CHICAGO — Chase Elliott says that is up to the drivers not to make the restarts in today’s Cup race on the Chicago streets as reckless as the final restarts at Circuit of the Americas earlier this season.
To help with that, NASCAR moved the restart zone from the frontstretch to before Turn 12, the final corner on the 2.2-mile course.
By having the restart there and then make a 90-degree right-hand turn on to the frontstretch, the cars should spread out before hitting Turn 1, which is a 90-degree left-hand turn.
That, in theory, should prevent as much of the dive-bombing and wrecking in that corner that happened late in the COTA race this season. Both COTA and the Indianapolis road course have wide straightaways that funnel into a sharp corners and can lead to multiple incidents.
“I wasn’t in the race at COTA, but I watched it and it was embarrassing to watch, for sure,” said Elliott, who missed that race while he recovered from his snowboarding injury. “Just strictly as a fan – take my NAPA hat off that day and as a fan just watching — that was not good.
“That was not a good look for anybody. And I think that falls on the drivers, personally. I think that falls on the drivers to make better decisions and not just run people over getting into the corner.”
Yet, if there are late restarts in Sunday’s race (5 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock), can drivers really be expected to play nice?
“I don’t know what that fine line is, but I definitely think it’s on the drivers to try and somehow find the right balance with that,” said Elliott, who starts 26th in today’s race. “I don’t know that we ever will, but I certainly don’t want our events to look like that because we’re better than that.
“There’s some really talented drivers and teams here that we don’t need our events to end in 15 cautions, overtimes and a bunch of guys that had really strong runs getting spun out for no reason.”
There were five restarts — including three overtime restarts that extended the race at Circuit of the Americas seven laps — over the final 16 laps. It took 47 minutes to run those those laps.
One of the issues with Chicago’s restart zone is that none of the three spotter locations around the course has a good vantage point of that section of the track, multiple spotters told NBC Sports. So, if one line gets backed up, a spotter won’t be able to warn the driver. Of course, even with spotters doing so on other tracks, such wrecks can still happen.
“Trust me, it’s still going to be crazy into Turn 1, but it’s just going to hopefully take us from not being bozos,” Denny Hamlin said of moving the restart zone. “That’s the goal. It still may happen, but I certainly think that you don’t really want to play a whole lot of games when it comes to that because it’s not good for anyone. It really isn’t.
“A lot of the responsibility will come from the second, third and fourth rows to really try not to anticipate or jump the start. You have to make a corner there. I think it’s placed probably in one of the best spots that it could to avoid what we’ve been doing lately.”
With that in mind, Hamlin was asked that as the pole-sitter if it would make sense for him to inform the field when he plans to go in the zone for the start of the race to make sure there’s a clean entry by the field into Turn 1 on the opening lap to prevent it from staining the start of this inaugural event.
“I think NASCAR probably would deliver that message,” Hamlin said. “I’m not sure that they would listen to me.”
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