m not looking at my dash. I’m not looking at anything. All I’m looking at is my mirror and my side peripheral.

“All I’m doing is trying to time this person’s run … what speed is the outside car going? Then I’m looking in the mirror to see, ‘OK, how close is the car behind me?’ And clearly Joey (Logano) is laying back — and, you know, if we really want to get into technicalities, you should not be laying back. He laid back enough that I could see him start to creep towards me.

“Now, at that point, I’m thinking in my head, ‘I’m not going to let him roll to me and then as soon as the gap closes take off because then he’s got an advantage.’ He’s going to be pushing me, he’s going to pull out of line. He dictated the restart, not me.

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“And the same with (Martin Truex Jr., alongside Hamlin on the front row). I saw him, he was back right around my door. I saw him creeping forward — and just understand that every mile per hour that you start quicker, you’re that same mile per hour faster all the way until we lift. So all the way down the frontstraightaway you’ve got that one mile per hour advantage. So I don’t want to give up the advantage of being the leader.

“So at that point, I see the restart zone, I’m coming off of Turn 4 and all I’m doing is looking mirror, side, mirror, side. I guarantee you can go to my in-car (camera) and you’ll see my eyes just kind of bouncing between the two, and I’m mostly looking to the right.

“And I’m looking at the left front fender on (Truex’s) car. And at that point, when I see him starting to creep, I’m like I take off, so I don’t see where I’m at in the zone. And so, I concede, definitely, it is a few feet early. … Many, many late-race restarts have been fired really early because if you wait until you get to the zone, you’ve lost all your advantage to the cars that are around you.

“They know, ‘He’s going to fire then (in the zone), OK, I’m going to slow my speed down now and creep it up so that way I’m running a couple of miles an hour faster than him when I get to that zone.’

“So I tried to negate the advantage that those guys were trying to get on me on that last restart.”