June 14, 2012
By Nicholas Schwartz
If you spent your Sunday watching the Pocono 400 at the new and improved Pocono Raceway, there’s a very good chance your favorite driver was tabbed for one of the many mystifying pit road speeding penalties.
Throughout the course of the day, NASCAR tagged cars for speeding penalties 22 times. This not only shattered the season high, but it blew away the all-time record of 14 penalties set at Kansas in 2006.
Teams were likely tricked by the track reconfiguration after a repave, and NASCAR Vice President Robin Pemberton admitted that the four segments along pit road where speeds are clocked not only changed from 2011, but that the final segment was bigger than the other three.
After the fifth or tenth penalty, things simply became comical. A trip to pit road was akin to playing Russian roulette—there was little rhyme or reason to the penalties, and drivers were left guessing as to what rpm they should be making down pit road to exit legally.
The pit road fracas at Pocono was an anomaly, and I’m sure that the average number of speeding penalties will drop down to the season average at Michigan this weekend. But that doesn’t mean that the scores of drivers rambling down pit road to serve their penalties didn’t illustrate another rule problem that to this point has been ignored.
Why in the world is the penalty for speeding so harsh?
Each pit road on the NASCAR circuit is divided into segments, and drivers must average a certain speed over each segment, with a tolerance allowed of 4.99 miles per hour. On Sunday, numerous drivers were outside of that tolerance by the slimmest of margins—sometimes hundredths of a mile per hour.
The penalty for speeding while entering or exiting pit road is the same, and it’s very, very unforgiving. A driver must make a pass-through pit road if under green flag conditions, or go to the end of the field if under a yellow flag.
Under green, that penalty is a death sentence. At long tracks, a driver won’t necessarily lose a lap, but at shorter tracks, it’s a sure way to lock yourself into a bottom-20 finish. Even under caution, giving up every bit of track position can all but end a driver’s day.
It’s a punishment that doesn’t fit the crime at all. It’s sending a guy to jail for stealing a pack of gum from the store, or jaywalking across the street.
The way the speeds are measured over segment—and considering that most of the penalties from Pocono were doled out because of drivers speeding through the final segment—that means that teams were penalized for slightly exceeding the pit road speed for a grand total of 83 feet, according to the NASCAR wire service.
Think about that. It would be near impossible to distinguish the difference between 60.00 mph and 60.01 by the naked eye, especially over a distance as short as 83 feet.
Under green flag conditions, as long as a driver isn’t 20 or 30 mph over the limit, they will gain almost nothing in track position for such a small infraction. It’s ludicrous to punish a driver so severely for gaining a hair of an advantage over the field.
Under yellow, simple common sense can be applied to remedy any speeding infractions. If a driver outruns someone on pit road and the speedometer reveals he was speeding, then that driver should simply have to surrender the position. If nothing was gained by a minor speeding infraction—then no harm, no foul.
If you would like to learn more about Nicholas, please check out his web site at Sports By Schwartz. Nicholas is a Managing editor and sportswriter for The Duke Chronicle at Duke University.
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.