Ray Dunlap
Formula One
 Thursday, March 30
I'm 'tired' of all the loose rubber in the pits
By Ray Dunlap
Special to ESPN.com

 There are so many variables that go into executing a good performance for a race team. Hiring personnel is a huge factor, building state-of-the-art chassis and perfecting driver-crew communication is crucial. There is, however one variable that often hinders any team's shot at victory that could easily be eliminated.

That variable is damage caused by contact with tires sitting on pit road.

There has been a rash of incidents this season when errant tires collide with race cars and do enough damage to thwart off any chance at reaching Victory Lane. If you have watched any Winston Cup events on TV this season you have seen it happen.

Jeff Gordon
A member of Ricky Rudd's crew corrals a loose tire on pit road behind Jeff Gordon's car during the Daytona 500.

Mike Lingerfelt has had an opportunity to watch a lot of racing on the tube since Daytona. The front tire changer for Tony Stewart's No. 20 car broke his leg while trying to move a tire that was left in the way by his teammates at the 18 car. Jeff Gordon had a dominate car at Bristol last weekend only to see his possibility at a win ruined after bumping into Steve Park's right rear tire sitting outside the No. 1 team's pit box.

It has continued to happen over and over again, and it is time for a remedy to this problem.

I asked Winston Cup Series director Gary Nelson, while at Rockingham, if he'd considered a rule change that would require teams to bring the right side tires back to the wall, or give them a penalty for not doing so? His answer was that it had been talked about, but as always, NASCAR wants to be sure that if any new rule is implemented, it can be enforced properly.

"Was the car moving before the tire was picked up? Was the tire picked up? Was the tire rolled?" Nelson hypothetically asked. "Now if we step in with a rule, it's going to be a tough situation for everybody when you try to determine when the car moved or when that tire was picked up. Or was it over the wall before the car left.

"There are a lot of things to consider. So we're going to be very careful that if we do feel that we need to implement a rule that we can enforce it fairly -- from one end of pit road to the other -- for every pit stop, for every car, for every tire change, which is a big job."

I have always supported NASCAR's cautious approach to rules amendments. A great number of people are affected each time a rules edict is issued. For the safety of crew members and in the interest of not damaging any more cars, I hope Gary and Mike Helton will consider adding my new rule to the big book:

The car number to which it belongs must identify all wheels. During a pit stop no team shall allow any unattended wheel or tire to be placed, sat or rolled into the Red Zone. The Red Zone is an area outside a line running parallel to pit wall one half the distance of the width of the pit box.

So the pit box is now made up of two rectangles. One area is the rectangle from pit wall to the center line of the box. This is free space for the team. Tires could land there and not have to be completely lifted back over the wall. If you leave a wheel in the Red Zone (the outer rectangle from the center line of the box toward pit road, or actually on pit road) you will get a penalty.

Now we have to decide what the penalty would be.

It is important to be sure the penalty eliminates the problem, so I suggest the first infraction be dealt with by a stop and go. The advancements the team made on that pit stop would be nullified, helping them realize the importance of our new rule. In the event that a previously penalized team violated the rule again in the same race, a loss of one lap on the scoring system would be instituted.

Three strikes and your out. That's right, a third violation constitutes pulling your score card and waving the black flag with a white X on it. Thanks for coming out, but you can not seem to play by the rules.

Teams leave the right side tires out for a number of reasons. Some do it intentionally to make the car behind them take evasive action, which can cost them time. Some feel that if the tire carrier does not attend to the rights they might gain some time in placement of the left sides. No matter what the thought process, the problem still exists.

All of NASCAR's series directors now make a statement in the drivers meeting that if a pit road inspector feels that a team has put the tires in harms way intentionally a penalty can be assessed. Why should this be a subjective decision? Let's not put that responsibility on the inspector. They have a tough enough job already.

If a tire is in the Red Zone you get a penalty. No questions asked. Was it intentional? It does not matter. If it was left there you're coming back in.

I guarantee, if instituted, this rule will help solve the problem. If all teams were required to keep the Red Zone free of tires, the rule would be fair for everybody, and easy to enforce.

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