Jimmie Johnson baffled by NASCAR officiating after being penalized

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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.

The penalties marked only the second time this season that NASCAR has cited Cup drivers for pulling up to pit. Kevin Harvick and Casey Mears both were penalized for the infraction at Dover in May.

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.’’

My Home Tracks: New Mexico’s the Land of Enchantment and home of Cardinal Speedway

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The state of New Mexico is known more for IndyCar racing, with the Unser family being the state’s favorite sons.

Al Unser won four Indianapolis 500s, brother Bobby three and Al’s son Al Jr. a two-time winner (this weekend’s 500 marks the 25th anniversary of Little Al’s second 500 triumph).

But there’s a strong grassroots racing scene in the Land of Enchantment, particularly in the far southeast corner of the state at Cardinal Speedway, a half-mile dirt track in the little town of Eunice.

NASCAR America continues its My Home Track series of 50 states in 50 shows.

Wednesday, we visit New York state.

2018 NASCAR schedule changes: EVP Steve O’Donnell breaks it down (video)

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On Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell joined us to discuss the NASCAR Cup schedule changes in 2018, including running a road race at Charlotte and having Indianapolis be the final race before the playoffs.

“I’m real excited about these changes,” said O’Donnell, who cited unprecedented cooperation between NASCAR, its teams, drivers and sponsors to reach agreement on the schedule changes.

Among the key changes: Las Vegas will kick off the 10-race playoffs in 2018 (Chicagoland Speedway, which will have hosted the last seven playoff openers, will return to its more traditional race date in early July/late June and serve as a run-up to the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona.

Several other changes include:

  • The fall playoff race at Charlotte will move up a couple weeks in the schedule and also incorporate competition on both the infield road course and part of the speedway itself.
  • After 14 years as the deciding race to qualify for the NASCAR Cup playoffs, Richmond International Raceway will now become the second race of the playoffs.
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway will see it’s Brickyard 400 go from late July to become the final qualifying race for the playoffs in early September. While still in the rumor stage, there’s a lot of talk that IMS may change the race to something akin to its Verizon IndyCar Series Indy Grand Prix race in mid-May, where half the race is run on the infield road course and the other half on the traditional racetrack surface.

Catch up on all the changes in the above video.

Tony Stewart pulled over by state trooper, but it’s not for speeding

Photo courtesy Damein Cunningham Twitter account
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Retired NASCAR Cup driver and team co-owner Tony Stewart was stopped by an Illinois State Trooper over the weekend near DeKalb, Ill., about 90 minutes west of Chicago.

But before you think Stewart was stopped for speeding by Trooper Damein Cunningham, he wasn’t.

Rather, Cunningham pulled Stewart over for improper lane usage, although exactly what the infraction was is unclear.

After getting a verbal warning, Stewart gladly posed with Cunningham for a selfie, which the trooper promptly tweeted out.

“Just pulled over NASCAR LEGEND Tony Stewart on I-88 in DeKalb, IL, what you think I got him for? #NASCAR #ISP”

But according to the Chicago Tribune, Cunningham’s bosses apparently didn’t have a sense of humor about the incident or realize the good PR it meant for the Illinois State Police.

That, or they’re not Stewart or NASCAR fans. They ordered Cunningham to delete the tweet, which he did.

It’s unclear what Stewart, who was stopped on his 46th birthday, was doing in the Land of Lincoln.

But his luck went from bad to worse a few hours later. According to USA Today, Stewart and others were stuck in an elevator in a Madison, Wisconsin hotel for about 20 minutes before being rescued by firefighters.

We can just imagine what the elevator riders talked about while trapped.

How much do you want to bet Stewart said, “Man, do I have a story about a cop that I have to tell you.”

Cunningham then posted another tweet on Sunday after attending church services.

 

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All-Star Race will remain at Charlotte in 2018

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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NASCAR confirmed that the All-Star Race will be held again at Charlotte Motor Speedway despite more of a push from competitors and others to move the event.

Criticism was raised after last weekend’s 70-lap event featured only three lead changes. Kyle Busch took the lead on the restart to begin the final 10-lap stage and went on to win. It marked the fourth time in the last five years the All-Star winner led every lap in the final stage. In 12 All-Star Races at Charlotte since the track was repaved, there have been two lead changes in the final five laps.

Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations, was clear in a call with reporters Tuesday that the All-Star Race is set for Charlotte.

“We’ve finished our discussions for ’18,” he said. ” We’ll begin looking at ’19 and beyond in the near future.”

The All-Star Race debuted at Charlotte in 1985, moved to Atlanta in 1986 and returned to Charlotte the following year. It has been held at Charlotte ever since.

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