Long: NASCAR shows common sense has a place in dispensing punishment

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NASCAR’s hint that it will suspend pit crew members only from the series that a wheel violation takes place is another example of common sense moves officials have made lately.

With the sport’s emphasis on cutting costs and limiting team rosters, it would be ridiculous to have a pit crew member in the Camping World Truck Series suspended for the other national series because so many crew members do double-duty or even triple-duty. That would unfairly penalize those teams.

It also would unfairly penalize Truck teams, who do not have the resources to have their own pit crews and must hire pit crew members from Cup and Xfinity teams. Make the penalty harsh and those Cup and Xfinity teams might not allow their pit crew members to work elsewhere.

More than two-thirds of the 180 Cup pit crew members who worked Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway also work in at least one other series, based on team rosters for each series.

The breakdown is this:

– 95 Cup pit crew members (52.8 percent) went over the wall in either the Xfinity or Camping World Truck Series this past weekend.

– 28 Cup pit crew members (15.6 percent) did triple-duty, going over the wall for teams in the Xfinity and Truck Series.

– That means 123 of 180 Cup crew members (68.3 percent) went over the wall in another series.

This became an issue Saturday when the left rear wheel of Kyle Busch’s truck rolled off after he exited his pit stall. The Truck Rule Book states such an infraction is a three-race suspension for the crew chief, tire changer and jack man.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said Monday on “The Morning Drive’’ those team members will be penalized but noted the question was if they should be suspended for just that series or each of the national series as has been the case before.

A key point is that Busch’s rear tire changer, Coleman Dollarhide, also changes tires for Cole Custer’s Xfinity team and Kurt Busch’s Cup team at Stewart-Haas Racing. Kyle Busch’s jack man, Ernie Pierce, also performs those duties for Clint Bowyer’s Cup team at SHR.

Should a penalty for a violation in one series hurt a different team in another series that had nothing to do with it?

It could last year. When Kyle Busch’s Cup car had a wheel roll off after exiting pit road at Dover in June, NASCAR suspended his crew chief, tire changer and tire carrier for all national series events. The suspension ended after they had missed four Cup races. Brad Keselowski Racing also suffered a similar penalty when it had a wheel roll off one of its trucks that same weekend.

That NASCAR appears to be leaning toward not having such a suspension carry over to other series shows that officials can be flexible with some matters.

Already for this season, NASCAR has made other such adjustments with rules:

NASCAR altered the penalty for having too many crew members work on a damaged car. Last year, such an infraction ended the race for a driver. That most notably happened to Matt Kenseth, ending his title hopes at Kansas Speedway when one too many crew members worked on his damaged car. Now, teams will be penalized two laps.

– NASCAR gave teams an additional minute to the time allotted for teams to make repairs, giving them six minutes under the damaged vehicle policy clock.

NASCAR eliminated the exception to the rule of pitting outside the box. It became an issue last fall during the playoffs when Jimmie Johnson took off from his stall and then stopped because lug nuts were not tight. He backed up but was not completely in his stall when the lugs were tight. NASCAR cited such exceptions — noting it had been allowed for other teams — as a safety measure. This year, NASCAR mandated that teams need to be completely in the pit box for any work on the car.

There’s plenty of room for other adjustments, including with suspending pit crew members only for the series their tire infraction occurs.

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