A streak worth celebrating, but just don’t talk about it

Dustin Long

To know the information is one thing. To share it is another. But to reveal the fact to the driver it pertains to is to invite the potential for scorn even though that fact is quite an achievement.

“Oh thanks, I appreciate that,” Kevin Harvick says in jest after being told he has gone more than one year since his last speeding penalty in a Cup race.

Mind you, he was told that two days before last weekend’s Texas race, which he won to clinch a spot in the Nov. 17 championship race in Miami.

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So it was understandable with all that was at stake, being informed about his perfect streak on pit road — where drivers toe the line on being too fast — might make a driver uneasy.

But Harvick’s run of 38 consecutive races without a pit road speeding penalty isn’t the longest streak in the series. Fellow playoff driver Joey Logano has gone 69 races, dating to last year’s Daytona 500 without speeding on pit road in a Cup race.

Told of his achievement, he jokingly looks to knock on wood and laughs. Logano often laughs, sometimes at himself, sometimes as a reflex and sometimes because it is just good to be him, the reigning series champion. 

“Maybe it means I’m not pushing hard enough,” Logano says, laughing.

What Logano and Harvick have done is remarkable in a series where a hundredth of a second matters and going too fast on pit road can prove costly. The only other full-time Cup driver without a pit road speeding penalty this season is Chris Buescher. He has gone 65 races since being penalized for speeding at Auto Club Speedway in March 2018.

A pit road speeding penalty this weekend at ISM Raceway could impact who makes the championship race in Miami. Six drivers are contending for the final two spots. One mistake could end a driver’s title hopes.

Last year’s Cup playoff race at ISM Raceway had 10 pit road speeding penalties — including one by Chase Elliott, whose infraction came while leading with about a quarter of the 312-lap race left. The penalty played a role in his playoff elimination.

“You can’t come down pit road leading the race and speed and expect to race for a championship the next week,” Elliott said after that race.

Elliott has been better at watching his speed. He last had a pit road speeding penalty in the Coca-Cola 600 in May, a stretch of 21 races. Or think it about it this way — it’s one race longer than Kyle Busch’s winless streak.

Busch has the most pit road speeding penalties among the eight remaining playoff drivers. He’s been caught six times, including the Dover playoff race.

“I’ll bet you all the money in the world that I can go a whole year without speeding on pit road if you want to make that bet,” Busch says.

No bet is taken.

“It’s all about where your tolerances are set,” Busch says of the series of lights on the car’s dash that is tied to RPMs, which is how teams measure their speed because their cars don’t have a speedometer as passenger vehicles do. “You have that tachometer that we all work off of and our lights and everything else … that we set our pit road speeds to. Some guys’ tolerances are way tighter and closer to that limit than others. It’s just a matter of it.

“There’s a sheet that we get every week that gives us a rundown of pit road speeds and guys on pit road and how fast they are and all of that sort of stuff. The 18 car, we’ve been No. 1 on that sheet for the past four years. We will keep doing what we do and continue to be No. 1 on that sheet. Sometimes, we will have to pay that price with a speeding penalty, and you just have to know when you have to back it down a little.”

All teams get that weekly report card on their time driving on pit road, giving competitors a sense of how fast or slow they are compared to the field.

Michael McDowell, who has been penalized seven times for speeding on pit road this year, says that data is meaningful.

“All of us analyze this on Monday, and you get a ranking,” he says. “I don’t want to be 30th on pit road. I want to be top 10 on pit road every week. I don’t want to leave anything on the table, and neither does anyone else.”

Still, a speeding penalty can set a driver back and ruin their day, so why risk it?

“I think that it is a challenge on pit road to not leave anything on the table,” McDowell says. “That is what everybody is doing. You’re pushing as hard as you can to not lose half a second on pit road. The reason I’ve had more penalties than most is I push it really hard. I try to get as much as I can, and sometimes you overstep it.”

The reverberations of even one pit road speeding penalty can be felt months later. Kyle Larson knows.

He was leading at Atlanta in February when he was caught speeding two-thirds of the way through the race. He never recovered and finished 12th.

Say he hadn’t had that penalty and gone to win, he would have collected five playoff points. He enters Sunday’s race at ISM Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) 23 points out of the final transfer spot. As Logano noted earlier in the playoffs, every point matters.

And every moment on pit road matters.

“If you lose focus for a second trying to launch out of your stall or you don’t get slowed down enough coming in, it’s very easy to step over and be a thousandth of a mile an hour over the speed limit or a hundredth and get popped for speeding,” says Larson, who has had only one other speeding penalty this year. “I try not to push it. I’d say I’m on the slower end.”

That Harvick, Logano and Buescher have gone all season without a speeding penalty is remarkable considering all that takes place on pit road.

Drivers watch their dashes, making sure they don’t go over the speed limit as cars pull in or pull out of pit stalls around them. Add to it that the easiest place to pass cars often can be pit road, and the pressure to not lose any time increases.

“As you look at it, I feel like it is one of the reasons our team is still in it,” Harvick says of not having a pit road speeding penalty this year. “I don’t feel like we have had that knockout speed that the (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars have had on a week-to-week basis. We have had it a few times and been able to capitalize on that, but I feel like we have done a good job minimizing the mistakes.

“Hopefully, you don’t jinx us.”

Logano credits his team for keeping him from speeding on pit road.

“When you look at pit road and drivers that get penalties more often than others, it’s not just the driver in this case,” he says. “In some cases, it is. In other cases, if the team doesn’t calculate the lights the right way, you’re going to get a pit road speeding penalty.

“As long as you’re in tune with what your team is doing, and they’re in tune with how you’re going to run down pit road, you can maximize it and not go over. You got to be cautious, but you got to push it.”

Sunday night, after Harvick had crossed the finish line first, celebrated in victory lane and came to the media center, he found the person who had asked him earlier that weekend about not having a pit road speeding penalty.

“Yes … we made it through the whole night without having a speeding penalty, so I don’t have to find you this next week to … we didn’t have a speeding penalty,” Harvick said with a smile, “so you’re off the hook.”

Of course, two races remain. Two more chances to make a mistake, and if it happens in Miami, it could cost a driver the championship.

 

Here is a list of the playoff drivers and their last speeding penalty:

Driver

Date

Track

Joey Logano

2/18/18

Daytona

Kevin Harvick

10/21/18

Kansas

Chase Elliott

5/26/19

Charlotte

Kyle Larson

8/11/19

Michigan

Kyle Busch

10/6/19

Dover

Denny Hamlin

10/13/19

Talladega

Martin Truex Jr.

10/13/19

Talladega

Ryan Blaney

10/13/19

Talladega

Racing Insights 

 

Drivers with the most pit road speeding penalties this season:

9 – Corey LaJoie

8 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

8 – Bubba Wallace

7 – Ty Dillon

7 – Michael McDowell

7 – Reed Sorenson

6 – Kyle Busch

6 – David Ragan

6 – Matt Tifft

5 – Aric Almirola

5 – William Byron

5 – B.J. McLeod

5 – Daniel Suarez

4 – Austin Dillon

4 – Denny Hamlin

4 – Daniel Hemric

4 – Martin Truex Jr.

4 – JJ Yeley

3 – Ryan Blaney

3 – Clint Bowyer

3 – Ryan Newman

Racing Insights 

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