Pit road speeding penalties on the rise in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

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As the race for track position intensifies, drivers push the limits on pit road, contributing to an increase in speeding penalties that raises questions about what should be done.

While NASCAR seeks different rules to enhance the racing – Sunday’s Brickyard 400 features a high-drag package to aid passing – the easiest place to gain spots remains pit road.

That reward comes with a risk. Pit road speeding penalties are up 17.1 percent compared to this point last year and up 22 percent from two seasons ago. Six drivers, including former champions Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth, were penalized for speeding in last weekend’s Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“Any little bit you can gain on pit road is such a big deal,’’ Martin Truex Jr. said.

With caution laps up 5.7 percent from last year and 11.4 percent from two years ago, drivers have additional chances to stop for service. Pit road also can be crowded throughout a race with a record 91.2 percent of cars running at the finish – nearly 10 percent higher than two years ago. More cars on pit road means more positions to be gained, more risks to take and more mistakes that can be made.

The result is that nine of the season’s first 19 Sprint Cup races have had at least five pit road speeding penalties issued with 12 such infractions called at Las Vegas and 11 at Bristol.

“We’re all on our pit crews to have faster pit stops, but at the same time, we need to have good rolling times down pit road,’’ said Keith Rodden, crew chief for Kasey Kahne. “It’s kind of the monster that we’ve created.’’

With that increase in pit road speeding, what, if anything, needs to be done — or can be done?

Should NASCAR eliminate the 4.99 mph allowance above the pit road speed limit given to teams before a penalty is called?

Should the timing lines be removed to prevent cars from speeding between those lines and then braking to get under the speed limit?

Should other changes be made?

WHAT IS THE SPEED LIMIT?

When NASCAR states the pit road speed limit, it isn’t really that number. Teams are allowed to exceed the limit by 4.99 mph before they are punished. The speed limit for last year’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was 55 mph, meaning teams weren’t penalized until they reached 60 mph.

The cars do not have speedometers but use a tachometer and light system on the dashboard to alert drivers when they’re nearing the speed limit. As teams become more precise in setting their light system, is it really necessary to have the allowance?

“I’ve never understood why they have a posted speed limit of 40 and then give you 5 mph,’’ Brad Keselowski said. “It’s like saying out of bounds is here but it’s really here. Where is it? It’s really the 5 mph you add to it. I’ve never really followed that kind of logic.’’

Chad Little, NASCAR’s managing director of technical inspection and officiating, notes that the buffer on pit road is similar to what NASCAR does in inspection of vehicles, allowing a tolerance in measurements.

“It’s consistent with a lot of our rules,’’ Little said. “Here’s the rule, and here’s the buffer or allowance that we’ll give you guys.’’

TIME TO REMOVE TIMING LINES?

Jeff Gordon, who saw chances to win at Martinsville Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway impacted by speeding penalties earlier this season, wants the timing lines on pit road eliminated.

NASCAR determines pit road speeding by measuring the time it takes to go a certain distance. The timing lines divide pit road into segments to limit how fast drivers can go.

Yet, teams exploit that. Drivers briefly accelerate in a segment and brake before crossing the next timing line to stay within the pit road speed limit for that zone. If a driver stays under the time allowed to pass through each segment, they’re not speeding – even if they did go above the limit momentarily.

Teams often pick pit stalls intersected by a timing line. That allows the driver to fire out of the pit stall since they’ve already started their time in that zone while the car stopped for service.

“We’ve got to get rid of these speed lines,’’ Gordon said. “It doesn’t make any sense. The speed limit is the speed limit. You should never be able to break the speed limit. You should carry the speed limit all the way down pit road.

“What we do is find pit stalls to try to get around that. So we’re ramping up and slowing down and that’s what got us in Martinsville. We were just too aggressive with it.”

Little says that NASCAR feels the system is fair for all competitors, noting it’s up to teams on how aggressive they want to be.

Keselowski won the 2011 Bristol night race by employing that tactic better than others, leading Gordon to raise questions about that then. NASCAR respond by adding more timing lines at Bristol to limit how much a driver could exceed the speed limit before entering the next segment.

