Restart jumps deemed 'minuscule'

Updated: November 8, 2012, 1:59 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

CONCORD, N.C. -- NASCAR vice president for competition Robin Pemberton broke almost a year-long vow not to listen to talk radio on Monday morning.

"In three minutes, I was done," Pemberton said with a laugh.

That's because fans were outraged that Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski or both jumped a restart, meaning they left early to gain an advantage, and weren't penalized in the closing laps of Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Pemberton said for a driver to be penalized it has to be an obvious violation as it was earlier this year in the Nationwide Series race at Indianapolis with Elliott Sadler.

He said that wasn't the case in either situation on Sunday involving the two drivers battling for the championship.

"It was so minuscule,'' Pemberton said of the differences between Johnson and Keselowski on the two restarts in question. "I swear, until quarter 'til eight this morning I had no indication it was an issue."

Johnson won to extend his point lead over Keselowski to seven with two races remaining.

Neither team sent representatives to the NASCAR hauler to complain after the race, as happened with Sadler at Indianapolis.

"We make the call when we know it's an obvious call that needs to be made," Pemberton said during a media event at WindShear Wind Tunnel. "I think we've made those calls when they've been obvious."

According to NASCAR rules, the second-place car can't beat the first-place car to the start-finish line on restarts.

Johnson, according to television replays, beat Keselowski to the line on the final restart by anywhere from a few inches to a foot. Pemberton said when it's that close NASCAR is reluctant to make a call because you don't know whether the leader manipulated that or not.

"When you went to double-file restarts this is what you had,'' he said. "You can't govern the restarts to the transponder, because then you're into regulating someone getting to the line and rolling out of the gas and getting the guy on the outside black-flagged.

"If anybody thinks those games don't happen, then it's obvious they're not paying attention."

Keselowski said after the race he spun his tires on the final restart.

Earlier this year at Indianapolis, Sadler was black-flagged for jumping the restart on race winner Keselowski with 18 laps remaining. Sadler argued that Keselowski spun his tires and that he had no choice but to keep going with Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon pushing him from behind.

Team owner Richard Childress lobbied a complaint with NASCAR after the race and again with Nationwide Series director Joe Balash. Nothing was changed.

Sprint Cup race director David Hoots said in the drivers' meeting before the Indianapolis Sprint Cup race that it is the responsibility of all drivers, not just the front row, to make sure the leader restarts the race. He said if cars behind the front row are pushing, the driver being pushed has options, including dragging his brakes, to make sure the leader starts the race.

When you went to double-file restarts this is what you had. You can't govern the restarts to the transponder, because then you're into regulating someone getting to the line and rolling out of the gas and getting the guy on the outside black-flagged. If anybody thinks those games don't happen, then it's obvious they're not paying attention.

-- NASCAR VP Robin Pemberton

NASCAR president Mike Helton said then that if drivers behind the front row don't take responsibility on restarts they could be penalized as well. This came after Johnson asked what other options Sadler had with Dillon pushing him.

"You can put us in a box that we may have to react to that driver," Helton said sternly.

Pemberton said what happened at Texas wasn't worth another reminder before Sunday's race at Phoenix.

"There was nothing wrong,'' he said. "I thought by the time they got to the dogleg 200 yards from Turn 1 they were OK. There was nothing that put up a red flag. The point is, all in all, when you look at 300 yards of the front stretch, it looked pretty fair.''

On the next-to-last restart, Johnson became irate over his in-car radio that Keselowski jumped the restart. Kyle Busch complained on his radio as well.

"Yeah, seemed really early to me,'' Johnson told reporters after the race. "Caught (Busch) off guard and myself. I need to look at the video before I put my foot in my mouth or something here. But it seemed early."

Pemberton said nothing was deemed illegal there, either.

"I think NASCAR said before they're not going to get out a micrometer and measure that kind of stuff,'' Keselowski said. "That's kind of the interpretation of the rules right now.

"Via that interpretation, I think it was probably fair play on both sides."

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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