Yet there he was, just a half-second back of race-winner Busch over the final five laps of the race. While Harvick called his team’s performance on pit road “pathetic” thanks to NASCAR’s mandated pit guns, it’s also a word that could be used to describe NASCAR’s lack of a penalty on Harvick’s final green-flag pit stop of the race.
Harvick pitted with 43 laps to go, an important pit stop under normal circumstances. But this wasn’t a normal Sunday for Harvick’s pit crew. They had an issue with the NASCAR-issued air guns, a jack problem and got penalized for too many men over the wall when a crew member fell over the pit wall trying to catch an errant tire. Harvick needed a flawless stop if he was going to have a chance to catch Busch.
The stop was quick. But not flawless. Harvick’s team let a right-side tire drift away from his car. Take a look.
According to NASCAR’s rule book, three conditions have to be met for a tire to be “controlled.” If any of those three conditions are not met, the tire is considered to be uncontrolled.
The first condition states “a crew member must remain within arm’s reach and moving in the same direction as the tire/wheel when removing the tire/wheel fro the outside half of the pit box.” Is that tire sitting outside Harvick’s pit box within arm’s reach of a crew member? To the best of our knowledge, Inspector Gadget is not listed on Harvick’s pit crew roster.
Yet Harvick wasn’t penalized, much to the delight of his team, who fist-bumped and back-slapped the NASCAR official in the pits after (apparently) finding out the news of the non-penalty.
Had Harvick been penalized, he would have been forced to serve a pit-road penalty under green and likely lost a lap. NASCAR admitted Sunday evening that it should have penalized Harvick. Yet it somehow didn’t.
The absence of the penalty is striking by itself, even if it’s a mistake. And it’s especially confounding when contrasted with Ryan Blaney’s uncontrolled tire penalty early in the race. Here’s the pit stop where Blaney was penalized for seemingly the same violation Harvick should have been docked for. While it’s officially unclear as to which tire NASCAR penalized Blaney’s team for, we think it’s for the right-front tire and not the right-rear tire.
How is the distance between the front tire changer and the right-front tire any greater than the distance between Harvick’s right-rear tire and the closest crew member? And if NASCAR is really concerned about the safety of its crew members, Harvick’s pit stop is the more dangerous of the two because the tire drifted into the direction of an oncoming car.
As the NASCAR on Fox broadcast noted, the definition of what is and isn’t a controlled tire is very much similar to a balls and strikes call in baseball. But while balls and strikes can sometimes be subjective, you still notice when the zone changes from the first inning to the ninth. What’s a penalty early in the race should be a penalty late in the race.
Give credit to NASCAR for admitting it screwed up. But it’s still a screwup that shouldn’t have happened.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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