April 29, 2012
Penalty leaves Carl Edwards up the track
By Dean McNulty, QMI AGENCY
RICHMOND, VA. - Carl Edwards was frustrated and Tony Stewart was angry.
Last season’s duelling championship contenders both ended up on the wrong side of NASCAR Sprint Cup officiating during the final laps of the Capital City/Virginia is for Lovers 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
And while Kyle Busch won the event by taking advantage of Stewart’s and Edwards’ woes, the story of the race was how the two superstars thought they had been jobbed by NASCAR rule bosses.
It all started with a caution brought out after Jeff Burton slammed the wall with 83 laps to go in the 400-lap race.
Edwards, Stewart and Jimmie Johnson were the only drivers on the lead lap when the caution came out. Johnson had to go to the rear of the grid for a pit-road penalty and that left Stewart as the leader after Edwards pitted on the caution.
But when Edwards emerged from pit lane, the scoring monitors — and apparently a NASCAR official — told him and his team that he was the race leader as he lined up beside Stewart for the restart.
“Right before that start, my spotter, Jason Hedleskey, was told by NASCAR officials that I was the leader,” Edwards said.
So, as the cars were nearing the start/finish line, Edwards gunned his No. 99 Ford to get a jump on Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet.
Almost immediately, NASCAR displayed a black flag, meaning Edwards would have to serve a drive-through penalty that effectively ended his chance of winning.
“I was at a disadvantage being on the outside, so I thought I was getting the best start I could get,” Edwards said. “It looked like Tony waited or spun his tires, so they black-flagged me. I still don’t understand why they black-flagged me.
“I am trying to not be too frustrated and say something stupid.”
NASCAR rules boss Robin Pemberton said it was very clear to him why Edwards was given the penalty: Stewart was the race leader and Edwards jumped the restart.
Pemberton said if there was some confusion, it was because the automated scoring system on the track tower had Edwards as the leader under caution, even though NASCAR officials had made teams aware that the starting order was Stewart, then Edwards.
“He wasn’t the leader. The 14 was the leader,” Pemberton said. “And the 14 should have started the race.”
That explanation didn’t help Edwards understand how he lost a race where he led a race-high 206 laps, even after a closed door meeting with Pemberton.
“We had to just agree to disagree and that’s the way it is,” Edwards said. “They run the sport and they do the best job they can, and I drive a race car and do the very best job I can. I’d rather not say what was said in there. This whole thing is very frustrating. I don’t feel like we did the wrong thing.
“It’s just too bad that we didn’t get a shot to race for the win.”
As for Stewart, he too, had a bone to pick with NASCAR after the race. With just 10 laps to go, race officials threw a yellow caution flag for debris on the track that ended up being an empty plastic water bottle.
Until that point Stewart was in command and looked like he would get his third win of the season. But on the resulting restart, he would end up getting passed with eight laps to go by Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Stewart was adamant that there was no need for that caution.
“When the caution is for a plastic bottle on the backstretch, it’s hard to feel good about losing,” Stewart said. “I mean, it was out of the groove. It had been sitting there for eight laps.”
At the end of the day, both Edwards and Stewart left Richmond feeling cheated.
DTM Series rookie and Guelph native Robert Wickens finished 14th in his debut Sunday at Hockenheim for the Junior Mercedes squad. Teammate Gary Paffett won the race. “I think 14th place at the start of the season is quite an achievement for a rookie, especially in such a hard-fought competition as this,” Wickens said. ... Montreal’s Bruno Spengler was a victim of a Ralf Schumacher spinout, wrecking his Schnitzer BMW after only three laps.
Will Power combined his pole position and better fuel mileage from his No. 12 Penske Racing Chevrolet on Sunday to win the Sao Paulo 300. It was Power’s third win of the season and fourth in a row for Penske.
It was expected that the Honda-powered cars might break that streak after getting a new turbo from IndyCar, but Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, who had he lead late in the No. 9 Honda, had to pit for fuel, ending his chances.
Ryan Hunter-Reay was second in the No. 28 Andretti Autosport Chevrolet with Takuma Sato third in the No. 15 Honda. Helio Castroneves finished fourth in the No. 3 Chevrolet with Dario Franchitti rounding out the top five in the No. 10 Honda.
Canada’s James Hinchcliffe wound up sixth in the No. 27 Chevrolet.