If you were listening to the NASCAR officials' scanner channel during Sunday's Pocono 400, no, that wasn't a bunch of chatter about Vin Diesel and the latest "Too Fast" movie.
While we don't know for sure that there are any Diesel fans in NASCAR race control -- and we sure hope there aren't -- they were too busy announcing a whopping 22 pit road speeding penalties during Sunday's race, most for exiting the pits in the final timing section on pit road.
Before Sunday's race, the dominating storyline was Pocono's new pavement and shorter race distance, and the variabilities they could produce. However, the biggest difference maker turned out to be the scoring system on pit road, something that no one saw coming.
Last year's pit road at Pocono featured nine timing zones throughout the length of pit road. This year, an additional section was added, and the now infamous "section 10" -- the 70 feet between the final pit stall and a thick, yellow line painted on the track -- was the common infraction location. In fact, Jimmie Johnson, along with Travis Kvapil, was even dinged for speeding while serving a speeding penalty. (All pit road timing and scoring is done electronically by sector.)
2011's two Pocono races each featured four pit road speeding penalties and Sunday's race was far and away the highest speeding penalty tally of the season. The previous high? Bristol in March. That race featured a paltry seven speeding penalties. Plus, four races so far in 2012 have had just one pit road speeding penalty doled out. It's safe to say that there was some confusion on Sunday.
"All we can really come up with is — the rule is from yellow line to yellow line," Johnson said. "They measure from the nose of the racecar back to the transponder [which is located at the rear], so from the yellow line back however many feet is where the timing loop is. So long story short, when we get to the end of pit road, when your nose hits the line you take off. I did that the first time and got nailed and I thought "oh maybe I just overdid it" and the second time I waited until the tail end crossed the yellow line and still got penalized.
"So all we can come up with is that the yellow line vs. the timing loop, that orientation is different here. Things were just repaved, everything's been redone, and we need to physically walk down and mark it off ourselves to understand what happened there. Because we got nailed a lot along with a lot of other guys."
But, in true Jimmie Johnson and team 48 fashion, the pit road speeding penalties didn't ruin their day. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus played their ensuing strategy brilliantly, topping off for fuel as much as possible as the race marched towards its conclusion, allowing the team to comfortably stay out over the final 30 laps. Johnson finished fourth.
As the pit road penalties piled up, NASCAR officials implored teams to look at the maps that had been provided as drivers and teams complained that something was wrong with the electronic timing system. The 10 timing zones were evident on the map that was shown during the TNT broadcast, but it was unclear how, or even if, the addition of the extra sector was directly communicated with the field before the race. (Teams typically use all of the 5 mph cushion they are given by NASCAR over the pit road speed limit. Anything over that cushion, even fractions of a mile per hour, is penalized.)
Kvapil and David Reutimann were actually penalized for speeding three times, and during one sequence early in the race, the speeding penalties had become so frequent that Ryan Newman served a speeding penalty and was somehow ninth after pit stops had cycled through. (For a speeding penalty under green, drivers are required to drive down pit lane at pit road speed. Under yellow, drivers who have sped are sent to the back of the field for the ensuing restart.)
However, once the race marched past the halfway point, the penalties subsided to their normal rate as teams adapted, slow-footing their way through pit road, especially the final section. And while the field had organically sorted the pit road speed procedures out by the time the checkered flag flew, you can bet that the pit road sectors and their timing and scoring will be duly emphasized in the driver's meeting when the Sprint Cup Series returns to Pocono in August.
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