Johnson, Truex penalties highlight inconsistency
NASCAR made the call to enforce a rarely enforced rule twice during the Can-Am 500 Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., on Sunday, so it’s not surprise that both Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson were surprised when they were each penalized for passing the pace car when entering and/or exiting pit road, even though NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell claimed on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday that drivers are warned of the rules violation regularly during weekly drivers’ meetings.
“We’ve reminded the drivers quite often that it was getting very close that you can’t pass the pace car as you pull off onto pit road,” O’Donnell said. “We’ve had that in every drivers’ meeting. Not a surprise to anyone. Jimmie has been racing with us for a long ntime and is aware of that rule.”
I don’t think Johnson’s surprise was a result of not knowing the rule existed. I think it was a matter of not expecting it to all-of-a-sudden be enforced.
“In the 15 years I’ve been here, that has never been officiated that way,” Johnson said. “The leader has always had the ability to pull up and maintain whatever gap they had to the cars behind them. They have never penalized the leader and make the leader stay alongside the pace car. On the majority of the tracks we compete at, you just naturally progress in front of the pace car. So, now to all of a sudden officiate this is mind-blowing to me. As long as they continue to do it from here on forward, I will bite my lip and won’t say another word, but it just seems a little odd to be quite honest with you.”
That would suggest that Johnson knew he was breaking a rule; he just didn’t expect to be penalized for it. After all, drivers usually aren’t. Wouldn’t most competitors in most sports at such a high level disregard a rule if they were pretty certain there’d be no penalty for it? I’m pretty sure at least most would. I’m not saying that’s right, but, honestly, that’s just the way it is.
I’m guessing Johnson didn’t know, at the time he made the aforementioned quote, that Truex was issued a similar penalty for a similar infraction earlier in the same race. According to O’Donnell, Truex was penalized for his violation of this rarely-enforced rule, because his move appeared blatant. And then, Johnson was penalized to be consistent after the Truex penalty.
That, on the surface, would leave the impression with me that NASCAR got fed up with ignored warning after ignored warning and finally decided to crack down and Truex and Johnson, unfortunately for them, were the two drivers NASCAR started with in beginning to enforce the rule.
But, hold up.
I didn’t really remember this, but according to O’Donnell, Kevin Harvick and Casey Mears were penalized for violations of the save rule at Dover (Del.) International Speedway back in May. So, is O’Donnell admitting inconsistency in enforcing this rule? Indirectly, I think so. That is, if Johnson is right and this rule is broken regularly. Johnson’s quote makes it seem like that this is a rule broken week-in and week-out. Yet, we go from May until November with no penalty for breaking it? Where’s the consistency?
No, I’m not one of those conspiracy theorists who thinks NASCAR plays favorites. I’m definitely not going there. That being said, though, there does seem to be a consistency issue in enforcing/not enforcing this rule. Either enforce it or drop it.
“We told the competitors it was something we continue to watch,” O’Donnell said. “Once the call (on Truex) was made, which in our mind was just blatant, very clear in terms of how far in front of the pace car (he was), we made ea point over the radio, again. We, obviously, penalized (Truex) and said, again, that is something we’re going to enforce. Right after that, (Johnson) was ahead of the pace car as well, and again, that was clear on video and so we made the call and wanted to be consistent in the race.”
What about consistency after calls against Harvick and Mears in May? I get the consistency within a race thing. If you call one driver for a violation in a particular race, other drivers should be called-out if in violation of the same rule within that particular race. But what about consistency from race to race? Where’s that consistency?