Top NASCAR Official Addresses Embarrassing Championship 4 Blunder and Vows It Will Never Happen Again
NASCAR is known for sometimes making changes to the rules during the season. That situation occurred earlier this year before the race at Circuit of the Americas when the governing body opted to revert to the shorter restart zone length used in 2022.
The first trip to Phoenix Raceway in March, the fourth race of the year, used the extended restart zone. The Championship 4 races on the mile-long desert track should have all had the updated, shorter zone. However, that didn’t happen. Afterward, a top NASCAR official addressed the embarrassing blunder and vowed it would never happen again.
NASCAR changes length of restart zone back to 2022 version
Before the 2023 season, NASCAR gathered feedback from drivers and decided to do a trial run with an extended restart zone, intended to give the lead driver an edge coming to the start-finish line. In March, NASCAR Senior VP of Competition Elton Sawyer announced, after more discussion with the drivers, there was going to be a change. All tracks would be using the 2022 restart zone dimension going forward.
“Early in the season, we had dialogue with the drivers, feeling like the restart zone expanding it, would give the lead vehicle, the control vehicle, a little more of an advantage, which they had earned,” Sawyer said. “So we said, let’s go through the first five events. We started at Daytona, ended up at Atlanta.
“After some dialogue again, the drivers didn’t feel like, and I don’t know that the industry did as well, that we really accomplished anything there that they were looking for. Starting at COTA, we’ll go back to our 2022 dimensions, if you will.”
Top NASCAR official addresses wrong dimensions at Phoenix; vows it won’t happen again
The first five tracks on the 2023 schedule used the extended restart zone — Daytona, California, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Atlanta. Four of those venues have second events, including Phoenix.
Before the Championship 4 races in Arizona, the driver-crew chief video, which goes out to all the teams, featured the most recently updated shorter restart zone. Unfortunately, that video didn’t accurately depict what was on the track, and the error wasn’t discovered in time to make change before the Truck Series race.
Afteward, Sawyer made his regular appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and addressed the embarrassing blunder.
“The location of all of our restart zones are different. We’re not like a baseball field, football field, or basketball court in that all of our venues are different — different shapes, different sizes,” Sawyer said. “So the actual location in relation to the start-finish line is different. If you look at the LA Coliseum, you look at Martinsville, you look at Daytona, they’re not all the same. We come up with that location with collaboration with our drivers and historical data of how our restarts have looked.
“There were some conversations in the offseason, back last January, if your listeners will remember, about extending the restart zone the first part of the season. This was an initiative, if you will, that came out of the collaboration with our Cup Series drivers about extending it.
“Long story short, it’s on me and my team this never happens again. And we will. We’ll go through how we got there, what we need to do to fix it, and why it won’t happen again. But that kind of gives our viewers a 20,000-foot view of why it was that way on Friday night. So overnight, we corrected the restart zone for Saturday’s Xfinity race, and Sunday’s Cup Series race, the location was exactly where it was in 2022 championship weekend. So we got that corrected.”
Sawyer admitted it was on him and his team and vowed to change it going forward. While that’s good to hear, most everyone agrees that this type of mistake should never have happened at all, especially when you consider they had months to make the change.
In the end, it’s a bad look for NASCAR and not a good way to conclude what was an otherwise fun and entertaining season.