In light of Saturday's controversy over restarts at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, NASCAR race director David Hoots stepped to the microphone during Sunday's pre-race Sprint Cup Series drivers meeting and delivered a lecture.
It was the equivalent of a schoolteacher scolding a class of rowdy students. The message? Start being more responsible on restarts or we'll step in -- and you don't want that.
"We spend a lot of time talking about this," Hoots said sternly. "We tear up race cars, we ruin people's days because we can't handle those responsibilities. Whether it be you, I, whatever. We're all in it together.
"So let's do it right and do it the way we know how to do it so we don't have to take the extra steps of getting out there with micrometers and measurements and bring the field down. Usually, when we get involved to that point and you ask us to, you don't like the results! So I'm asking you to accept your responsibilities and do it properly."
Hoots said several times each driver had "roles and responsibilities" in starting and restarting the race. Whether it's the pole-sitter conducting a smooth restart or a driver on the second row not pushing the cars in front of him too much, all drivers need to play a part, he said.
"If this is not done in this very simple process, there's a chain reaction that occurs," he said. "... You have shared responsibilities on not trying to take advantage of something that's this simple and create such a mess that could ruin a lot of people's days at the start."
Hoots emphasized the flagman -- not the pole-sitter -- starts the race. The pole-sitter then must lead at the start line, barring "some exceptions." The leader, he said, should not brake-check or "burp" the car or do any kind of false start.
On restarts, the rule is different because the flagman isn't the decision-maker. The leader has earned the right to decide when to hit the gas in the restart zone, and the second-place car cannot beat him to the line. But the leader has not earned the right to "screw around with the restart," Hoots said.
"You all have a role in this," he said. "You have a role in this every week. Sometimes the role is from the pole, sometimes the role is from 43rd. But you're all responsible."
During the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, Jimmie Johnson was the only driver who dared speak up about restarts.
"So I understand my role and responsibilities, if I'm on the front row and I get pushed past the leader, what do I do?" Johnson asked.
"Well, one, I'm hoping we're not in that box because (it means) somebody is not accepting their role and responsibilities," Hoots replied. "Two, you can drag your brake -- but that's not what I'm after. I think we're all very capable of coming up to speed and not trying to take advantage of a situation that's not called for.
"I can't give you a definitive way to do this, but I promise you, you don't want us to start policing it down to a micrometer."
Johnson persisted, pressing for a specific solution.
"Would you consider throwing a caution again for a proper restart?" he asked.
The crowd murmured. At that point, NASCAR president Mike Helton stepped to the microphone to deliver a lecture of his own. He told Johnson and the other drivers to do it the right way so NASCAR didn't have to consider any reactions.
"What we've tried to do the last two or three years is give as much back as we can back to the drivers to manage this stuff ... and all of you know how it's supposed to be," Helton said. "But if you want to get trick with it and it starts messing up the restart for everyone else, then we're going to step in."
Helton also cautioned drivers against trying any funny business in the gray area of pushing another driver. One car should not push another past the leader, he advised.
"I guess you can kind of, sort of, maybe say this is your warning – especially today," Helton said. "If you try to shove a guy across the start/finish line and we're even being close to being clear (on the ruling)? Well, you put us in a box now and we may react to that driver.
"We're not going to let the whole race get screwed up because one guy is overanxious or overeager."