Should additional timing lines be added to pit road if NASCAR is going to keep the system?

“Unless you made it as short as the length of a vehicle, there’s still going to be the opportunity to recover from any speeding mistakes in the zone,’’ Little said. “It’s just how you want to slice it. We feel that the system right now is manageable for us, it’s accurate and fair to the teams.’’

DETERMINING PIT ROAD SPEED LIMIT

Pit road speed varies because of the uniqueness of each track. Little says series officials consider the track’s size, the layout of its pit road and how wide it is to determine the speed limit for that event.

Martinsville Speedway, which has a tight pit road that begins in Turn 3 and goes to Turn 2 has a 30 mph pit road limit (not including the 4.99 mph allowance).

Charlotte Motor Speedway’s speed limit was 45 mph this year. Speed limits at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway – where pit road is wide – is 55 mph.

With more cars pitting and an increase in speeding penalties, it can raise a safety concern. A benefit NASCAR noted with going to the camera system to monitor pit stops this season was that it kept officials from going over the pit wall – taking them out of a potentially dangerous situation.

With cars entering and exiting their stalls, traffic nearby and pit crew members servicing cars, it can create a chaotic scene for a driver.

Trevor Bayne noted a race last month at Michigan International Speedway when he was pitted beside Casey Mears and ran near him on the track. It added another challenge to the pit stop as they stopped together.

“I’m pulling into my box as his guys are jumping over the wall,’’ Bayne said. “I’m dodging the front tire carrier and trying to get into my box without making them mad, but I have to do my job. That’s one of the most precise and hard jobs with people’s health on the line. It can make up a lot of time if you do it right, or you can really mess it up if you do it bad.’’

 

Sprint Cup points races with most pit road speeding penalties this season:

12 – Las Vegas

11 – Bristol

7 – Daytona 500

6 – Martinsville

6 – Dover

6 – New Hampshire

 

Sprint Cup drivers with most pit road speeding penalties in points races this season (races where penalties were committed in parenthesis):

Michael Annett – 6  (Martinsville, Bristol, Bristol, Pocono, Pocono, New Hampshire)

Paul Menard – 6  (Martinsville, Bristol, Bristol, Pocono, Pocono, New Hampshire)

Carl Edwards – 4  (Daytona 500, Las Vegas, Auto Club Speedway, Dover)

Matt Kenseth – 4  (Phoenix, Pocono, Daytona II, New Hampshire)

JJ Yeley – 4  (Daytona 500, Auto Club Speedway, Talladega, Kansas)

 

 

Former NASCAR Chairman Brian France defends leadership style in interview

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Former NASCAR Chairman Brian France defended his leadership style when running the stock-car series and said in an interview with Sports Business Journal that he was working on leaving the sport before he was ousted after his DWI arrest in August 2018.

The interview with Sports Business Journal marked France’s first public comments since his arrest.

France became NASCAR Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in September 2003, assuming the position from his father, Bill France Jr.

Brian France held that position until Aug. 6, 2018, when he took a leave of absence after his arrest for driving while intoxicated in Sag Harbor, New York. He was replaced by Jim France and did not return to NASCAR.

Brian France pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated in June 2019. As part of the agreement, he was required to complete 100 hours of community service and undergo alcohol counseling. If he completes those and does not run afoul of the law, his misdemeanor charge will be reduced to a non-criminal infraction in June 2020.

France told Sports Business Journal that he was actively talking to and identifying potential replacements before his arrest but did not go into detail.

France, who oversaw the TV deal with NBC and Fox that goes through 2024 and created the Chase/playoff format, defended his absence from the track during his reign. France did not attend every race and that became an issue in the garage, raising questions about how involved he was with the sport.

“I understand that kind of criticism, but there is no other sports league that gets any criticism like that,” France told Sports Business Journal of the time he spent at the track. “I’ve always found that a bit interesting that no one else asks another commissioner how many football games or practices he made.”

Jim France is at the track nearly every weekend. Brian France told Sports Business Journal that while his uncle attends more races to match his objective, “(it) didn’t match up with mine, so I had to take the criticism on my way to managing the commercial side.”

