With both the NBA and NHL in the midst of their playoffs right now, the topic of officiating is bound to come up on just about every sports TV channel, network and radio show. But those looking for a controversial officiating story to pick up need look no further than Saturday night's Capital City 400 at the Richmond International Raceway to have plenty to talk about.
Roush Fenway Racing's Carl Edwards established himself as the dominant driver in the race, leading 206 laps and looking like a sure bet to take his first victory in over a year. But after NASCAR decided that he jumped a Lap 320 restart, Edwards was black-flagged by the sanctioning body, sending him to the end of the lead lap. He would eventually recover for a 10th-place finish, but did not contend for the win.
For the restart in question, Edwards would start on the outside of leader Tony Stewart. Replays showed that Stewart spun his tires on the restart, but that Edwards also appeared to accelerate a full car length before NASCAR's designated "restart box," which consists of two lines painted on both walls of the track coming out of Turn 4.
According to a frustrated Edwards, spotter Jason Hedlesky had been told that Edwards was the leader of the race by a NASCAR official, and the track's scoring pylon reasserted that. However, because Edwards was restarting on the slower, wider outside line, he would be at a disadvantage, and thus felt the need to get the best restart that he could.
Hedlesky and Stewart spotter Bob Jeffrey were called to NASCAR's hauler after the race. Edwards, crew chief Bob Osborne, and team owner Jack Roush also discussed the call with NASCAR officials.
After the race, Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, admitted that Edwards should have never been scored in the lead at all. While scrubbing his tires the lap before the restart, Edwards crossed the start-finish line before Stewart, leading the electronic timing and scoring to incorrectly bump him to first place.
"That put the 99 on top of the board, which was incorrect," said Pemberton, "but that's how the electronics works."
Edwards had also claimed that NASCAR put him on the outside line, which should have been a signal that he was in second; NASCAR allows the lead car to choose the outside or inside line on a restart. Regardless of the scoring inaccuracy, however, Pemberton explained that Edwards would have been black-flagged whether he was the leader or not.
"(Stewart) is the leader, and he didn't even get to the zone to restart the race yet," Pemberton continued. "Carl, given the information he had, tried to get the best start he could. We were a couple of car lengths before the zone.
"You have to get to the zone first. That didn't happen."
With the 10th place finish, Edwards has now run 42 races without a Sprint Cup victory, dating all the way back to Las Vegas last March. He hasn't finished better than fifth all season, and had only led one lap under caution last week at Kansas all year before Saturday night's race.
"We had to just agree to disagree and that's the way it is," Edwards told reporters after the race. "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."
Information from the Associated Press' Jenna Fryer was used to complete this article.