Saturday night’s race at Bristol proved that this sport isn’t just about going fast and turning left. There is a strategy to every win. For Brad Keselowski, who picked up his third win this season, part of the strategy to winning at Bristol came on pit road.
Bristol is unique in that it has pit roads along each straightaway, which doesn’t align well with NASCAR’s 30-mph pit road “speed limit.” Technically it is not a “speed limit” but rather a “timing limit” -- go too fast between the timing lines and you are “speeding.” NASCAR times cars on pit road with electronic loops in the track’s surface and computers monitor when cars have moved too fast between the loops.
Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and others seemed to benefit from the location of their pit stalls, which gave them an opportunity to travel at speeds over 30 mph on certain sections of pit road. During the last round of pit stops, Keselowski passed Jeff Gordon -- who had a one-second lead prior to the caution.
“I don't know if there’s a little bit more of an advantage on the front straightaway than there is on the back straightaway, but to me the whole purpose of having timing lines and pit road speed is to make it as equal and fair for everybody as you possibly can,” Gordon said. “And they’ve got some work to do at this pit road. The race track is awesome, but the pit road is terrible.”
NASCAR announced after the race that the situation would be addressed and additional scoring loops would more than likely be added on each side of pit road.
Drivers have always found ways to get around the rules. Smokey Yunick, owner of Daytona’s Best Damn Garage in Town, is probably most well-known for bending the rules. He always had a trick up his sleeve. In 1968, Yunick installed an 11-foot long fuel line on his car. The rules only stated how big the fuel cell could be; not the fuel line.
Back when NASCAR only weighed cars before the race, Darrell Waltrip’s team was accused of filling the car’s frame rails with buckshot to pass inspection. When on the track, Waltrip supposedly would release the BBs from a trap inside the frame rail. That’s the word, though Waltrip has never admitted it.
In 2005, NASCAR discovered Chad Knaus’ cautiously-engineered shock absorbers, which added 200 pounds of downforce to the car by increasing the height of the right rear. The No. 48 and No. 5 teams’ cars were initially too high during inspection, but settled back into the required specifications after the shocks bled air. Neither team was penalized because technically the cars passed inspection. But because the shock absorbers were used for something other than controlling the frequency of the spring, NASCAR banned the shock absorbers.
Now THAT is strategy. I don’t blame these guys who work hard at finding an advantage for some speed. It’s part of the competition.
At the same time, I give props to NASCAR for looking into the situation in order to keep the competition even and keep safety a top priority on pit road. NASCAR implemented the pit road speed after a crewman was fatally injured in the 1990 Atlanta Journal 500. Mike Rich, a right rear tire changer for Bill Elliott, was caught up in an accident after Ricky Rudd entered his pit too fast, locked his brakes and slammed into the back of Elliott’s car.
Since then we have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of injuries on pit road. Regardless of whether it was right or wrong for Keselowski and others to get away with speeding on pit road Saturday night, give NASCAR credit for admitting the teams were working a loophole and pledging to fix the problem.
In the meantime, teams and officials will continue to work hard to outfox each other. Sometimes it works…other times you get caught.
All the time it’s interesting.