In a bow to fans, NASCAR announced Thursday that it will implement double-file restarts starting this Sunday at the Pocono 500. That means the first- and second-place drivers will line up side-by-side on the restart. Points leader Tony Stewart is on board with the change. “The good thing is that when they drop the green, you’re going to be racing with the guys you’re racing for position instead of trying to clear lapped cars," Stewart said.
A NASCAR press release also quoted Kevin Harvick as supporting the change. Think about that for a sec. NASCAR included comments by Stewart and Harvick, of all people, in support of one its policies. That's one way to limit debate.
As for the particulars:
Under the new format, the race leader will have the option to restart on the inside or outside lane. The second-place driver would then restart next to the leader. Regardless of where the leader starts, drivers in odd number positions (3rd, 5th, 7th places, etc.) will restart on the inside lane, while drivers in even number positions (4th, 6th, 8th places, etc.) will restart on the outside. All restarts will use the same format regardless of the number of laps remaining in the race.
The first-place driver will continue to control the timing of restarts in a designated zone on the track. Likewise, cars are to stay in line until they reach the start/finish line. The first eligible car a lap or more down will continue to earn one lap back following a caution, which is known as the 'free pass.' However, a new element beginning this week will be that the 'free pass' will remain in effect the entire race.
Lapped cars choosing to remain on the track will be 'waved around' the caution car and will restart the race in respective track position, thus picking up a lap to the leader provided the leader also pits. This will also remove lapped cars from behind the pace car, allowing the leaders to take the green without interference.
Double-file restarts will be added to the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series in the near future.