Three days after watching a potential win slip away at Claremont Speedway (NH), Jon McKennedy was still disappointed on Monday morning. McKennedy, the current Valenti Modified Racing Series points leader, was penalized by series officials for a restart violation with just under 40 laps to go in Friday night’s 100-lap race.
Following an extended red flag period for an accident on the backstretch McKennedy found himself on the outside of the front row with leader Todd Szegedy in the No. 52 to his inside. After one failed attempt at the restart, the two leaders tried it again before the yellow flag was waved. Once the yellow flag was waved and the field slowed on the backstretch, the next flag to fly from the flag stand was of the black variety, and it was pointed at McKennedy’s No. 29.
On Monday morning, series race director Wayne Wildermuth told Speed51.com powered by JEGS that the penalty was given due to a restart box infraction. According to the series rule book, at no point in time should the second-place car be ahead of the leader in the restart box in turn four.
McKennedy argued the call in victory lane with Wildermuth and series flagman Tim Bennett. He continued to voice his disagreement with the call on Monday morning.
“I’m still a little disappointed, what are you going to do? It’s part of racing; I guess it happens,” said McKennedy. “I did see some videos, but I don’t know. Most of the restarts seemed awfully close to me. I guess you could see the last one I might have been eight or ten inches ahead of him, but at the middle of the box we were back to almost wheel-to-wheel again. Again, it seemed like it was an awfully hard penalty over a lousy eight to 10 inches at certain times throughout the box.
“As far as I understand you can’t lead the car at all through the box, but once the green is out it is fair game. Multiple restarts we took off fairly even and by the time I got to the flag stand I was clear of him well past the box. But I guess they didn’t like the restart. They said I was ahead of him and jumped, but every video I saw depending on what angle, some videos looked like we were wheel-to-wheel and another looked like eight to 10 inches. But again, if it was that close was it really necessary for a black flag? We’re talking inches here.”
Wildermuth told Speed51.com that the restart rule for the series has been the same for many years now and that it has been something he’s stressed to drivers throughout the season.
“Since the beginning of the season I have been on the drivers and the spotters to tell the drivers that the car that is in first position is in first position for a reason, and that means that that guy is not to be beaten by the second-place car at any time through the start box,” said Wildermuth. “He’s first, he should always be first until the flag goes. When the flag comes out then all bets are off and they can race.
“It’s not new and it wasn’t new. When we were under the red flag I repeated it that second place can’t beat first place through the box at any time. We had the restart and Jon was ahead of him so we called it back. Then we did it again and the second time he was even further ahead of him, so that’s why we put him to the rear. He kept leading the first place car. Jon was in second place and the 52 (Szegedy) had the lead so the 52 should have been in the lead all the way through the box.”
McKennedy argued that more things should have been taken into consideration because of the games that drivers like to play, as well as the possibility of wheel spin, leading up to a restart.
“They basically said I was ahead of the leader going into the box and that any given time you can’t be. But again, what if we’re approaching the box side by side and the guy leading the race spikes the brakes? By the time you react to that you’re a car length ahead,” stated McKennedy. “There’s games going on during restarts and that’s just part of it. What they’re looking for is for the leader to be ahead through the whole running through the box and then the flagger starts the race. The way they want it gives the second guy no opportunity to race the guy on the restart; you’re better off just hanging back and letting them take off. They don’t consider people hitting the brakes or wheel spin or anything like that.”
Wildermuth acknowledged that he may have made a different call had there been noticeable wheel spin or some sort of blunder by Szegedy, but said that Szegedy maintained his speed leading up to and through the restart box.
“He brought that up to me and I said, ‘I understand there’s games, the games usually start coming out of turn two.’ But in this particular case the lead car kept pace all the way through. None of us saw any change in his speed. No brake checking, no speeding up, none of that. Jon said that Todd had spun his tires and that’s why he got ahead of him and I said, ‘Well obviously you were close enough to make it an issue. Instead of being even with him, maybe you should have been back six or eight inches or so to give you that wiggle room.’”
“My whole position on this is that the leader is the leader for a reason. It’s not fair to the leader to be penalized because we have a restart, because somebody wrecked in the field. When you let that second-place car get ahead of the leader, that’s penalizing the leader. I’ve never believed that the leader should be penalized, the leader got there for a reason. When the second-place car gets any type of advantage, that’s penalizing the leader. That’s why I’m such a stickler with the leader is the leader let the leader be the leader.”
McKennedy, who charged from the 12th starting position to contend for the lead, stated that he nor his spotter were warned after the first failed attempt at a restart. Wildermuth disputed that claim and said that the message was delivered to his spotter after the first infraction.
“I told him when he jumped the first time if he did that again he was going to the rear,” said Wildermuth. “He knew and it wasn’t a surprise. Whether or not his spotter told him that or not I don’t know. When I talk I’m talking to the spotter and hoping the spotter is relaying it to the driver.”
McKennedy said that after watching a handful of videos, including the one on Speed51.com, he felt as though he was wheel-to-wheel or at the most eight to 10 inches ahead of Szegedy depending on the angle of the video.
“Basically every start I saw was neck and neck, and the last one maybe you could see there was eight to 10 inches initially going into the box. The middle of the box to the exit were pretty even until he spun his tires and we took off. I’ve got a whole bunch of reviews on my Facebook page and everyone kind of agreed with what I think. I think it was way too hard of a call, especially when there wasn’t a warning either.”
Since the penalty was handed down to McKennedy on Friday night, race fans have shared their opinion throughout many social media outlets. Many of those opinions have been in McKennedy’s favor, but Wildermuth argued that it is due to the fans not being familiar with the series’ rule book.
McKennedy charged back through the field after the penalty before making contact with Chris Pasteryak while battling for third. Due to the series’ rule that penalizes both drivers involved in an incident, he was penalized to the rear again. Following that penalty he made his way forward to finish third and maintain the top spot in the championship standings.
At this point in time, McKennedy said that he is unsure of whether or not he’ll make his way to the next series event at Lee USA Speedway in two weeks.
“I’m sure there will be some discussion about it at Lee. I’m not even sure what’s going on yet as far as when our next race will be. We’ll see what happens. I’m not too sure. There are some things I really wasn’t too happy about and I don’t know, we’ll see what happens. It’s a tough situation. It’s been a good year for me so far and I’m leading the point standings, so it will definitely be hard not to go. But a call like that I just feel like it was an awfully strict call that wasn’t necessary. I think it was a very poor call.”
Full video highlights of the 100-lap Valenti Modified Racing Series feature, including the controversial restart, can be seen now on the Speed51 Network.
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Crystal Snape