The White Zone: Inconsistent officiating dragged down a good Charlotte race

by Tucker White On Mon, Oct. 09, 2017

Kyle Busch brings his damaged No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota into his pit stall after suffering a right-front tire failure, on his way to a 29th-place finish in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Photo: Ted Seminara/SpeedwayMedia.com

After a lackluster start to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway finally delivered a serviceable race. Unfortunately, any chance it had of being a great race was ruined by inconsistent NASCAR officiating.

Running second on Lap 137, Kyle Busch brought out the caution when he made slight contact with the wall in Turn 3. I wouldn’t even classify his incident as a “spin,” but rather a “skid” into the wall. Regardless, NASCAR deemed it necessary to throw the yellow flag.

Now here’s where the inconsistencies commence.

The night prior in the XFINITY Series race, Michael Annett spun out in front of a whole mess of cars. In any other scenario, this would bring out a caution. But it didn’t in this one.

It’d be one thing if Annett spun out behind the field, but — as I stated a few seconds ago — he was in front of a number of oncoming cars. Yes he made it onto pit road with no problems, but he was in a lot more danger with his spin that Busch was with his skid.

While we’re on the Annett spin, let’s jump to a very similar spin late in the Cup race.

With 54 laps remaining, Busch got loose and spun out in Turn 1. While he wasn’t as close to the oncoming cars as Annett was, they threw the caution out for Busch’s spin.

Now I’m not saying that NASCAR wasn’t right for throwing a caution in this scenario, but I fail to see how this spin was more deserving of a caution than Annett’s spin.

It’s also worth noting that not long after Busch’s first spin, Trevor Bayne got loose and hit the wall in Turn 3 in a similar manner as him. Yet no caution was thrown for that.

Yes, officiating a NASCAR race is hard. They’re not monitoring football players who carry a ball up the gut or catch it on a flag route, going roughly 15 to 20 mph in short bursts of seconds. They’re keeping tabs of purpose-built racing automobiles going at roughly 190-200 mph. In football, an official has more time to consider if an action a player committed was a penalty. But in racing, when a car spins, you have a second or two at most to decide if the race needs brought under caution flag condition.

NASCAR won’t always make the correct call. I’ve known that for a long time, and I accept that. All I ask is that the foundation upon which the reasoning NASCAR uses to make their calls, when it comes to determining if a caution is needed, is logical.

In other words, just be certain your reason for throwing/not throwing a caution makes sense.

That’s more than I can say for NASCAR’s reasoning in regards to not holding Jimmie Johnson a lap.

During the caution brought out by Busch’s second spin with 54 to go, Johnson reversed into into his stall so his front tire changer could properly install a loose lug nut.

The NASCAR rulebook on a car pitting outside its outbox reads as follows: “A vehicle may receive service only when they are in their assigned pit box and/or the garage area or at NASCAR’s discretion. Should a vehicle pit outside of its assigned pit box and begin to remove a wheel/tire(s), crew members must re-install those same wheel/tire(s) and re-position the vehicle back within their pit box to avoid a penalty.”

The punishment for pitting outside your “assigned pit box” is a one-lap penalty.

As you see in the embedded tweet from Nick Bromberg of Yahoo! Sports, Johnson’s team clearly serviced the left-front tire while it was outside their stall. According to NASCAR’s clearly defined rules, Johnson should’ve been held a lap.

But instead, NASCAR did nothing. Why? Because Johnson was told at New Hampshire Motor Speedway two weeks ago by NASCAR that a scenario like his wouldn’t be a penalty.

“At (New Hampshire) a couple of weeks ago, we had a similar thing happen, and NASCAR informed us that we didn’t need to back up into our pit box to complete the stop, so that’s why (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) stopped me where he did,” Johnson said to NBC. “They informed us that doesn’t count as equipment outside of the box (which is a penalty). So I was going off Chad’s cue, stopped, put the lug nut on, and off we went.”

There’s a page missing from this script. NASCAR forgot the part where, after they inform Johnson of the nuance to the rule, they tell the rest of us! Yet listening to NASCAR Senior Vice-President of Compeition Scott Miller on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive this morning, you’d think NASCAR lacked self-awareness when it came to transparancy.

“It’s funny that this has come up now because it’s high-profile now that the playoffs, we’ve been calling that particular thing consistently over the past couple of years with the lug nut,’’ Miller said. “The way we look at that one is they did their normal pit stop in the pit box. He left. They realized they had a lug nut and at that point to us it becomes a safety issue and allowing them to put the lug nut on. The penalty becomes they lost probably 10 or 12 spots during that pit stop. That’s a penalty.

“We let them do that because we want to make sure that it’s a safe situation out there on the race track. That’s the way we’ve been calling it. We like to give the teams the benefit of the doubt if we can, especially when it comes to something that might create an unsafe situation. That’s the basis for that call. It’s interesting that it’s so high on everybody’s list today when we’ve been calling it for a couple of years now.’’

The reason this is “so high on everybody’s list,” Miller, is because NASCAR’s “basis for that call” isn’t written in their own rulebook. It’s just another infuritating example of inconsistent officiating from NASCAR.

As I stated before, NASCAR won’t always get it right. I understand that. But there’s an astronomical difference between throwing/not throwing a caution when not throwing/throwing was the better option, and outright ignoring the codified rules in the sport’s own rulebook.

Bromberg sums it up best when he says if teams can just “do what Johnson did on Sunday, then NASCAR needs to take the time and update its rulebook. There is no entry in the ‘vehicle positioning within pit box’ section that says teams may tighten lug nuts while a car is outside of the pit box.”

I know, ultimately, NASCAR is the keeper of the playground and they have every right to enforce, or not enforce, their own rules. But if they’re not going to codify these exceptions and/or enforce the rules to the letter, why do they even bother maintaining a rulebook?

NASCAR, either write this exception into the rulebook or enforce the rule as is currently written. These inconsistencies are getting old.

Bottom line: NASCAR, going forward, be certain your reason for throwing/not throwing the caution makes sense and codify the exceptions to the pitting in the box rule, or enforce the rule as is written. These inconsistencies from the officiating side prevented a good race from being a decent one.

That’s my view for what it’s worth.

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