Juan Pablo Montoya (L) and Jimmie Johnson (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Jimmie Johnson says he won't get fooled again.
So those restarts in this Sunday's Pocono Party 400 -- a great tagline for a race, eh? -- may bear closer watching than usual...because there may be even more tricks pulled than usual.
That final restart at Dover, with NASCAR blackflagging Johnson for beating slow-to-the-gas leader Juan Pablo Montoya with less than 20 miles to go, and costing Johnson both a shot at the win and playoff bonus points, Johnson at the moment here at Pocono Raceway is clearly miffed.
If rivals want to play sneaky games on restarts, Johnson says fine, he'll do it too.
Johnson, though saying he wasn't mad at Montoya, said Montoya played one of those games, and that ended up putting Johnson a lap down with the black flag.
Johnson, frequently a race leader himself of course, pointed out that any leader of any race could snooker any number of rivals into jumping a restart. And if NASCAR were to make the same decision, that leader could put a number of top drivers suddenly a lap down.
Now maybe Johnson is simply still angry at getting snookered.
And playing games on restarts is a classic part of this sport.
Has NASCAR overengineered these restarts?
What happened to those days when the flagman himself decided when the race would be restarted, and when he threw the green, it was back to racing. None of this 'wait till you reach the start-finish line to pass someone,' or 'only pass to the right,' or what all restarts have evolved into?
What are all the restart rules anyway?
The controversial Dover restart: leader Juan Pablo Montoya chosing the outside line, Jimmie Johnson thus on the inside. The two white lines seen on the apron mark the restart control box; there are similar red lines on the outside wall, though not clearly seen from the inside lane. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Johnson complained that he felt Montoya 'flopped' on that start.
"The leader is supposed to maintain pace car speed when the pace car leaves the track," Johnson says.
"With today's technology, how does that rule read?
"When someone flops, what then?
"I did talk with NASCAR a little bit after the race. Then I sat and digested things this week. And it looks like we'll have a lot of time this morning, since it's raining, so we'll walk through it some more.
"I really believe that from the restart zone to the start-finish line that Juan didn't go. I think he played it right -- he was smart, he let me get ahead of him, and let them (NASCAR) make the call on me, to keep me from winning the race.
"I don't have anything against Juan for doing it; as racers we need to work any angle we can.
"I put a little more weight on the officiating, in exactly how the rule reads, and the way the rule is intended to be enforced.
"I think we can look at enforcing it differently.
"Looking at afterwards, Juan just didn't go. So what happens then, between that point and the start-finish line? You have a couple hundred yards between that point and the start-finish line.
"We have the tools to make a better decision, to make a decision at that point in time."
Johnson is apparently referring to the numerous scoring loops NASCAR has, to clock how fast each car goes through each segment.
"After the race, people can look at stuff....but the race has been taken away from us, and the bonus points too," Johnson said.
"But with today's technology, from the restart zone to the start-finish line, if the leader brakes, NASCAR has the ability to make the call.
"If the leader flops...I could let five or six cars go by, and trap them all a lap down (assuming a NASCAR blackflag)...if they take the bait.
"Essentially Juan found a loophole in the officiating, and worked it to his advantage."
Montoya is unperturbed by Johnson's take on the controversy.
"If I did that, why did only Jimmie pass me in his lane?
"But it was Jimmie and the field.
"If Jimmie and four other cars had passed me, I'm sure NASCAR would have said Juan just had a bad start.
"He didn't want to line up next to me; he just wanted to time it.
"It's all fine to me. It's racing.
"It's no science. There are two lines. And it's up to everyone to follow the leader."
"A loophole? Wow, that's good," Montoya said with a laugh.
"I know Jimmie dominated the race. But on that pit stop we beat him, and we were the leader.
"If he had backed off and let me go, he would have probably beaten me."
Johnson says Clint Bowyer, running right behind Johnson on the restart, slowed up himself, making Johnson's run look even bigger.
Jeff Gordon, Johnson's teammate, says if Bowyer had just followed Johnson up through the gears, NASCAR wouldn't have blackflagged Johnson, and just figured Montoya had an issue.
"In the end it depends on what NASCAR wants to have happen," Johnson says.
"I try to do the right thing, and maintain speed when the pace car pulls off.
"I just want it to be crystal-clear what we can and cannot do.
"I feel I try to do the right thing more often...and (like) at Phoenix this year, I got taken advantage of on the last restart. And clearly at Dover.
"Whatever it is, I'm fine. If they want the leader to have full advantage.....If not, then let's enforce it properly.
"It worked perfectly (for Montoya). But in the end, if it causes a pileup....
"I tried the whole frontstraight to give it (the lead) back, but he didn't take it.
"What is crystal-clear to me is you just stand on the brakes and stop and give it back, at all costs.
"The way the calls go dictates the way we respond."
Carl Edwards, who starts Sunday's Pocono Party 400 on the front row next to Johnson, reflected on the Dover restart controversy, and humorously compared it to his own blackflagged restart at Richmond Edwards at Richmond
"I thought that was the greatest restart of all-time until I saw Jimmie's," Edwards said with a laugh.
"I've started second, and the leader spun his tires and then he just said 'To hell with it, I'm not going,’ and made it look really, really bad. That is something the leader can do. I'm not saying Montoya did it, but that's something you worry about the leader could do.
"You're the leader, so you get to mess around a little bit and try to make it hard on the other guy. I guess that's part of being the leader. Our whole job is to make it as hard as we can on the other guy, as long as it's within the rules."
Carl Edwards: playing games on the restart, a stock car racing tradition. At Dover, however, the win was on the line in NASCAR's questioned call (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)