RICHMOND, Va. – Carl Edwards thought he had made a brilliant move, bolting to the lead from the outside on a restart with 85 laps to go at Richmond International Raceway.
Then NASCAR told him why it was so easy, saying he jumped the restart, a penalty that required him to make a pass down pit road, dropping him from the lead to 15th on the grid.
The news, needless to say, didn't go over well with Edwards.
"Not cool to have a race taken from you like that," he said on his radio, imploring crew chief Bob Osborne to get NASCAR to call another caution and give him his lead back.
Nothing doing, NASCAR said, claiming Edwards not only jumped on the gas before race leader Tony Stewart, but did it before reaching the restart box marked on the wall.
It all made for mass confusion, even as the final laps ticked off on a frigid night.
Stewart was running third, but had assumed the lead because he was on the inside behind race leader Jimmie Johnson when Johnson was penalized for a pit-road infraction when a tire changer rolled a tire to the wall.
That moved Johnson to the back of the field on the restart, in 36th position, and moved Stewart up from third to the top spot. Edwards, though, said he was told by his spotter that he was the race leader and he figured it was a mistake that he was on the outside. Given that handicap, he said, he decided to get the best restart he could.
"I got the best start I could get. Edwards, who led 202 laps, said while watching a replay. "It looks like Tony waited, or spun his tires, so they black-flagged me. I still don't understand why they black-flagged me. ...If they're saying that I jumped the start, that would be real frustrating because I started the same way I started all night."
Stewart, who had a lead of nearly 3.5 seconds wiped out by a caution for debris with 13 laps to go and wound up third, said he thought he was shown as the leader for the restart. When told that Edwards was shown as the leader, Stewart said if that was the case, then NASCAR should have extended the caution to allow Edwards to choose his lane.
Robin Pemberton said the bottom line was that Edwards took off before the restart zone, and that overruled all the confusion over who was leading, and who wasn't.
"I think the best thing for me to do is just to go home, relax a little bit and then we'll go race at Talladega," Edwards said.
Matt Kenseth has been racing in NASCAR's top series since 1998, and the way things are now with multicar teams dominating the sport, it makes those days seem hardly recognizable.
"When I started, it was a five-car team (at Roush Fenway Racing) and Mark (Martin) and Jeff (Burton) were over here," Kenseth said. "It was really different and nobody talked to each other or shared information. They had their two little groups and it was hard."
Now, sharing notes among teammates is one of the reasons for the multicar setups.
"It is different today because the cars are almost identical and we share every single thing that goes on from the second they start getting built until the race starts and through the race and everything," said Kenseth, a two-time Daytona 500 winner and 2003 series champion.
"I think if you look at the last couple years, all our cars run fairly close on the race track. Usually, typically, you don't have a guy win and another guy run 20th and really miss it. It seems like we are all closer to each other than I think you were in years past.
And when that's not the case, the driver lagging behind works harder to catch up.
"Certainly I remember 2008 when Carl (Edwards) won those nine races and we were struggling a little bit," said Kenseth, who won twice that year. "That is always hard on a guy to wonder why you are getting beat by your teammate when you are supposed to have the same stuff. That drives you to try to do better or try to be the best in your group. You always want to try that."
CARS VS DRIVERS: Jeff Gordon thinks technology has helped to minimize the impact of driving ability, especially on 1.5-mile tracks like Kansas and Texas.
"The cars have become so important," the four-time series champion and 85-time race winner said. "The amount of work that the team puts into that car, and the side force and the downforce, that's where the speed is coming. We've got so many good drivers out here now and such good teams and equipment. ... I think some of the little things are coming down to that."
But, he was quick to add, driving skill clearly makes a difference, too.
"I look at Tony Stewart's performance last year in that Chase and I'm telling you that was just not all car," Gordon said.
Stewart won half of the 10 Chase races last season after not winning at all in the first 26, and went on to claim his third Sprint Cup championship. He's won twice more this season, and at one point had won seven of 15 races.
"You had two great drivers going for the championship but you had one, to me, that just stood out that took that car to another level," Gordon said. "And I know those cars were good, but I think he took them to another level because of his talent. So, it still happens."
Gordon once dominated like that at NASCAR's highest level, winning his four titles in a seven-year span, but has struggled recently and left Richmond with a 20-race winless streak.
It didn't happen. A problem sent him to the pits under a green flag early in the race, and he was two laps down when he returned. He never got in contention, finishing 23rd.
NO LE MANS FOR WALTRIP: Michael Waltrip has pulled out of the 24 Hours of Le Mans because of schedule conflicts and will be replaced by Brian Vickers on the AF Waltrip Racing team.
Vickers, who is driving part-time for Michael Waltrip Racing this season, will be joined by MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman and Rui Aguas on the AF Waltrip team for the race June 16. The same trio also will race in the six-hour FIA World Endurance Championship race in Belgium on May 5.
Waltrip blamed television and NASCAR duties. He, Kauffman and Aguas finished 13th in their class at in their first appearance at Le Mans last year after transmission issues ended their effort at the 16-hour mark. The team finished third in the FIA World Endurance Championship at Spa Francorchamps in 2010, and third in the Petite Le Mans race in 2011.
"Running at Spa is pretty cool. It's such a historic place, and the high speed Eau Rouge corner sure gets your attention. It will be a challenge in the race," Vickers said.
"Le Mans will be one of the highlights of my career."