CONCORD, N.C. – Jimmie Johnson couldn’t tell if his front tire changer hit a lug nut when his No. 48 Chevrolet was outside the pit box during a yellow-flag stop Sunday.
But the seven-time series champion said it ultimately didn’t matter because NASCAR previously had told the team it wouldn’t be penalized in such an instance.
Johnson was running fourth in Sunday’s Bank of America 500 when he entered the pits under a Lap 280 caution. When the jack dropped, he took off but stopped several feet beyond his box when crew chief Chad Knaus apparently noticed a missing lug nut.
“At (New Hampshire) a couple of weeks ago, we had a similar thing happen, and NASCAR informed us that we didn’t need to back up into our pit box to complete the stop, so that’s why (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) stopped me where he did,” Johnson said. “They informed us that doesn’t count as equipment outside of the box (which is a penalty). So I was going off Chad’s cue, stopped, put the lug nut on, and off we went.”
Per NASCAR’s pit penalty card, servicing a car outside the box is usually a one-lap penalty. But NASCAR spokesman Kurt Culbert said it considered Johnson’s stop to be completed (albeit with a missing lug nut), and that it allowed teams to work outside their stalls if a unsecure lug nut was discovered after the stop.
By stopping and backing up, Culbert said Johnson’s team essentially had served its own penalty.
“We’ve allowed that multiple times this year of allowing a team to fix a lug nut. Ultimately when that happens, a penalty is incurred, because they’ve had to fix it. Instead of going onto the track and having to deal with a penalty. It’s in the interest of safety.”
Johnson said he couldn’t tell if a lug nut actually was loose.
“I saw him stabbing at the left front,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. “I don’t know if one came off, or he was just behind, it’s hard to really see from my perspective what was going on. When the jack came off, he was still lunging for the car, so I knew something was wrong.”
Johnson made another stop under yellow on Lap 327, ensuring all of his lug nuts were tight regardless to avoid a postrace penalty.
“If we would have known there was another caution, we’d just go and run and come in and put all the lug nuts back on and be fine,” Johnson said. “To go to the end, you get nervous and don’t want to get fined.”
Johnson fell to 15th after the slow pit stops but rallied for a seventh, his fourth top 10 in five races.
“The track had little grip,” he said. “Clean air was fast. As soon as you got to someone or around someone, you’re like three-quarters of a second slower and out of control. Traffic and passing was really tough, and we had to come through the traffic a couple of times. We’re one of the few cars that could pass, and passing was still just a disaster. It was so hard to pass. The car wasn’t easy to drive or fun to drive.”