Double-file restarts take on more importance than ever
There’s a long list of talents all NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers possess to have the ability to wheel around a race car at 200 miles per hour, and Pocono Raceway is a track where all of them are necessary to win.
But executing near-perfect restarts are at the top of that list.
Kyle Busch is one of the masters when it comes to perfecting restarts. In last Sunday’s Crown Royal 400 at the Brickyard, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver used his advanced restart abilities to separate himself from the rest of the field.
There are lots of opportunities on restarts to go either way. It can go good or it can go really bad, really quick.
“Restarts are huge here for sure,” said Busch of Pocono. “It’s tricky here for sure with the restarts and they play a big role to what this race ends up being.”
Busch also admitted that mistakes on restarts have allowed potential victories at the Tricky Triangle to slip away.
“There’s been a lot of things I guess over the years that have kept us from winning here,” added Busch, who has never won at Pocono in 23 career starts — one of only two current Sprint Cup tracks where he has yet to grace Victory Lane. “Restarts I would say is probably one of those.”
Joey Logano also is well aware that being able to execute quality restarts is one of the most important skills for a driver these days.
Logano started second alongside Busch on the final overtime restart in the Brickyard 400, but Logano was unable to take off quickly enough to keep up on older tires.
“There are lots of opportunities on restarts to go either way. It can go good or it can go really bad, really quick,” Logano said. “For each race track it takes something different to be successful on a restart. Everyone is trying to make up as much as they can, especially here at Pocono. You don’t want to be the guy that’s left out.”
Logano will roll off from the 12th spot on Sunday. He’ll need to be aggressive if he wants to work his way up to the front quickly, something that can help or hurt a driver if they’re not careful.
“A lot of times the aggressor is the one that wins out on that thing, but sometimes the aggressor is the one that maybe puts himself in the wrong spot,” Logano added. “It’s a calculated decision on each restart on knowing who you’re racing, the tendencies they’ve had in the past, what race track you’re at, and kind of putting that all together to make the decisions on the restart on making these moves because it becomes so challenging to pass afterward.”
Jeff Gordon, competing in his second race subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Pocono, had a decent finish in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet last weekend at Indy, but struggled with restarts throughout the race.
“I wish there was a way to practice restarts,” said Gordon, who rallied late to finish 13th at Indy. “We go and test race cars, but we don’t test restarts. Ever since the double-file restarts have come into play it’s changed the sport and the game in a big way. Some are better at it than others.”
The four-time Cup Series champion also noted that having successful restarts isn’t just about shifting smoothly.
“…A restart is not getting to fourth gear,” Gordon pointed out. “A restart is going through Turn 1, Turn 2, Turn 3 and Turn 4 the first few corners in the lap and being on the outside or inside. It’s not about going up through the gears. That part is pretty easy.”
Brad Keselowski also echoed Gordon’s point about restarts having an even greater importance since NASCAR implemented double-file restarts, ironically at Pocono Raceway, in June 2009.
“I would say that restarts have developed into a key part our racing since we’ve gone to double-file restarts,” said Keselowski. “What happens is you always have one line that’s preferred and one line that’s not. Of course, you have the whole restart zone situation and what that has created is this offense/defense mode that everyone goes into depending on whether they’re in the preferred or non-preferred lane.”
Keselowski believes it just comes down to understanding what it takes to perform good restarts, and then putting that knowledge into practice.
“It’s just different tactics than I think what we’ve traditionally seen in this sport, and those tactics have evolved over time to where the drivers that have a lot of experience are pretty darn good at it, so the more experience you can get at it in those other series is very beneficial, especially as the leader,” Keselowski said.