On the list of dumb things to do at a NASCAR race, "running toward traffic" has to rank at the top, ahead of "eating that sandwich that's been sitting in the sun for an hour," "assuming that young lady is telling the truth when she says she doesn't have a boyfriend" and "rooting loudly for Jeff Gordon."
The most bizarre moment of an exceedingly strange Kobalt Tools 500 on Sunday came in lap 67, when a crew member for Marcos Ambrose's No. 47 team dashed across pit road and halfway through the infield to chase down an errant tire, as you'll see here:
You hopefully don't need me to tell you that chasing down a tire in the direction of cars going 200 m.p.h. probably isn't the wisest move. But gas man Jimmy Watts decided to chase down the tire anyway, apparently fearing that it was headed straight for the cars on the front stretch. But like a broken TV that suddenly starts working again when the repairman shows up, the tire stopped dead just before Watts got to it.
NASCAR pays close attention to crew member safety; it was in Atlanta that a member of Bill Elliott's crew died when Ricky Rudd's car spun into him in 1990. And as Matt Kenseth noted, just because cars were moving in an orderly fashion when Watts began chasing the tire doesn't mean they were going to stay that way.
"Maybe he's new," said Matt Kenseth. "Maybe he hasn't seen us drive, but we tend to wreck a lot. I wouldn't want to be out in the middle of the grass."
Driver safety aside, Watts really screwed up a lot of people's day, since he caused a caution to come out when most of the field was pitting under green. As a result, he put half the field a lap down and perhaps cost someone a shot at winning the race. "He kind of ruined the race," Kasey Kahne said. Watts was suspended for the rest of the day, and further penalties could be forthcoming. (To be fair, the tire would have brought out a caution on its own, but Watts' run just added that extra little jolt of terror. Plus, whoever let the tire get away remains at large.)
[UPDATE: NASCAR just announced the penalty: "Jimmy Watts, a crew member for the No. 47 team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, has been suspended from the next four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events (until April 22) for rule violations during last Sunday's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway." No word on whether the tire was punished as well.]
Sad thing is, even thinking about chasing the tire wasn't necessary. Ambrose has had troubles with tires getting loose before, and everything ended up okay:
Posted Jun 24 2012
Posted Jun 24 2012
Posted Jun 23 2012