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Jimmie Johnson wins Sonoma, but needs a controversial call by NASCAR late in the race

   Jimmie Johnson celebrates his first NASCAR road racing victory in Sunday's Sonoma 350 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)   

    By Mike Mulhern

    SONOMA, Calif.  
   A controversial NASCAR penalty in the final minutes ruined a storybook afternoon for Marcos Ambrose and allowed Jimmie Johnson to get his first road course victory, by a comfortable three seconds over Robby Gordon and Kevin Harvick in the Sonoma 350 at Infineon Raceway.
  Johnson dominated the first half of the race, but Ambrose, in his second season on the Sprint Cup tour, took command in the second half and he was slowly pulling away when the caution came out with only eight laps to go for Brad Keselowski's spin.
   Ambrose, apparently thinking he needed to save fuel, turned off his engine for a moment under the yellow. But it wouldn't immediately refire, and Johnson and several others went by him before he got it started again.
   Then NASCAR – invoking a rule that a driver must maintain pace under the yellow – ruled Ambrose would have to restart in eighth place. He managed to get to sixth by the end.
   "I didn't know what had happened to Marcos. His car just came to a stop," Johnson said. "If NASCAR had put him back ahead of me, I'd have been okay with that, though I'd have raised hell on the radio. But you're supposed to maintain speed, and being stopped is no speed."
  "I hate it for those guys, because Marcos clearly had the best race car," crew chief Chad Knaus said.
  Johnson conceded at the end "I had nothing for Marcos."
   The 'maintain pace' rule has been a controversial one: In fact two similar situations quickly come to mind – where NASCAR ignored that rule when it could have similarly penalized Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Michigan two years ago, and when NASCAR ignored the rule in a similar situation involving Greg Biffle at Kansas in 2007. NASCAR's no-calls in those two celebrated instances allowed the wins by Biffle and Earnhardt to stand. Both men were trying to stretch gas to make it to the finish.
   In the Earnhardt instance, NASCAR actually warned Earnhardt's crew chief to stop cutting off his engine to conserve fuel, in a strikingly similar situation to Ambrose's here.
     Ambrose: "I'm disappointed. 
    "But it's NASCAR's house, and I'll always play by the rules. 
    "I don't agree with it, I don't like it...and that's only because I lost the race.
    "I had the motor turned off trying to save a bit of fuel and just had trouble getting it fired again."
    Then NASCAR made the call.
    "I'm disappointed...but NASCAR calls the shots," Ambrose said.
    "I was leading the race, and I just had trouble getting the motor cranked back up a little bit there."
    Did NASCAR make the right call?
    "I don't think so...but that's my opinion only because I lost the race."
     Robby Gordon pointed out that NASCAR did invoke the rule against him in a Nationwide race at Montreal in 2007, costing him the win. In that instance, Gordon had just been spun out, apparently deliberately, under yellow while leading, which was why he couldn't maintain speed. And there was serious question about NASCAR's call in that situation.
    Sunday here Robby Gordon said: "It happened to me at Montreal. It has happened before. I'm sure he was just trying to save fuel and it just wouldn't refire.
   "It is what is is. I am happy that NASCAR stayed consistent." Ironically, in that Montreal situation, Robby Gordon was banging fenders hard with Ambrose for the win late; and it was Ambrose, in fact, who spun him out under the yellow. Kevin Harvick went on to win. And Robby Gordon at that time angrily protested NASCAR's call.
    NASCAR's stance here?
    "This is not like Kansas," NASCAR's Ramsey Poston said. "At Kansas we were under caution; the 16 (Biffle) maintained his speed. The 48 (Johnson) passed him under caution.
   "Montreal is a much closer analogy to this."
    The call about 'maintaining speed" is a judgment call that NASCAR officials are allowed to make.
    In the Biffle-Kansas situation, runner-ups Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson both vigorously disputed NASCAR's call, insisting Biffle did not maintain speed; Biffle in fact slowed down and actually drove off the track before the finish line. At the time NASCAR's Jim Hunter said this: "When the caution comes out like that, the leader of the race has to maintain a reasonable speed to the start-finish line. And in our opinion, in NASCAR's opinion, Greg Biffle did that. And that's really the end of the story."
   That is Section 10-4 of the rulebook.
    That wasn't Sunday's only controversy. Jeff Gordon drew criticism for hard driving, with Martin Truex Jr. pointedly saying he planned to retaliate this next weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
    A big jam-up on a restart with 90 miles to go eliminated Truex, who had been having a good run until tagged by Jeff Gordon. Truex got stuck back in the pack after getting spun by a feisty Gordon, just after Gordon had also spun David Ragan.
     "There was no reason for us to be in that position on a  restart," Truex complained. "Guys driving with no respect.
    "Jeff just turned me around. If they won't give me respect, I won't give them any. What goes around comes around. I'll just get him at Loudon. We'll get him.
    "People just lose their heads."

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      The results of Sunday's Sonoma Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Infineon Raceway



   Marcos Ambrose, here leading Jimmie Johnson late in the Sonoma 350, suffered a bitter loss Sunday at Infineon (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

I was under the impression

I was under the impression that to maintain a "reasonable speed" means something at the "line" when to record a lap (Like the Greg Biffle brouhaha at Kansas). After the engine shutdown, Ambrose fired it back up and took off, in the matter of a few seconds. How do you lose a position on the track when the field is supposedly locked? And the position he received once he got back in line was in front of Jeff Gordon in 7 or 8th position. If that's the case, why should Jeff Gordon or any other driver let him back in? A lap leader isn't scored until "they" crossed the finish line or as the so-called "phantom" scoring loop sez so on the last lap. This wasn't the last lap. They hadn't crossed the finish line yet, so technically it's a "grey area". Had it been coming outta Turn 11, crossing the Start/Finish Line when Ambrose's issues happened would be one thing, this was totally different.

How do you lose a position on

How do you lose a position on the track when the field is supposedly locked?
Well, for one, you might shut the engine off.

It stinks for Ambrose, but that's the risk he took by shutting the engine down. I think NASCAR did exactly the right thing by putting him back in line where his engine started. It's not his fault it didn't fire, but it is his fault for shutting it down.

As for Biffle at Kansas, he should not have won that race. When he ran out of fuel, he ceased to maintain speed. He should have been scored accordingly - behind those who had enough fuel to finish.

Why NASCAR can't be consistent in matters like this is beyond me. However, it seems to me that more often than not, these controversies hurt "little guys" and favor the big power houses.

The rule should be specific

The rule should be specific but it isn't as in all the other Wide World of Wrestling (NASCAR) rules - ceptin for technical stuff, sometimes ceptin for the first Tuesday or every third month.

Rule: COT(IROC) Car may not come to a complete stop during any caution lap at any position on track or be assisted by any other vehicle to keep moving, whether forward, backward, up, down or sideways. If COT (IROC) car stops, it will be assessed (insert your favorite penalty).
It's a rule and NASCAR is the referee in this show. Feel bad for the 47 but I don't understand why he turned off his engine going up hill. Maybe a Tasmanian technique but this is a different hemisphere....

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