Chasing runaway tires not a good idea

March, 9, 2009
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Few outside of close family members and friends knew who Jimmy Watts was on Sunday.

Until he chased a tire into the infield grass at Atlanta Motor Speedway, that is.

Outside of the crew that set up Kurt Busch's winning car, nobody had a bigger impact on the race than Watts, a crew member for Marcos Ambrose's No. 47. His decision to go after the runaway tire with cars circling the 1.54-mile track at close to 200 mph forced NASCAR to throw a caution on Lap 67 in the middle of green-flag pit stops.

The dunderhead move put almost half the field, including several drivers who had cars capable of winning, one or two laps down. At one point after the incident there were only nine cars on the lead lap.

"Maybe he's new," said reigning Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth, who rallied from a lap down to finish 12th. "Maybe he hasn't seen us drive, but we tend to wreck a lot. I wouldn't want to be out in the middle of the grass."

Leave it to NASCAR's driest wit to give us comic relief. The moment was so bizarre that I nearly fell out of my hammock listening to the PRN broadcast from my backyard, which for the record also was in the grass but out of harm's way.

But this was a serious issue and NASCAR made the right move throwing the yellow flag. Watts would have been directly in harm's way had one of the cars barreling off of Turn 4 lost control.

A tragic accident is the last thing NASCAR needs during these tough economic times.

The governing body also did the right thing by suspending Watts for the rest of the afternoon. Further penalties could come later in the week, according to officials.

Fortunately, nobody was hurt. Unfortunately, the incident may have spoiled a better finish than the one we got. Casey Mears, who went two laps down, felt he might have been a factor.

"We had a top-five car," he said.

He finished 16th.

Besides having the fastest car all day, Busch was one of the lucky ones. He hadn't pitted and came out of this mess with only a handful of cars to beat.

Busch's crew chief, Pat Tryson, watched the incident closely. Had it been one of his guys, he said, "I'd have had to come off the top of the box. We know better than that. I'm sure that person is going to learn."

On Sunday, we all learned who Jimmy Watts is.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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