I just knew it was gonna be big.
As the first round of green-flag pit stops cycled through at the Pocono 400, NASCAR race director David Hoots barked out speeding penalties like an auctioneer. There were a few for entering too fast, but the majority were for exiting. In all, eight drivers were nabbed for the violation – only two of them recovered to finish in the top 10, and it may very well have cost Jimmie Johnson a race win.
At each week’s pre-race meeting, the drivers and crew chiefs are reminded that pit road speed is measured from yellow line to yellow line. Pit road maps, which illustrate the car numbers and pit stalls, also indicate where the scoring loops are located. They’re readily available to all the teams. There are no secrets. The Pocono map showed the timing lines 15 feet before the yellow line, both entering and exiting.
Most teams also choose to calculate their pit road speed on their own, based on the formula of gear ratio by tire diameter, and stick with a precise RPM reading during pit stops — never even checking it based on the pace car’s speed. In essence, pit road speed is calculated days before the car ever leaves the shop. Plus, a light on the dashboard will serve as a warning when the margin gets slim. And while the pit road speed may be 55 miles per hour, there is still a 5 mph tolerance. Sixty miles per hour is perfectly legal – 60.1 is not.
Before the advent of electronic scoring loops, NASCAR had a designated person in the tower manually checking random cars with a stopwatch — lots of room for subjectivity or human error. We’ve certainly evolved into a more scientific world.
So what was the problem at Pocono?
Each team has the opportunity to physically measure the distance of the final timing line to the final yellow line. Many did not. Additionally, the final segment was significantly shorter than the preceding ones and, as such, was less forgiving. Guesswork and assumption have no place in winning races and can easily ruin your day. The only saving grace for some teams was the fact a 2.5-mile track affords teams a chance to recover from serving a pass-through penalty. Speeding at Martinsville, Bristol or Richmond would have been a game-changer.
The other factor that comes into play is the total length of pit road. Pocono and Indy are two of the longest on the circuit. To drivers, it seems never-ending and could trigger the thought of gaining a millisecond of track position. Everyone looks for an advantage.
I’ve always said that speeding on pit road is the most lethal penalty in NASCAR. It’s risk vs. reward; and breaking that rule, particularly when you’ve got a car capable of winning the race, can cost you positions, points and, quite possibly, a championship.
Mike Calinoff is the Spotter for NASCAR champions Matt Kenseth (NSCS) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NNS), and driver Nelson Piquet Jr. (NCWTS). A 20-year veteran of the sport, Calinoff also owns @140BUZZ, a social media and branding company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at Twitter.com/MikeCalinoff. The opinions reflected herein are solely those of Mike Calinoff and do not necessarily reflect those of SPEED.com, Roush Fenway Racing, Ford or relative race team sponsors.