Starting this weekend at Pocono, the leader and second-place car will take the green flag on restarts side by side at the front of the field.

The change, which NASCAR announced Thursday, is a substantial departure from traditional restarts in the Sprint Cup Series; previously, lead-lap cars restarted in the outside lane with lapped cars beside them to the inside.

From a competitive standpoint, the biggest benefit of the leaders restarting double-file after a caution is the that the leading cars will be able to race each other without having to work their way through lapped traffic.

"We've heard the fans loud and clear: 'double-file restarts - shootout style' are coming to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series," NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said in a statement announcing the change. "This addition to the race format is good for competition and good for the fans."

Under the new system, which is similar to the double-file restarts used in the May 16 non-points Sprint All-Star Race at Lowe's Motor Speedway, the race leader will have the option of starting on the outside or inside lane, with the second-place car alongside. The third-place car will start from the inside lane.

Lapped cars will start behind cars on the lead lap. In the event that lapped cars choose to remain on the track, forgoing pit stops under caution, they will be allowed to pass the caution car and start from the rear of the field, ensuring that the leader will always take the green flag at the front of the field.

NASCAR's "free pass" or "lucky dog" rule, under which the first lapped car in the running order is allowed to make up a lap under caution, will remain in effect.

Two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart is an enthusiastic supporter of the new rule.

"I'm excited about it," Stewart said. "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.

"Since NASCAR has adopted the free pass, I think that's something that now justifies being able to put those lapped cars to the back and let them race with each other - and let the guys who are racing on the lead lap do the same. I'm behind NASCAR 100 per cent on this."

Three-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson had reservations about the format, but he also can see the benefits.

"I think the fans, based on a lot of research, have shown that they like to see the double-file restarts," Johnson said last weekend, before the change became official. "There's a great reaction from the all-star ranks. At the same time all the short tracks across America have that every Saturday night.

"So as long as we can sort it out to make sure that the lucky dog situation works fairly and the guys that are a lap down don't end up with some type of advantage ... it's not going to hurt anything."

Track operators, faced with the challenge of selling tickets in a weak economy, lined up strongly behind the change.

"Give NASCAR credit on this one," said Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage, whose opinion was representative. "We should do everything possible to make races more exciting for the fans, so this is an easy call. These are the best drivers in the world, so they should be able to safely engage in double-file restarts.

"It will certainly tighten up the field, so the fans should love it."

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News

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