Why Does the Leader Sometimes Restart in the Middle of the Pack?

Our article’s title is a question a lot of race fans ask. I have heard it asked and answered for the betterment of thirty years. With the advent of new fans to NASCAR Sprint Cup racing on a regular basis it is something that is brought up whenever one of the major series has a restart and the leader is mired several rows back.
During the recent Memorial weekend Nationwide Series race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, the pace car pulled to pit road following a caution flag period, Mike Bliss was the leader and was the twelfth car in the outside lane. Coupled with the lapped cars on the inside row, Bliss was the twenty-fourth machine to cross the stripe under the waving green flag. This was correct.
But how does this happen? I will explain. With the disclaimer that visual aids and some model cars work better for the demonstration that I will use words for.
Despite leading the race heading into a restart, Mike Bliss was the 12th car in the inside lane in the Memorial Day weekend event at LMS.
First we will simplify our settings. We will use the same Lowe’s Motor Speedway location as the Bliss win, but let’s pretend we have only two cars in the race. I will use a pair of names race fans can remember. How does Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kyle Busch work? Most race fans should be familiar with the two.
Now for our scenario, remember Earnhardt and Busch are the only two cars in the event. Earnhardt is leading Business Hsbc and Busch is on his bumper in second place. They both are getting close to needing fuel and tires.
Busch slows in turn four and heads to pit road. Kyle’s crew changes all four tires, refuels the car and sends him on his way. During this time period, Earnhardt has stayed at full speed. With his deceleration time, pit stop service time, and acceleration time Busch has now found himself one lap down to Dale Jr.
Suddenly a pesky rain cloud decides to drop a brief shower on the speedway. This is enough to wet the asphalt slightly but can be dried quickly. NASCAR waves Academic Definition Of Business Success the yellow flag to slow our two competitors and the pace car picks up the leader. The rain has now already stopped and we can be back racing soon.
The pace car drives around with Junior right behind who still needs pit service. Behind Earnhardt is Busch in second place but one lap behind Dale.
As they come by the pit entrance Earnhardt pulls off the track for his four tires and a full load of fuel. The pace car continues on. Busch does not need to come to pit road because he just did. His service is already completed so he can pull up, but only to the pace car.
Junior leaves pit road and catches the pack, right behind Busch. So now our running order is pace car, Kyle Busch, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt is still our leader; Busch is the second place car the length of the racetrack behind Junior but not a complete lap down. This is how they stay until the restart since neither can pass the pace car.
With Busch not being a full lap down he does not have to pull down to the inside lane. That would be giving the lap up to Dale. And Earnhardt stays behind Busch. If he were to pull alongside that would be taking a lap away from Kyle. When everyone stays right where they are, that is fair to all parties.
Now with forty-three machines in an event the explanation of this appears to be more involved. But basically it is the same thing just with more cars and more positioning to be completed.
The next question posed often by people wanting an explanation is “Why aren’t the cars on the tail end of the lap then just waved around?”
Because they are given something. And racing should be about earning what you get. Now NASCAR has rules where cars and drivers are given things, a lap back, and starting positions among them. But also in the rulebook there are ways to earn that lap back and starting positions as well.
I believe in no gimmes. The leader is behind the pace car following a caution. All cars stay behind the pace car. When the leader returns from the pits, he can drive up behind those other cars but not pass them. When the race is restarted, this is where everyone should correctly be.
I witnessed the waving of cars around and getting that length of a track deficit returned during the Indianapolis 500. The Indy Racing League has a rule that adjusts the field so the leader is always behind the pace car on restarts. When similar situations arise all cars in front of the leader are allowed to pass the pace car and tag onto the rear of the pack. This gives those cars a gimme.
Indy winner Helio Castroneves’ Penske Racing teammate Ryan Briscoe used that to his advantage. Using fuel strategy, Briscoe’s team found themselves on the tail end of the lead lap. He, along with others, was granted a wave around and Briscoe drove up to second place late in the race before the fuel mileage strategy backfired, forcing a splash and go stop during the final caution period.
Although it may seem confusing to some, I feel NASCAR’s procedure is the correct one. Simply put, everyone has earned exactly whatever track position they have.

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