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Cup rivals come to Hamlin’s defense over Richmond restart

A trio of NASCAR Cup Series drivers were unfazed Tuesday about the final restart at Richmond Raceway when leader Denny Hamlin fired off early.

“I didn’t see any issue with what happened,” Stewart-Haas Racing’s Josh Berry said. “I’ve raced a lot of short tracks and I’ve raced a lot of different rules — restart lines, restart zones, all these different things — and it’s really easy to completely handicap the leader. I think there’s got to be some flexibility there.”

Hamlin admitted he rolled early because he could see Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano lagging back to get a run. As the leader, Hamlin didn’t want to lose his advantage of being the control vehicle, and it was clear on video replay that he took off before hitting the line, which signifies the restart zone.

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“I think the leader is the leader for a reason; he needs to have the right to control the restart and a lot like what Denny said, a lot of the times you’re judging what you’re going to do as the leader based off the car in second, third,” Berry noted. “These guys are laid back trying to time the run — they’re all trying to time it right, and sometimes you’ve got to push the envelope a little bit to basically not end up getting screwed out of the lead. Just in general, I think it’s really blown out of proportion.

“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. I don’t think there needs to be data and policing. We need to have flexibility, and drivers need to be able to race and make decisions. If you wanted to make a call over a couple of feet of going early in the restart zone or before the restart zone, I think you just as easily make the same call if someone is laid back 3 feet versus 2 feet. I don’t think there’s a big issue with the restarts to me. It’s just blown out of proportion.”

Berry’s teammate, Ryan Preece, was just as passionate about the fact that there was no need for a ruling from NASCAR. Preece, who also has a short-track background, agreed the leader is sometimes at a disadvantage with a restart zone.

“You’re at the mercy of if I don’t go at the first line and you wait further into the box, well, what happens if the guy in second goes and has a nose out there and that’s not called?” Preece said. “Well, now you’ve lost the advantage. Or if you wait and then Joey [Logano] rolls up and has momentum on you and pulls out at the start/finish line, you get put three-wide going into Turn 1. It’s a lose-lose situation.

“So, at the end of the day that’s racing. I would have done the same thing (as Hamlin).”

Both agreed Hamlin did what he had to do. Sunday night, in the immediate aftermath, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Elton Sawyer said it was “awful close” but the restart was good. Tuesday morning, during his weekly appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Sawyer admitted that Hamlin went early, and if it had been earlier in the race, it would have been dissected and reviewed differently.