Scott Miller

NASCAR official explains why Jimmie Johnson’s team not penalized for pit stop

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Although NASCAR said it routinely has not penalized teams for securing a lug nut outside their pit box, as Jimmie Johnson’s team did Sunday, a senior series official said Monday that not all teams might be aware that they can do that.

Johnson started to pull out of his pit box before being stopped by his team because of an unsecured lug nut late in Sunday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Johnson backed up but his car was not entirely in his pit stall when the tire changer secured a lug nut on the left front wheel. NASCAR did not penalize the team. Johnson entered pit road fourth and exited 15th on the Lap 280 pit stop. He finished seventh.

A NASCAR rule states that teams servicing a car outside its pit box are subject to a one-lap penalty.

A NASCAR spokesman explained after Sunday’s race that officials view that as a safety issue and that Johnson endured a penalty with the slower stop to immediately fix the problem.

Monday, Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, discussed the issue on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“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 nut,’’ Miller said. “The way we look at that one is 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 lost probably 10 or 12 spots during that pit stop. That’s a penalty.

“We let them do that because we want to make sure that it’s a safe situation out there on the race track. That’s the way we’ve been calling it. We like to give the teams the benefit of the doubt if we can, especially when it comes to something that might create an unsafe situation. That’s the basis for that call. It’s interesting that it’s so high on everybody’s list today when we’ve been calling it for a couple of years now.’’

Asked if that is communicated to the teams immediately that if they fix it, they won’t be penalized, Miller said: “We didn’t call it so obviously they got the information. I don’t know that every single team up and down pit road knows that’s the way we’ve been calling it. 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 would probably inundate the teams with information and they would probably end up more confused than they are now.

“Does everybody know that’s the way we’ve been calling it? Potentially not.’’

Cole Pearn, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr., told NBC Sports after the race that he was unaware of such an allowance.

“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.’’

Miller compared that situation to another on pit road that NASCAR doesn’t issue a penalty when a team corrects an issue.

“No different than when someone is out of the box and they have the fuel can plugged in and they push the car back in,’’ Miller said. “We don’t want to create an unsafe situation where the fuel man has got to pull out, re-insert and do all that. Along those same lines of safety is the way we’re looking at this.

“We will circle back with the industry now that this has become the big topic and see if we need to do anything different. For two years it has been consistent and it will continue to be consistent between now and the end of the year.’’

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NASCAR says ambulance driver did not follow directive, leading to incident

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RICHMOND, Va. — A wayward ambulance did not stop when instructed to do so during Saturday night’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway, causing an incident that forced Matt Kenseth out of the event and series officials pledging not to let it happen again.

Kenseth ran into the back of Clint Bowyer’s car when several cars braked because the ambulance was at the entrance of pit road during a caution on Lap 257. Kenseth’s car suffered a damaged radiator and did not continue, finishing 38th. Kenseth still qualified for the playoffs. Had there been a first-time winner Saturday, Kenseth would have missed the playoffs.

Scott Miller, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the ambulance driver was instructed to stop before the vehicle did.

“We had a situation where a directive was given from the tower and it wasn’t followed, and we’ll do our due diligence why it wasn’t followed and make sure that we’re prepared to never make that mistake again,’’ Miller said after the race, which was won by Kyle Larson.

“It is a very strange thing. The track workers are usually very, very good at following the directives and tonight they didn’t.’’

Adding to the issue is that NASCAR did not close pit road with the ambulance blocking one of the lanes. Drivers criticized that move.

“I was alongside somebody to the right because I didn’t want to knock my nose off and I just turned into pit road and if I get busted (for a commitment line violation), I get busted,’’ Kyle Busch said. “It was just a mess. I think they gave everyone the benefit of the doubt on that one. That was a mistake on their part for opening it up too early.’’

NASCAR did not penalize anyone for a commitment line violation during that sequence.

Kasey Kahne said he had a close call trying to avoid cars and the ambulance entering pit road.

“Everybody is braking hard because what happens is the leaders go to the line and everybody speeds up to get there and it’s an accordion effect,’’ Kahne said. “It gets worse the further back. Usually you have a couple of lanes and you offset yourself. There was only basically one lane and everybody ran out of room.’’

Asked if they should have closed pit road, Miller said: “We probably should. Those calls are very dynamic. They happen very quickly. It’s the race director in charge of pit road open and close and it’s the track services and safety crew in charge of the other. we didn’t sync up tonight.’’

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NASCAR will look at issue of drivers slowing near pit exit to get preferred restart lane

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Saying that it is “not something that we want because we don’t need accidents at the end of pit road with people checking up,” NASCAR’s Scott Miller noted Monday that the sanctioning body will look into the issue of drivers slowing or stopping near pit exit to try to get the preferred lane on restarts.

