A NASCAR executive said Tuesday it was clear Ross Chastain committed a violation late in last weekend’s Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but series officials will seek ways to impose the penalty more quickly to avoid a situation where an infringing car runs for the lead.
NASCAR Vice President of Arbitration and Technical Inspection Elton Sawyer made the comments on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
At the overtime restart, Chastain was on the outside heading into Turn 1, a right-hander. With three cars to his right, Chastain elected to drive straight toward the escape route. He was fifth at the time and emerged on the track alongside Tyler Reddick, who was leading.
While Chastain moved up four places, that was partly because the field got mixed up in Turn 1. The cars running second, third and fourth entered Turn 1 side by side and raced up the track. Fourth-placed Ryan Blaney spun into Turn 2. His car blocked the lower lane and slowed the cars on the outside.
Reddick later said he was unsure if Chastain would be penalized or if he was running Chastain for the win. As they dueled, Austin Cindric closed in on the two. Reddick eventually passed Chastain and won the race without incident.
Asked on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio by NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan if NASCAR could have made that call quicker, Sawyer replied, “I would answer that with a short, one-word yes.
“We’ll start today with our debriefing of the event, the things we did well, the things we didn’t do so well and the things we need to do better in the future.
“The track limitations on this type of course are always a challenge for us. We want to do things right. When these situations are presented to us, we come back to play again. Don’t forget that we are organizing a race. There is still competition. We have a situation, we watch replay. It doesn’t happen in 10 seconds. We want to do things right. We want to make the right choice. That’s why the rules are written the way they are.
Sunday’s finish was similar to last year’s when Chase Briscoe went off the rails in Turn 1 on the final restart. He cut through the grass and was side by side with Denny Hamlin for the lead. Hamlin got away with it and Briscoe.
NASCAR announced the penalty seconds before Briscoe, unaware he was penalized, turned Hamlin. With Briscoe penalized, that meant AJ Allmendinger, who had been third on the course, was the leader. Allmendinger won.
This situation could have been repeated with Chastain and Reddick but they did not make contact in their duel.
“Luckily it didn’t happen like last year,” Sawyer said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We are delighted. We will continue to look at what we can do to try to eliminate these situations, even if it is an opportunity for the pilots.
“We want to make sure we give them a clearance zone. In the past, we had tires or a barrier up there and it didn’t add up to a very safe situation in the run-off zone. … Yes, we’ll look at what we can do internally to deliver that penalty faster, but the #1 thing is we want to get it right.
Sawyer also explained why Chastain was penalized.
“It states directly (in the track limits guidelines) that if you cut a significant portion of the course of the race, there will be a penalty,” Sawyer said. “If it’s at the end of the race, it will be 30 seconds (added to the driver’s time). All of these points, if you will, have been well communicated to the industry, the garage and the drivers.
“So what happened there at the end there, obviously the restart and they go into turn 1 and they get four or five wide. Ross, you can go back and look through the optics and you can also look at the data, it really accelerated. It did not (decelerate). It accelerated to cross the clearing zone. Again, we explained, and we felt like having explained it very well about what you can and cannot do and what we expect from the limits of the track.
Asked by Ryan if the drivers could use the access road if they missed Turn 1, but when they got back on the track they couldn’t gain any ground, Sawyer replied: “Absolutely.
“Again, you can’t cut a significant part of the course and gain an advantage. When Ross came back, he’s side by side with the leader, and they came out in the corner and he’s fifth. Simply put, you can’t do that. This area is there for the reason – if you’re in a bad place and can’t make the turn, i.e. you had a brake failure, you’re too hot for some reason – you can run away there, but this should not be used to gain an advantage.
“Obviously it was. If (Chastain) comes out of the clearance zone and he blends in somewhere around where he was running or fifth, sixth, eighth, 10th or that zone, no harm, no If we allowed that to happen… that would be the normal line around the race course.
After the race, Chastain said he thought he did the right thing because he couldn’t take the turn and used the access road.
“The way I understand if you cut (the corner) and don’t take the driveway and come out (on the lane) doesn’t gain ground,” Chastain said. “I took their path. If I misunderstood their rule… I realized there was no way to do turn 1, I can’t go in, I’m going to be in the grass. So I took the alternative.
Chastain crossed the finish line second but was awarded 27th place after the penalty.
“It’s their decision,” Chastain said of NASCAR. “It’s their sandbox. They say we have a penalty, we have a penalty. I thought I knew the rule, though. I thought I followed the rule.
“I didn’t do it out of spite. I didn’t do it preemptively. We hadn’t expected this. With three cars to my right and everyone meeting and I was turning, I didn’t see how we were going to get there and I was going to be in the grass.
💭 “You can’t cut a significant part of the course and gain an advantage.”#NASCAR‘s Elton Sawyer joined #TMDNASCAR explain the penalization decision-making process @RossChastain in the final restart of the OT at @IMS on Sunday.@TeamTrackhouse | @NASCAR pic.twitter.com/URtPTdxjXn
— SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch. 90) (@SiriusXMNASCAR) August 2, 2022