Johnson says safety was at issue

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Three-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson says NASCAR should have called a caution earlier on the last lap of Sunday's Chase for the Sprint Cup opener at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The governing body waited until the leaders were between Turns 3 and 4 to throw the caution with A.J. Allmendinger's car stalled on the front stretch. That left many drivers, including Johnson, wondering whether to race back to the line.

Johnson said that created an unsafe situation.

"It should have been called a little bit earlier," Johnson said during a Tuesday conference call. " ... On the last lap, when you take into consideration how fired up everybody is to get back to the start-finish line and wondering where the last scoring loop was or what's the point you race to, that bit of hesitation in all the drivers' minds leads to an unsafe situation."

Johnson, who finished fourth, said he checked up coming off Turn 4 and nobody passed him, but he noticed not everybody slowed as the rules require. Among those, he said, were drivers trying to catch eventual race winner Mark Martin.

"When I saw the replay, granted the first couple of cars was pretty hairy," Johnson said. "But there were a lot of close calls deep in the pack."

Martin said he got hit from behind when he checked up. He didn't disagree with the call to delay calling the caution, echoing NASCAR's argument that Allmendinger could have gotten restarted.

He also didn't dispute the potential for danger.

"Somebody came up there and ran into the back of me, and of course I went back to accelerating," Martin said. "I knew the race was supposed to be over, but I've done lots of stupid stuff and I didn't want to lose this race.

"I was under the impression that when a caution [was] called, the race was over. I don't think the guys [who] gave up the race behind me quit, so it caused a little bit of chaos."

Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon, further back in the field in 15th, said he never got word that the caution was out.

"All I know is my spotter was saying there was a car down low on the front straightaway stopped, and I never heard them say, 'Caution,' " Gordon told reporters after the race. "So everybody was still going, and I saw the caution out of the corner of my eye. I said, 'I never heard the caution' and [my spotter] said, 'That's because it didn't come out until just now,' and I was surprised by that."

NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said Allmendinger was given every opportunity to clear the track so the race could be completed under green, which is the ultimate goal.

Allmendinger's car did not create unsafe racing conditions, Poston argued.

"We waited as long as we could so we could complete the race, but when the 44 didn't move in time we had to display the yellow between Turns 3 and 4," he said. "We were able to let the guys race it out as much as possible while keeping everyone safe."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.