It’s a common tactic at some tracks, including Martinsville Speedway, which hosts a playoff race. Denny Hamlin was the most obvious driver to do it in Saturday night’s Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Hamlin was set to exit pit road third (and start on the inside lane) one time when he slowed to try to be fourth and get the preferred outside lane to restart. Instead, two cars passed him, he exited fifth and restarted on the inside line.

Another time, Hamlin slowed at the end of pit road causing a few cars behind to run into the back of each other. All were able to continue.

“We’re certainly going to look at it,’’ said Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about the pit road ploy. “What we saw go on that everybody is talking about was pretty obvious. Ironically, it didn’t quite work out. Sometimes those things don’t.

“No, that’s not something that we want because we don’t need accidents at the end of pit road with people checking up. We’ll figure out how we’ll address that one and try to move on. Really only kind of comes into play at a few places. We know when it’s possibly going to happen, so we’ll try to address that.’’

Asked on “The Morning Drive” if NASCAR might do something that is done a short tracks where drivers pick what lane they want in order they’re running on the track, Miller said:

As we do here at NASCAR, we’re constantly looking at ways to make the races and the action for the fans more interesting,’’ Miller said. “That is a topic we have discussed a little bit. I personally am really not super familiar with that and how it works but some of the others are and it’s something that we’ve talked about, but we talk about a lot of things. When the final decision comes, I’m not sure what that will be but certainly that has been a topic of discussion.’’

Miller also said that NASCAR planned to have the PJ1 traction compound again added to the track at Charlotte Motor Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the playoffs. Both tracks had it applied earlier this season.

“We’re looking at it at some other places, too, not fully decided yet,’’ Miller said. “We’re learning about it and learning about its uses and its positives. We haven’t really found any negatives. As with anything it’s a challenge to get right because it’s the first time we’ve dabbled in this. We have experience at those tracks but anyplace new that we go is still just a project that we’re working on.’’

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Stage lengths announced for next month’s Xfinity race at Indianapolis

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The stage lengths for next month’s Lilly Diabetes 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race have been announced.

The scheduled 100-lap event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be held Saturday, July 22, with a scheduled start time of 3:30 p.m. ET.

The race, which will feature the use of restrictor plates for the first time, will be televised on NBCSN.

Stages 1 and 2 for one of the biggest races on the Xfinity Series schedule will be 30 laps apiece, while the final stage will be 40 laps, according to NASCAR.

“Following the previously announced updates to the competition package for the NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Indianapolis, NASCAR will issue a rulebook bulletin that updates the stage lengths for the race,” Scott Miller, NASCAR Senior Vice President, Competition, said in a statement.

“As we have with every race, we worked with teams on expected fuel and tire runs for the event, and have determined that stages ending on Lap 30, Lap 60 and Lap 100 will provide the best race for fans,” Miller added.

Kyle Busch swept last year’s race weekend at IMS, capturing the Lilly Diabetes 250 Xfinity race and then following the next day with a triumph in the Brickyard 400. The latter was Busch’s most recent points-paying win in the Cup Series.

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NASCAR explains when it calls debris cautions, when it doesn’t

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After criticism from the sport’s most popular driver and a former champion, NASCAR defended its calls on debris cautions Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Both Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart were critical of NASCAR calling a debris caution with 20 laps left in Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway. That bunched the field. There were two cautions within the final 13 laps because of accidents with the field so close together. Twelve of the last 20 laps were run under caution. 

Stewart, a three-time champion, tweeted: “It’s a shame that so many drivers and teams day was ruined by the results of another “debris” caution towards the end of the race today.’’

Earnhardt, the 14-time most popular driver, said on Periscope after the race: “I don’t know why they’ve got to throw so many damn debris yellows.”

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, explained on “The Morning Drive” how the sanctioning body decides to call a debris caution.

“We use all the resources that we have to try to identity what it is that is out there – that being camera, turn spotters and the communication that we’ve got around the race track to different people who may be able to see it,’’ Miller said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“If we are actually able to identify what it is and feel like it’s something that is OK to leave out there, then we’ll do so. But if we can’t identify what it is exactly, and it could pose something dangerous, then we’ll usually, or almost always, error on the side of caution and safety and put the caution out in those circumstances. Sometimes it’s untimely and a little bit unfortunate, but we do have to do our job and make sure that everybody is safe.’’

Miller was asked about why NASCAR didn’t call a caution Sunday when a cowboy hat blew on the track.

“We saw the cowboy hat,’’ Miller said. “We knew it was straw, and that it would disintegrate if somebody would hit it. Obviously, that was right in front of us. Clearly, we could tell what it is, and we opted to keep it green because we knew that it didn’t really pose any kind of a safety risk.’’

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