NASCAR

The Hot Pass: Montoya case should force changes

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Lee Spencer

Lee Spencer is the Senior NASCAR Writer for FOXSports.com. She has provided award-winning coverage of auto racing over the last 15 years. Spencer has lent her expertise to both television and radio and is a regular contributor to SiriusXM Radio and the Performance Racing Network. Follow her on Twitter.

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SPEEDWAY, Ind.

Until NASCAR finds a way to display pit-road times and speeds to the fans in the stands and the media, someone will always question the sanctioning body's credibility and objectivity.
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Case in point, Sunday's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. On Lap 125 of 160 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, NASCAR charged Juan Pablo Montoya with a penalty for "excessive speed entering the pits." Montoya had led 116 laps and had built more than a four-second lead before he pitted. Montoya's question to NASCAR on the radio? "Why would I speed if I had a five-second lead?" Why indeed? According to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby, Montoya exceeded the 55-mph speed limit by running 60.06 mph through the second speeding zone and 60.11mph through zone four. There are nine scoring loops with eight zones at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but the zones vary from track to track. NASCAR provides drivers with a 4.99-mph buffer, but officials claim that Montoya was still in violation. Darby held the proof in his hands — printouts that displayed Montoya's times through the speeding zones. So it must be true. Obviously not to Montoya, who said he was very conscientious of his speed on pit road. "I thought I was on the speed," Montoya said. "We got lights (on the dashboard to warn the driver of his speed). I was on the lights every time. I was where I was on the previous one and they say I was speeding. "We had a deal like that before and once it happens, you can't change it so it is pretty frustrating."

Unhappy camper

ALTTEXT A furious Juan Pablo Montoya thanked NASCAR for "screwing" his day. Read what else he said here.
NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton stands by NASCAR's timing and scoring process and he sees no reason why the system should be made public. "It's clocked by computer and it's timing over distance," Pemberton said. "For every so many feet it's calculated so many seconds or so many tenths of a second, and that's how you get your speed. There's many zones on pit road. Sometimes six, seven or eight zones depending on the size of pit road and it's all done by computer. "We officiate the race, not the fans. We're happy to share violations with them but right now, this is how we officiate the race. And we share it with the teams if they ask. We radioed to the team right after that happened — we always do. (Darby) talks to the official in the pit box so they know immediately what happened — what infraction and where it took place. But (the 42 team) hasn't come by yet." NASCAR's timing system has been in place for the last five or six years, according to Pemberton. Darby added the transponders were installed at the tracks because race teams questioned the stopwatch method because "it wasn't accurate enough, it wasn't thorough enough, it wasn't every car, every box." Pemberton added the system has never been proved wrong "because there's nothing to prove wrong. It's about as simple math as you can use." As disappointed as Montoya's crew chief Brian Pattie was after watching his first Brickyard victory slip from his grasp, he maintained his composure on the radio and after the race. After all, Pattie has been around the NASCAR scene far longer than Montoya and he knows it's their show. As calculatingly as the No. 42 team has points-raced this season, there is too much at stake with Montoya currently 10th in the standings with six races remaining before the Chase for the Sprint Cup to start a war of words with the governing body.
"It's electronic," Pattie said. "It's not like there is a lot to discuss. It's not like the old days where everybody is doing handheld (stopwatches). It's black and white. It is what it is. They did their job. Now we go back and do ours. "The car ran flawless all weekend. Everybody did their job. I couldn't be prouder of this race team, we'll pick it up and go to Pocono." Winning Allstate 400 crew chief Chad Knaus referred to speed limits on pit road as "kind of a guessing game." "I'm hoping that at some point we'll be able to see the pit-road speeds published because that will allow us to work within limits that we're comfortable with (and) adjust our times accordingly throughout the events," Knaus said. "From a competitor's standpoint, if you don't know your limits, it's difficult to know what it is. You're always going to try to get to the top side of that limit." Of the six speeding penalties issued on Sunday, Montoya and Robby Gordon were the only drivers on the lead lap who were issued a penalty. Montoya also experienced another questionable situation with timing and scoring at Phoenix in April when he was running the same pace as Brian Vickers, but the No. 42 was penalized and the No. 83 was not. That issue was never resolved with anything more than an apology. However, Montoya didn't have the dominant car at Phoenix. On Sunday, he did but was forced to settle for an 11th-place finish as he could gain only one spot after his speeding penalty. Sunday, Montoya was vocal but accurate on the radio. Yes, he "was robbed." Yes, he "was screwed," And yes Juan Pablo, "(NASCAR) overdid themselves this week."

Biggest loser

Many pundits predicted Kyle Busch would drop from the Chase Zone. Little did they know it would happen so soon. A right front tire blew out on the No. 18 Toyota on Lap 58, sending Busch into the Turn 4 wall and eventually to the garage for repairs. Busch blamed the situation on an ill-handling car. "I think it's pretty self-explanatory that we're trying to fight for a spot in the Chase and this is obviously frustrating because I don't know if it was our car, the tire or what," Busch said. "The guys on pit road were going to save this day because you can't pass out there. I showed that — I can't even pass a lapped car. Something with our cars maybe." Busch returned to the race on Lap 107, but had to settle for a 38th-place finish which cost him four positions in the standings, from 10th to 14th.

Say what?

It's often said that no one remembers who finished second. That's not the case for NASCAR executive and former racer driver Brett Bodine, who was runner-up to Jeff Gordon in the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994. "How my life could have changed if I had won that race," Bodine said. "I think things could have been a lot different for me. I was a lame-duck driver looking for a ride at the time. Jeff was already well on his way. I really think winning that race would have changed my life."

Watercooler talk

  • Brian Vickers scored his first top-five finish since May at Indianapolis and his third top 10 in as many weeks. Could holding an unsigned contract over his head be a catalyst for improved performance?
  • Although Bill Elliott qualified fourth, no one expected the 53-year-old driver to maintain that pace. Not because of his age, but because of the part-time pit crew assembled for the No. 21 team. After two solid pit stops, the team reverted to its old ways.
  • Regan Smith maintained his flawless record of 52 career starts without a DNF — but just barely. Smith had an ill-handling car that forced him to the garage for suspension changes. Despite completing just 108 of 160 laps and being scored 39th, Smith was still running at the finish.
  • Tagged: Juan Pablo Montoya, Robby Gordon, Brian Vickers

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