How Does NASCAR Reduce the Chaos on Overtime Restarts at Road Courses?

How does NASCAR reduce the chaos on overtime restarts at road courses? This commentary explores possible solutions for consideration. The answer is not an easy one.

The NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas/COTA was one of the best races in a long time, providing good racing action for everyone, The race showcases varying pit strategies, red-hot battles on the track, and drivers having to walk the delicate tightrope between running hard enough to hold position while trying to conserve fuel. Sadly, the entertainment value of the race came undone at the end with a late caution leading to several overtime restarts and chaos. 

How Does NASCAR Reduce the Chaos on Overtime Restarts at Road Courses

The right driver won the race but after several chaotic overtime restarts, even Tyler Reddick likely wishes it could be better with a cleaner finish.

The frustration at the end of the race at COTA is the latest example of what is now typical of a NASCAR road course race. A writer at ‘The Athletic,’ Jeff Gluck calls the race embarrassing.” The former Formula 1 Champ and guest driver Jenson Button says, “we can do better.” And after the race, Trackhouse Racing driver of the No. 99, Daniel Suarez, expressed his frustration to his teammate Ross Chastain and competitor Alex Bowman by bumping them on pit road.

The drivers, the media, and fans agree with Button that NASCAR can do better. The difficult question for NASCAR is, how?

Let the Drivers Police Each Other

NASCAR hesitates to moderate driver competition because they want to let the on-track action sort itself out. This strategy, however, is becoming a problem because it no longer works. Driver frustration continues to brew on and off the track.

The damage-resistant Gen 7 car has led to a trend where drivers are more aggressive. Driver aggression was clear at COTA as they dive bomb the first turn on overtime restarts with no respect for their fellow competitors. Proof of the problem was during the cool-down lap of the race with several angry confrontations, including an incident on pit road where angry drivers tried to sort out their frustration. Driver frustration is typical following nearly all road course races, but the problem seems worse, indicating a need for intervention.

Have NASCAR Police Driver Incidents

Other racing series, notably Formula 1 and IMSA, have a steward system where officials review incidents happening on the track and assess penalties during the race. In NASCAR, the sanctioning body does assess penalties during the race, particularly for track limits and pit road speeding. But, they remain hesitant to intervene with driver incidents because NASCAR has a history of being a contact sport. The fans and drivers remain steadfast in believing the old mantra ‘rubbing is racing’ which is a big part of the appeal of the sport.

Furthermore, if NASCAR were to start penalizing drivers for what happened at COTA, where would they even begin to assess who started the pile-up? An example is on one of the final restarts when the No. 99 of Daniel Suarez ran into the No. 19 of Martin Truex Jr and turned him around the track. The problem is that the synopsis is far from the complete story. The No. 99 was pushed by the No. 48 of Alex Bowman, who was pushed by the No. 1 of Ross Chastain, who was pushed by the No. 14 of Chase Briscoe, and Briscoe was likely pushed from even further back in the pack. For NASCAR, officiating incidents like this one would likely cause even more chaos and frustration than the problem happening during the race.

Single-File Restarts

Eddie D’Hondt, the spotter for the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team, suggested going to single-file restarts as a potential solution. In the past, NASCAR has had single-file restarts, usually when the race is getting dangerous or detrimental to drivers. Notable examples include the inaugural race at COTA when rain and visibility issues led to major problems on the track. At the 2022 Bristol Dirt Race, the single-file restart was also implemented 

Single-file restarts might help, but at COTA, they would not completely fix the problem. On the restarts this weekend at COTA the field restarted two-wide. By the time they reached the first turn, they were fanned out six or even eight wide. Putting the field single-file for restarts could still lead to four or more cars attempting to enter the first turn at once.

Move the Restart Zone

Another potential solution is to move the restart zone. The restart zone is now positioned just before the start/finish line. It’s in a place where the entire field is established on the front straightaway. This scenario theoretically provides the fairest opportunity for all competitors. The length of the straightaway, however, gives a lot of opportunity for the field to fan out and set up for chaos by the time they get to the first turn.

Moving the restart zone to a place after the start/finish line but before the first turn could give the field less chance to accelerate and fan out before the turn. Drivers would have less momentum to use for a dive bomb. Placing the restart zone after the start-finish line would be past the flag stand. But signaling could still be accomplished via an auxiliary flag stand along with a light system.

Another alternative location could be somewhere before, within, or after the final turn before the start/finish line. Putting the restart zone in a turn could help meter the field better. Drivers would need to negotiate a turn during the restart, making it less likely for chaos to ensue. The problem is it could give a significant advantage to the leader. The leader could most likely be on the straightaway at the restart while the majority of the field is still in the turn.

There’s No Easy Answer for How Does NASCAR Reduce the Chaos on Overtime Restarts

NASCAR Cup Series drivers are the best stock car drivers in the world. The driver’s talent and skill were fully displayed this Sunday at Circuit of the Americas. Even in clean traffic, Road course champions of other disciplines, such as Jordan Taylor, Jenson Button, and Kimi Raikkonen, could barely keep pace with the Cup Series drivers. 

The NASCAR Cup Series should be better than what they did during the overtime restarts. Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, and Brad Keselowski all say, “sometimes drivers need to be saved from themselves.” They all have a strong competitive drive.

There is no easy solution to this problem, but at some point, there must be a change. One of the best NASCAR Cup Series races was marred by unnecessary and ugly chaos. Without a change in direction, future road course races will likely be victims of similar embarrassing incidents.