Carl Edwards thought he was the leader as the field came to a restart on lap 318 of Saturday night's Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway. NASCAR said he wasn't.
You can imagine who won that battle.
Edwards was on the outside of the front row, next to Tony Stewart, who was the actual race leader. After the pace car pulled off the track, Edwards accelerated. Stewart spun his tires.
So instead of the drivers being side-by-side as they crossed the start-finish line, Edwards, who ended up 10th, darted away. However, he wasn't scored as the leader, even though he thought he was and the scoring pylon in the middle of the track said he was, and he was penalized for jumping the restart.
"I am trying not to be too frustrated and stay something stupid. Right before that start, my spotter Jason Hedlesky, was told by the NASCAR officials that 'the 99's the leader. The 99's the leader.' Jason told me, I had a split second to decide what I was going to do. I thought 'OK, NASCAR made a mistake, they lined us up wrong.' I was at a disadvantage to be on the outside so I'm getting the best start I can get right now. I got the best start I can get and it looks like Tony waited or spun his tires, so they black flagged me," Edwards said after the race before visiting with NASCAR officials.
"I still don't understand why they black flagged me. They said we were the leader. I restarted the best I could given the disadvantaged position I was in. So the problem is I don't know if NASCAR is going to take the stance that we shouldn't have started the race first or that I jumped the start, but if they're saying that I jumped the start, that'd be real frustrating because I started the same way I've started all night."
The confusion stemmed from the caution flag falling during the middle of green flag pit stops. Stewart was on pit road when the caution flag flew. Edwards, who led a race-high 206 laps, hadn't made it on to pit road yet, so he was the leader. Because of the green flag stop cycle, only three cars -- Edwards, Stewart and Jimmie Johnson -- were on the lead lap.
Therefore when Edwards stopped, he gave up the lead to Stewart. He started on the front row when Johnson was forced to start at the tail end of the field after being penalized for an uncontrolled tire violation on his stop as the yellow came out. So when Edwards accelerated before Stewart -- and even though it appeared that Stewart spun his tires -- he was penalized for beating the leader to the start/finish line. And according to NASCAR, to top it all off, he had hit the gas before the designated restart zone.
Got all that?
After meeting with NASCAR, according to the AP's Jenna Fryer, Edwards said that he and NASCAR had to agree to disagree.
"We had to just agree to disagree and that's the way it is. They run the sport and they do the best job they can, and I drive a race care and do the very best job I can."
The timing and scoring confusion, according to NASCAR VP of Competition Robin Pemberton, came when Edwards' car crossed the start/finish line ahead of Stewart's when there was one lap to go back to the green flag.
Edwards' ensuing pass through penalty put him on the tail-end of the lead lap and eventually a lap down to Stewart. (He got his lap back on the final debris caution with 15 laps to go.) And while it may seem like just desserts to Edwards and crew that Stewart, who finished third, didn't take the checkered flag, they're more likely to rue what could have been for themselves as a promising night disappeared on a single restart.