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.’’