NASCAR’s justification for not penalizing Jimmie Johnson for a pit stop gone bad with approximately 50 laps to go in Sunday’s race is more discombobulated than the stop itself.
Johnson pulled away from his pit stall without all of the lug nuts apparently tight on the left front wheel. Johnson stopped, backed up and his tire changer appeared to tighten a lug nut on the wheel before Johnson pulled away again.
As the tire changer rectified his mistake, Johnson’s car was partially out of his pit box, an apparent violation of the way NASCAR’s rule requiring teams to pit within their pit box is written.
Johnson wasn’t penalized and finished seventh. And Monday, NASCAR vice president of competition Scott Miller tried to say that Johnson’s pit stop was not the first time the sanctioning body had been lenient with its rules.
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“It’s funny that this has come up now because it’s high-profile now that the playoffs — we’ve been calling that particular thing consistently over the past couple of years with the lug nuts,” Miller said. “The way we look at that one, they did their normal pit stop in the pit box, he left, they realized they had a lug nut and at that point to us it becomes a safety issue and allowing them to put the lug nut on the penalty becomes they probably lost 10 or 12 spots during that pit stop. That’s a penalty, we let them do that because we want to make sure it’s a safe situation out there on the racetrack.”
NASCAR has been anything but consistent when it comes to lug nuts and the guise of safety. After moving to a camera-based officiating system before the 2015 season, NASCAR stopped monitoring teams to ensure they tightened all 20 lug nuts. That lack of officiating meant some teams were only fastening a few lug nuts on a wheel or two to save time on pit stops.
After Tony Stewart criticized NASCAR’s lack of enforcement in the spring of 2016, the sanctioning body changed its lug nut rule. But not before fining Stewart because he had the temerity to speak out against a ruling body that hates being called out for being inconsistent.
Not wanting to be called out for being inconsistent is natural. And human nature. But NASCAR and its officials are a walking inconsistency.
Not long after Miller said the sanctioning body had “consistently” officiated instances like Johnson’s — which, again, appear to go against the rules as they are written in its own rule book — he admitted that not every team in the garage might have been aware that what Johnson and his team did wasn’t worthy of the standard one-lap penalty for pitting outside of the pit box.
“I don’t know that every single team up and down pit road knows that’s the way we’ve been calling it,” Miller said. “There’s a lot of subtleties up and down pit road and if we tried to communicate everything that we discuss in every one of our meetings about pit road officiating it’d probably inundate the teams with information and they’d probably end up more confused than they are now.”
“Does everybody know that’s the way we’ve been calling it? Potentially not. But the ones that have done it and not been called certainly know.”
Yes, you read that correctly. That’s an executive in a major sport admitting that “potentially” not all of its competitors know the sport is choosing to not interpret a rule as it’s written in the rulebook and that the sport hasn’t officially told all of the teams of this interpretation for fear of overloading them with information.
Martin Truex Jr.’s crew chief Cole Pearn told NBC he was one of the people in the sport that had no idea NASCAR wasn’t officiating instances like Johnson’s by the book. If Pearn, a crew chief that’s quickly shown he’s one of the best in the garage, doesn’t know this “rule”, we have a hard time thinking a majority of crew chiefs do.
“I was under the assumption that was a one-lap penalty, so I was a little confused on that call, but I was so nervous with what we were doing that I really didn’t put much attention to it.’’
The fourth entry in the rulebook section of “vehicle positioning within pit box” says “a vehicle may receive service only when they are in their assigned pit box and/or the garage area or at NASCAR’s discretion.”
All of this would be moot if NASCAR had taken the time — like any big-league sport should do — and add an addendum in that section the first time it officiated an instance like this. Or, at the very least, took the step to inform all competitors that “NASCAR’s discretion” applied to cases where a crew member can tighten the lug nuts on a car while it’s not in its pit box.
But it didn’t. And its reasons for doing so are another reason why it can be so hard for so many to trust the decisions NASCAR makes.
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