FORT WORTH, Texas -- A NASCAR official mistakenly wrote down that Jimmie Johnson failed prerace technical inspection three times, leading NASCAR to penalize him prior to Sunday's race in an error a series executive termed "unacceptable."
NASCAR sent Johnson to the rear of the field for failing three times, but Johnson's car failed only twice prior to the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
There was no way to correct the error once the race started.
"Apologize to the 48 [team of Johnson] for what happened," NASCAR executive vice president Steve O'Donnell said. "It was unacceptable on our part. It was a communication breakdown that happened right before the start of the race between our inspection area on the ground and race control where there was an assumption of a third failure. There wasn't."
Johnson crew chief Chad Knaus said he didn't find out about the penalty until just before the pace laps started, at least 15 minutes after it was reported in the media that NASCAR was sending him to the rear at the start of the race.
By then, Knaus didn't have time to argue. He said that with limited officials on pit road, he couldn't get information to the scoring tower quickly, and discussion will continue about a way for crew chiefs to communicate directly with the tower.
"NASCAR sees the error and the mistake they made, and they're going to work to make sure it doesn't happen again," Knaus said. "It's unfortunate. It put us in a bad situation."
Johnson qualified 23rd. He did not have a good day and finished 15th.
"It's definitely frustrating," Johnson said. "The process for teams to dispute any violation on pit lane when it gets directed to us by [officials in] the tower -- there isn't a process.
"Eighty percent, 90 percent of the time, there doesn't need to be. NASCAR is right. There are these unique circumstances where we need a better process. ... I am sure NASCAR feels bad. They don't like to do these things."
NASCAR said it would work on a better way for teams to challenge decisions.
"It's not something you can fix during the race, unfortunately," O'Donnell said. "So all we can do is own up to it and fix it."
While there is nothing in the rulebook that outlines the penalties for failing prerace technical inspection, teams have been notified that they don't lose their starting spots until three failures on a race that isn't an impound. A second failure is supposed to be a 15-minute practice penalty the following week.
When the race is an impound and cars don't go through tech prior to qualifying, failing once after qualifying and prior to the race means losing a starting position.
It can be confusing for fans, depending on the weekend.
"It's the only series in the world where you get to go through tech three times and fail twice, and they still let you go through a third time," Stewart-Haas Racing team owner Tony Stewart said. "We've got to figure it out. We've got to make it simpler than this. It shouldn't be this difficult.
"Half the time, you don't know what the penalty is supposed to be. I'm a car owner, and I don't know what the penalty is supposed to be, so I don't know how fans can keep up with it. If you start rolling cars through one time, and they don't pass, and they go to the back, there would be a lot less cars fail tech the next week."