Over the past two weeks, NASCAR’s Damaged Vehicle Policy has been critiqued by competitors, the media, and fans alike. However, there’s more good than wrong, and it’s certainly something the sanctioning body should not change.
In February, the policy was revealed by officials to be put in effect for all three of NASCAR’s three premier series – Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR XFINITY Series, and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Teams are not allowed to replace body panels and would be only given five minutes from the time they enter pit road to fix the racecar. If you try to speed on pit road to give their teams a better chance, they will be assessed a 15-second penalty to their allotted five minutes. Lastly, no more than six men are allowed to touch the car at once. If repairs cannot be repaired within those guidelines, they were sent to the garage with their race over.
NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition stated at the time the rules were put in place as damaged cars result in debris cautions. The move also came to stop drivers from going back and crashing their competitor in revenge, like Matt Kenseth with Joey Logano at Martinsville Speedway. It also helped in the eyes of competition, too, as competitors won’t be forced to maneuver around slower vehicles.
Through the season, the policy has worked smoothly without complaints from drivers or teams – until the past two weeks.
At Talladega after being involved in a wreck with 16 laps to go, Jimmie Johnson was sent to the garage due to the team working on the car under the red flag. Policy or before it was implemented, you were not allowed to work when the event was stopped, but allowed to start once lifted – which teams try to time precisely.
Initially, the seven-time champion was left confused, stating his spotter Earl Barber gave them cue to begin working due to the flag being lifted. However, it was explained afterward by NASCAR that the team heard the command wrong.
“What happens is, David Hoots, our race director, will say — as he did yesterday — the cars on the backstretch can fire their engines,” an official told Sirius XM Radio. “We’re still under red. What happened yesterday, we talked to Jimmie, Chad (Knaus) and Mr. (car owner Rick) Hendrick and they understood. So what happened is, David said fire engines and the team assumed they could go back to work. Our officials were on pit road saying you can’t do that. So because they worked under red, that put them out of the event.”
Then on Sunday at Kansas Speedway, Johnson found himself stuck on the five-minute clock longer than he probably anticipated. Battling a loose car, he spun the No. 48 Chevrolet off of turn four through the grass on Lap 189. With only minor hood damage, the Hendrick Motorsports team made repairs under caution within the allotted time.
Johnson would go back on track, spinning for a second time the first lap after the restart. Per the NASCAR rulebook, you must complete a full lap under green and be up to full speed to be taken off the five-minute clock. Therefore, Johnson only had what time he hadn’t used up before. Fortunately, he avoided damage and was able to change tires and make an adjustment within the same allotted time.
He would get stuck on the clock a little longer due to wreck happening on the next restart on Lap 199, but he avoided the incident. Once the event went back to green on Lap 205 with at least one lap being completed, he was taken off the clock.
The decision to keep a driver on the clock through a series of events like those may seem puzzling but makes sense. They’re stopping a driver from going out, realizing they can’t make minimum speed and purposely spinning to bring forth another caution and more time to work on their car. Johnson’s second incident wasn’t intentional as he got out of the groove and got loose, but what if he would’ve realized something was broken and had been buying time?
Although the clock was discussed surrounding Johnson, the policy took center stage when it came to Matt Kenseth. He was one of the drivers caught up in a wreck at Lap 199 after Erik Jones got loose off of turn two, crashed into the wall, taking several competitors out with him.
The Joe Gibbs Racing competitor came down pit road, stopping in his box for repairs. Everything was legal until a seventh crew member stepped over the wall, and began helping another with the left front. The move was deemed illegal – per the policy of only having six crew members at a time working on the car, and Kenseth was sent to the garage, eliminating him from the playoffs.
The call from the tower resulted in discussion across social media during the race, with a photo pulled from earlier in the event of Jimmie Johnson having seven crew members over the wall while he was on the clock. Kenseth’s son Ross shared the image on Twitter, tagging NASCAR on NBC broadcaster Jeff Burton.
If you read the initial rules announced by the series, Johnson would be deemed illegal – except he was not. The rulebook includes a stipulation regarding a seventh man.
Each pit crew is made up of six people – front tire changer, front tire carrier, Jackman, rear tire changer, rear tire changer, and the fuel man.
Though during events, NASCAR can allow teams to have a seventh man over the wall – as long as he is just servicing the driver. Those duties can include pulling the windshield tear off or handing the driver a drink or food, but in no way can they do anything else to the car. The stipulation in the damage policy follows merely the standard protocol.
NBC did a great job amongst the controversy, with Burton breaking down Johnson’s time spent on pit road.
Whether something, like cleaning a windshield or not, should be classed under servicing the driver or not is up for discussion – really, they’re making sure they can see clearly for safety purposes. However, based on the rules, it is all fair and legal.
When the damage policy was initially unveiled, some fans grumbled about long gone are the days of watching teams scramble to put a car back together, or seeing someone come back from nine pit stops to fix the damage and win a race (Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Talladega in 2013).
However, despite these minor frustrations which were quickly cleared up, the safety reasons outweigh the cons and is a rule change that NASCAR should stick in stone forever.
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