NASCAR apologizes to No. 48 team for errant penalty
By Kelly Crandall | RACER.com NASCAR correspondent
NASCAR has apologized to the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 team for sending Jimmie Johnson to the rear for the start of the race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Johnson’s car failed pre-race inspection twice Sunday morning, and NASCAR announced he was going to start the AAA Texas 500 from the back instead of his 23rd qualifying position. However, Johnson should not have been sent to the rear because there is no penalty for a car failing inspection twice.
If a car fails pre-race inspection three times, then the driver will be sent to the rear. That was seen with one of Johnson’s teammates, William Byron, and the No. 24 team.
NASCAR recognized the mistake after the race had started. Going to the rear for failing pre-race inspection three times is understood in the garage. However, there are no written rules in the NASCAR rulebook about how many failures send a driver to the rear of the field.
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“First, you talk to the team, and you apologize to the 48 for what happened,” Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president, and chief racing development officer. “It’s unacceptable on our part; a communication breakdown that happened right before the start of the race between our inspection area on the ground and race control, where I think there was an assumption there was a third failure. There wasn’t.
“There was only two, in that case, the 48 shouldn’t have started in the back. At this point, what we can do is put processes in place to fix that so it never happens again. It’s disappointing. It’s not something you can fix during the race, unfortunately, so all we can do is own up to it and fix it.”
Cars that fail three times are called out over the NASCAR radio, such as Byron’s. Johnson’s car was not called over the radio, but officials logged the incorrect information in the garage, which then led to the mistake.
Jimmie Johnson (Image by Matt Thacker/NKP/LAT)
“There is no format for the teams to communicate to the tower, so, whatever the tower says is the way it is,” said Johnson. “This is just one of a few calls that have been wrong due to that situation. I don’t know how they do it. Here we have a minute and a half under caution, but at Bristol, you’ve got 30 seconds. I don’t think it’s a perfect environment for them to get it right all the time. Stuff happens.”
NBCSports.com reported that crew chief Chad Knaus and other Hendrick officials met with NASCAR about the situation after the race.
“It’s unfortunate,” Knaus said. “It put us in a bad situation, kind of put us behind the eight-ball and had to try to struggle back through.”
“As an industry, we need to try to figure out how to make that happen a little better,” Knaus said. “We’re doing so many things to eliminate the dangers of pit road with officials and limiting all of that and … being able to communicate with the tower is more difficult now than what it has ever been. They’re looking into a way to try to make it to where we can have a direct line of communication, whether that be electronically, whether it be messaging or an audio radio channel.”
Johnson had an up and down day. The seven-time Texas winner finished Stage 1 in the 19th position and then went for a slide early in Stage 2 in Turn 3 and was hit in the rear bumper by Byron. He finished the stage 24th.
In the third stage, Johnson led 11 laps when cycling to the top spot during green flag pit stops. After making his final pit stop, he faded back to 15th at the finish.
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ABOUT KELLY CRANDALL
Kelly has been on the NASCAR beat full-time since 2013, and joined RACER as chief NASCAR writer in 2017. Her work has also appeared in NASCAR.com, the NASCAR Illustrated magazine, and NBC Sports. A corporate communications graduate from Central Penn College, Crandall is a two-time George Cunningham Writer of the Year recipient from the National Motorsports Press Association.