07/27/09 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. 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. [Editor's Note: Just like NASCAR's timing and scoring that results in convenient things happening in qualifying, the NASCAR pit road speed system is controlled by NASCAR computers and only NASCAR has control of what they might be spitting out.]
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."
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." Fox Sports