FORT WORTH, Texas — NASCAR admitted that it made a mistake in penalizing Jimmie Johnson before Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, an error that NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said was “unacceptable on our part.”
NASCAR ordered Johnson to relinquish his 23rd starting spot and start the race at the rear. NASCAR officials believed Johnson’s car had failed inspection before the race three times. Instead, Johnson’s car had failed twice and should not have been ordered to the rear.
O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, was asked afterward how such a mistake could have happened.
“First you talk to the team and you apologize to the 48 for what happened,’’ he said. “It’s unacceptable on our part. Communication breakdown that happened right before the start between kind of our inspection area on the ground and race control where I think there was an assumption that there was a third failure and there wasn’t. There were only two. In that case, the 48 shouldn’t have started in the back.
“At this point, what we can do is put processes in place to fix that so it never happens again. It’s disappointing. It’s not something you can fix during the race, unfortunately. So all we can do is own up to it and fix it.”
Crew chief Chad Knaus said he was not aware that the team had to go to the rear until engines were fired. NASCAR had announced the penalty on its radio channel before that and announced to the media the penalty to Johnson’s team.
“It’s unfortunate,” Knaus said after he and other Hendrick Motorsports officials, including Jeff Gordon met with NASCAR officials after the race. “It put us in a bad situation, kind of put us behind the eight-ball and had to try to struggle back through.”
Johnson finished 15th.
O’Donnell said there was no call up to race control of a third failure on Johnson’s car. O’Donnell said it was written down that way.
“At that point, no one in the garage is assuming that the 48 is going to the back,” O’Donnell said since there was no radio call of such a penalty. “The inspector is not telling the crew chief (that) ‘you’re going to the back’ because he’s not aware of a penalty. So a lot of those processes in place were missed along the way.”
O’Donnell said that “once we recognized in race control that a mistake had happened, we had already started the race. That’s part of the things we’ve got to go back and review.”
Knaus said he talked to NASCAR about having a better system of communication for teams to reach out to NASCAR officials.
“As an industry we need to try to figure out how to make that happen a little better,” Knaus said. “We’re doing so many things to eliminate the dangers of pit road with officials and limiting all of that and … being able to communicate with the tower is more difficult now than what it has ever been. They’re looking into a way to try to make it to where we can have a direct line of communication, whether that be electronically, whether it be messaging or an audio radio channel.”
Johnson raised a similar concern after the race.
“There is no format for the teams to communicate to the tower,” he said. “So, whatever the tower says is the way it is. This is just one of a few calls that have been wrong due to that situation. I don’t know how they do it. Here we have a minute and a half under caution, but at Bristol you’ve got 30 seconds. I don’t think it’s a perfect environment for them to get it right all the time.”