You know it’s a bad day for Jimmie Johnson when he is nailed for a pit-road speeding penalty while he’s on pit road serving a speeding penalty.
That was one of the oddities of Sunday’s Pocono 400 Presented by #NASCAR at Pocono Raceway, the first on a newly paved surface that was supposed to change the racing here. Instead, perhaps the biggest impact might have come on pit road, where 22 penalties were issued for speeding – 20 exiting pit road ... and two more for speeding while entering pit road.
For those counting, Travis Kvapil managed to be penalized four times for speeding on exit; David Reutimann was hit three times – two for exiting and one entering; Johnson, Brad Keselowski, AJ Allmendinger were each flagged twice.
And that’s why Johnson, who had one of the best race cars in the field on Sunday, wound up fourth behind winner Joey Logano as well as Mark Martin and Tony Stewart.
It was not a bad finish for the hottest driver in the Sprint Cup Series. Johnson had come in having won three of the past four Cup races including the non-points All-Star Race at Charlotte. He was also coming off a victory at Dover the week before – the fourth race in a row Hendrick Motorsports had won.
That streak came to an end on Sunday.
It didn’t seem that would definitely be the case when Johnson drove from 24th to fifth in just 38 laps Sunday, quickly positioning for another run to the front.
That is, until he went to pit road during a green flag run 43 laps into the race. Johnson was penalized for speeding coming out of pit road. As he served a pass-through penalty, he was caught speeding at the exact same spot.
“No way,” Johnson told crew chief Chad Knaus over the radio.
After the race, Johnson blamed NASCAR.
“There’s a segment down there where something – it’s just not how it normally is and I got nailed twice and a lot of other guys got nailed, so I think there’s something off with their timing loop,” he said.
The mistake, NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton made clear, was with the drivers.
“This track’s gone under a lot of reconfiguration since last year,” he said after the race. “It’s a brand new pit road, all brand new loops, positions have been changed since last year. Sections were smaller than they were last year throughout pit road and, actually, the last section is a little bit bigger.”
The section at the end of pit road where many of the drivers were penalized had been lengthened from last year from 56 to 83 feet.
In all, 13 drivers were penalized for speeding exiting pit road.
“It was obvious that the section had some kind of issue because I know both times I got busted I was under the limit with my tools that I have available,” said Keselowski, who finished 18th. “I was consistent down pit road, so if I was speeding in that sector, I would have been speeding in the others – but it didn’t show that. I think there’s plenty of evidence to show that there is something wrong with that section timing...
“Hopefully, we’ll have it fixed when we come back in here in the fall.”
Even with the two pit-road penalties that put Johnson a lap behind for a stretch, he still managed to make his way back to the front. Johnson was ninth after a late caution with 17 laps to go and on fresh tires.
But, on the restart, Johnson got loose going into Turn 1 and fell all the way back to 22nd. He spent the race just trying to climb back.
“Just a fast race car,” he said. “Chad made a gutsy call with two tires mid-race and I had enough speed in the car and just ran with my tongue hanging out trying to stay ahead of some guys. I was able to keep track position and we still had another shot at it. And, on the second to last restart, I got way loose down in Turn 1 and lost a bunch of ground, and had to start all over again, and still got fourth.”
All of which made fourth place a victory of sorts, given what had gone wrong on Sunday. But that wasn’t much of a consolation for Johnson, who failed to lead a lap for only the fourth time this season.
“If we just had one of those three things not happen,” Johnson said of the two pit-road speeding penalties and mistake on the late restart, “I think we would have been in Victory Lane today.”