NASCAR's Restart Blunder Costs Elliott Sadler at Indy

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NASCAR's Restart Blunder Costs Elliott Sadler at Indy
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

NASCAR's inaugural Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis in 1994 ended with a dramatic finish that became legendary.

NASCAR's inaugural Nationwide Series race at Indianapolis in 2012 ended with a similarly dramatic finish that should be legendary for all the wrong reasons.

When the field lined up for what would be the final restart of the day (which can be seen here), leader Brad Keselowski shared the front row with second-place runner Elliott Sadler.

Coming to the green flag, Keselowski appeared to spin his tires. At the same time, fourth-place car Austin Dillon laid his nose on the back bumper of teammate Sadler and gave Sadler a push that caused him to beat Keselowski to the green flag.

Problem is, the second-place driver is not supposed to beat the leader to the start/finish line on a restart. Sadler was black-flagged, forced to serve a penalty, and relegated to a 15th-place finish.

Now, before I get started, I just want to make it clear that I'm not implying that NASCAR has an easy job. They have to govern dozens of moving parts during an event, a monumental task of which I would want no part.

But what happened to Sadler was a travesty on multiple levels.

Take into account, first, that coming to the event's initial green flag (seen at about the 8:00-mark of this video), a similar situation took place in which second-place starter Kyle Busch beat polesitter Kasey Kahne to the green flag.

NASCAR's ruling: “When we displayed the green flag, … in our judgment, the leader absolutely didn’t go and that is why there was a no-call on that,” according to NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton. (via Sporting News)

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Fast forward to 80 laps later, and Sadler has a win at Indianapolis ripped from him when the complete opposite call is made in virtually the same situation.

But, as bush league as the discrepancy in the rulings was, equally as appalling was NASCAR's explanation after the race.

Almost an hour after the race's conclusion, after Sadler and team owner Richard Childress stormed into NASCAR's hauler demanding an explanation, they were informed that Sadler, in fact, hadn't been penalized for jumping the restart, but that his penalty was for the fact that he beat Keselowski to the start/finish line.

Usually, in such events, the second-place driver has the option to pull over and give back the spot gained in order to avoid a penalty.

The thing is, though, that Sadler never had this option because he was told by NASCAR that his penalty was for jumping the restart, which is punishable by a non-negotiable pass-through penalty down pit road.

Had NASCAR correctly conveyed what his penalty was for, Sadler could have perhaps pulled to the inside and allowed Keselowski to retake the lead. It's not what any driver wants to do, but, at the very least, it would have left Sadler in second place rather than 15th, and with a 14-point championship lead instead of a scant one-point advantage.

At the end of the day, though, any penalty at all for Sadler was completely unwarranted given the precedent that NASCAR set just a couple of hours earlier.

Perhaps the problem was the difference in protocol between the initial start and restarts during an event.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
NASCAR's ruling allowed Brad Keselowski to earn the first Nationwide win at Indy.

At the initial start, the polesitter goes on the green flag. Period. When the green flag waves, the leader is supposed to take off—which didn't happen in NASCAR's eyes in the Kahne/Busch incident.

On restarts, the leader restarts the race when he reaches the lines on the wall that mark the designated "restart zone." Keselowski had reached that line Saturday when he spun his tires. As such, Sadler went when Keselowski didn't, but was somehow penalized.

The idea of a "restart zone" is ludicrous. If that's where the restart occurs, then what is the point of even having the flagman wave the green flag for restarts? Isn't that what he's there for?

What would have happened if Sadler had tried to slow down to allow Keselowski to regain traction and beat him to the line? Austin Dillon was laying on Sadler's back bumper. Anything Sadler did to slow his progress would likely have resulted in an incident that would have completely changed the complexion of the race.

The solution to this is simple: green means go.

It's what we've all been taught. Get rid of this ambiguous nonsense about "restart zones" and make the rule that when the green flag waves, the leader is supposed to go. If he doesn't and gets passed by the second-place driver to the side of him, so be it.

That amendment would simplify things for the drivers, for the fans, and would end the ridiculous judgment call system that NASCAR maintains for these types of incidents.

So what do you think? Did Sadler get a raw deal and get shafted out of a landmark victory? Or did he break the rule and deserve to be penalized?

Also, do you think NASCAR's restart rules are logical and easy to understand? If not, what would you change? Do you agree that the green flag should start/restart the race, and nothing else?

Let us know in the comments below.

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