Just three races into the 2016 Sprint Cup Series season and there seems to be a trend developing. That trend is a high number of pit road penalties.
There were a total of 19 pit road penalties in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, starting with pole-sitter, Kurt Busch, being too fast on pit road on Lap 32 of the 267-lap event.
KuBu was not alone in his faults, seven other drivers accumulated a race-total of eight speeding penalties on pit road. Race winner Brad Keselowski, Austin Dillon, Greg Biffle, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Larson, Regan Smith and AJ Allmendinger all received speeding penalties.
Post-race, the penalized drivers took responsibility for their infractions, also noting that strategy played a big role in getting back on track.
“I put my guys behind when I sped on pit road with only 100 to go,” Stenhouse Jr. said. “That was tough to battle back from and Nick (Sandler) made a great pit call and took the wave around and we ended up catching a caution and we fought back really hard there.
“We have to make sure we don’t make those mistakes so we have shots at top-five finishes. If not for that mistake, we could have been really good there at the end.”
Allmendinger noted he has been working on correcting pit road flaws.
“I’ve been working on getting on pit road,” Allmendinger said. “I thought I got on really good and I will be interested to see the number, just sped a little bit. That got us behind, but we worked the strategy back to keep trying to get back on the lead lap.”
Stenhouse and Allmendinger finished 12th and 14th, respectively, and both on the lead lap.
Pit road drama also was prevalent the week before at Atlanta Motor Speedway, as Matt Kenseth received a black flag in the race. During a pit stop on Lap 117, the gas man for the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing pit crew placed a tool on the rear of Kenseth’s Toyota, which is illegal and resulted in a penalty for improper fueling. Kenseth was unaware of his penalty and stayed out after receiving the black flag with a white cross from NASCAR officials, signaling the 2003 Sprint Cup Series champion was no longer being scored as completing a lap. He served his penalty and ended up two laps down.
While much of the fault can be placed on drivers for pit road penalties, the teams’ crew members have played a huge role in the infractions. Besides this year’s Daytona 500having the closest finish in NASCAR history, the Great American Race also produced the most modern-day pit road infractions (12) caused by pit crews.
This is the second year of NASCAR’s Pit Road Officiating system, a camera-operated technology that captures pit stop footage during a race, and as NASCAR officials have learned more about the system since last season, pit crews are wising up any little way they can.
NASCAR’s managing director of technology field and media operations, George Grippo, previously explained in January that crew members are now wearing shoes that match the color of pit road. The similar color could jumble up officials determining whether a team member has come over the wall too soon.
The lack of contrast in pit crew uniforms could be working for the teams since Daytona, as there were no penalties from crew members coming over the wall too soon in the recent Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas.
“The teams are no dummies,” Grippo said at January’s NASCAR Summit, the industry’s annual preseason convention for track services. “They see the video, too, because we provide that video for them as a training piece. They can figure some of that stuff out. If I’m going to Dover, I’m wearing a white sneaker so that nobody can tell that I’m hitting the concrete versus a black shoe. They don’t do anything to help us, that’s for sure. They get smarter as we go along.”
This is a very interesting trend that has erupted this season. It will also be very interesting to see how the race teams combat this phenomenon. These pit road penalties can take a very competitive team completely out of contention for the win on any given Sunday, even though Keselowski was able to overcome his pit road penalty. However, if the penalty occurs late in the race that is the death knoll for the team!
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!