AVONDALE, Ariz. — Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. both plan to talk to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series officials after each was penalized a lap for pulling up to pit during Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway.
Truex, who was running 10th after starting last in a backup car, was penalized on Lap 85. He never recovered and finished last after an accident. Johnson was penalized on Lap 133 of the 324-lap race and was not a factor. He finished 38th after his car was damaged in an incident.
Johnson was confused by NASCAR’s call and wants to make sure he understands it as he races for a championship next weekend in Miami against Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch. Truex and his team also argued their penalty when it happened.
“Rumor has it that guys have been pulling up like that all weekend to go to pit lane,’’ Johnson said, looking to Busch, who feigned ignorance, during their press conference after the Can-Am 500. “In 15 years that has never been a concern, and I was always told that the last thing NASCAR wanted to do would be to penalize the leader, and as you pull off onto the apron, you accelerate to the commitment line.
“If you are held by the pace car, you’re at a disadvantage as the leader and it allows everybody to catch you and catch up, so even in drivers’ meetings they’ve said, we know you’re going to pass the pace car; it’s okay. The majority of the tracks we go to, you naturally just gradually pull ahead of the pace car coming to pit lane. I mean, this happens all the time.
“I am still baffled, and I don’t know if I will stop being baffled, but all I can say is if they called me on it and they continue to call everybody else on it every week, then shame on me.’’
In the video that is played during the drivers’ meeting each week, competitors are told “do not pull up to pit, hold your respective track position under the yellow flag.’’
NASCAR previously warned drivers about this issue.
During the drivers meeting at Martinsville, Richard Buck, Sprint Cup director, told competitors: “Also a reminder, under caution, the leader may not pass the caution car when entering pit road.”
On NASCAR’s pit road penalty handout that is given to each crew chief, it reads for pulling up to pit: “When following the caution vehicle during a caution period, drivers must maintain their position in relation to other vehicles in the field or as otherwise directed by NASCAR, and will not be permitted to pass other vehicles or the caution vehicle when preparing to enter pit road.’’
An issue for Johnson is that earlier in the Chase at Charlotte, Matt Kenseth was second and closed the gap to Johnson as they approached pit road under caution. Kenseth took the lead from Johnson on that pit stop, only to lose it after the ensuing restart with less than 20 laps to go.
“There’s two pieces to it, the leader and his orientation to the pace car,’’ Johnson said. “Again, NASCAR has never wanted to put the leader at a disadvantage, so they allow you to once you pull down to accelerate to the line.
“If the guys behind you pull down and accelerate before the leader does, then they’re supposed to call that. So they’re two separate issues, and I guess they called (Truex) on the other issue, so if they’re going to officiate this way, then I’ll keep my mouth shut from here on out, but from my position as the leader, this is the first, and I’ve been told differently multiple times and I’ve heard it in countless drivers’ meetings being described differently than the way they officiated it today.’’