France, who endorsed Donald Trump for president at a Feb. 29, 2016 rally at Valdosta State University in Georgia, accompanied President Trump on Air Force One to Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, according to the pool media report.

Monday’s Daytona 500: Restart time, weather and more

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Let’s try this again.

After rain postponed Sunday’s race, Cup drivers will get back on track Monday at Daytona International Speedway to complete the Daytona 500. And the forecast looks very good for Monday’s race.

The race was halted after 20 of 180 laps with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. leading.

Here are today’s details:

(All times are Eastern)

RESTART: Command to fire engines at 4:02 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:12 p.m. 

DISTANCE: 180 of the scheduled 200 laps remain to be run on the 2.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 65. Stage 2 ends on Lap 130.

TV/RADIO: Fox’s broadcast begins at 4 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s broadcast begins at 4 p.m. and also can be heard on mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 73 degrees and a 3% chance of rain when the race resumes.

RUNNING ORDER:

  1. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  2. Joey Logano
  3. Aric Almirola
  4. Ryan Newman
  5. Kevin Harvick
  6. Brad Keselowski
  7. William Byron
  8. Jimmie Johnson
  9. Ty Dillon
  10. Timmy Hill
  11. David Ragan
  12. Chris Buescher
  13. Matt DiBenedetto
  14. Chase Elliott
  15. Ross Chastain
  16. Alex Bowman
  17. Kyle Larson
  18. Kurt Busch
  19. Austin Dillon
  20. Cole Custer
  21. Michael McDowell
  22. Tyler Reddick
  23. Ryan Blaney
  24. Bubba Wallace
  25. Reed Sorenson
  26. BJ McLeod
  27. Corey LaJoie
  28. Brendan Gaughan
  29. Ryan Preece
  30. Justin Haley
  31. Martin Truex Jr.
  32. Kyle Busch
  33. Erik Jones
  34. Christopher Bell
  35. Denny Hamlin
  36. Clint Bowyer
  37. John Hunter Nemechek
  38. Quin Houff
  39. Joey Gase
  40. Brennan Poole

Daytona 500 postponed to Monday

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The Daytona 500 has been postponed until Monday, NASCAR announced Sunday evening.

The race is scheduled to take the green flag at 4:05 p.m. ET Monday. The garage will open at 1:30 p.m. The race will air on Fox.

The wunderground.com forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 72 degrees and an 11% chance of rain when the race is scheduled to resume.

The race was scheduled to take the green flag Sunday at 3:18 p.m. ET but that was pushed back because of President Donald Trump’s participation in ceremonies before the race. He gave the command to start engines and his motorcade led the field on a pace lap. An extra pace lap was done to honor Jimmie Johnson, who is making his final Daytona 500 start.

As the field was set to take the green flag at 3:29 p.m. ET, rain in Turns 1 and 2 prevented the start. Rain fell throughout the track and led to a 51-minute delay.

When the race resumed, the field completed 20 laps before rain led to a caution at 4:36 p.m. ET. The field again was brought to pit road and the race was stopped. NASCAR told teams they could uncover cars on pit road at 6:18 p.m. ET but almost immediately there were reports of rain drops around the track. Drivers were called to their cars but never got in them. It began to pour around 6:44 p.m. ET. The race was called at 6:50 p.m. ET

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. led the opening 20 laps. He is followed by Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick.

Sixth through 10th is Brad Keselowski, William Byron, Jimmie Johnson, Ty Dillon and Timmy Hill.

This is the second time the Daytona 500 has been postponed by rain. It happened in 2012.

Daytona 500 once again under rain delay

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Rain has once again put a damper on the 62nd Daytona 500.

The race got through the first 20 laps of the scheduled 200-lap event before the yellow flag came out, sending cars back to the pits.

Pole Sitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and his Chevrolet has led all laps since the green flag fell. Fords make up the next five spots (Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski), while the highest Toyota’s driver — Martin Truex Jr. — is back in 31st place.

It was the second time rain has impacted the event. After seven pace laps, the start of the race was delayed for 51 minutes due to rain. Engines were re-fired at 4:14 p.m. ET

The race is airing on Fox.

We will keep you updated on the status of the race and when it resumes.