NASCAR official says Denny Hamlin could have been called for a restart violation if it was 'lap 10 or 50 or 300'

Would Denny Hamlin have been called for a restart violation on Sunday night if it was lap 200 and not lap 405?

NASCAR vice president of competition Elton Sawyer opened up that possibility in an interview on Tuesday. Hamlin won Sunday night’s race at Richmond by accelerating early on the race’s final restart and driving away from teammate Martin Truex Jr.

After the race, Truex said that Hamlin jumped the restart, and replays appeared to back him up. Hamlin’s car started to accelerate before the start of the restart zone. The leader is supposed to start accelerating for the green flag at some point within a restart zone — denoted by two painted lines — at the beginning of every restart.

Tuesday, Sawyer admitted that Hamlin “rolled early.”

"And as I looked at it yesterday, multiple times, there's no doubt he rolled early," Sawyer said. "And again, it's a bang-bang call, 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, the call could have been different."

The context of Sawyer’s statement is remarkable — is he saying that NASCAR’s rule enforcement can be contextual? It should be pretty clear and straightforward. If a driver commits a restart infraction that is worthy of penalty near the start of the race or halfway through it, that same restart infraction is also worthy of a penalty at the end of the race.

NASCAR officials love to trot out the trope that auto racing doesn’t have timeouts for replay reviews whenever it defends a controversial call. However, that’s not applicable in this case. NASCAR has the ability to review every restart and could have immediately reviewed Hamlin’s restart on Sunday night as the race ran the final two laps to its conclusion.

But here’s why we think NASCAR was so lenient. If it would have (rightfully) called Hamlin for a restart violation, the driver who finished first would not have been the winner of the race. Even though the call would have been correct, NASCAR would have been awarding the win to Joey Logano, the driver who finished second ahead of Kyle Larson and Truex in fourth.

That ultimately shouldn’t play a factor, however. NASCAR is already in the business of taking away wins. A driver can lose the win if his car doesn’t pass post-race inspection. And that’s already happened to Hamlin. In 2022, Hamlin won at Pocono and celebrated the victory but his car failed inspection. Chase Elliott was declared the winner after second-place Kyle Busch’s car also failed inspection.

You make the call on Hamlin's restart

Hamlin had some fun with the restart in his podcast on Monday. To be clear, he made an exceptional tactical decision in the moment to get himself a second win of 2024. Hamlin said that he wanted to get a jump as early as possible on the restart, and he likely knew that NASCAR wasn't going to want to intervene if he pushed the boundaries of the restart zone.

He even went so far as to retweet a clip from a camera inside Truex's car that showed Hamlin's car accelerating before the restart zone.

Truex would have easily won the race if it wasn't for a late-race caution. The 400-lap race went to overtime when Kyle Larson slid off the bumper of Bubba Wallace with less than two laps to go. Hamlin had a faster pit stop than his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and left pit road first. That allowed him to have control of the restart on the way to his fifth career win at Richmond.

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