NASCARs Pit Road Penalties: The Numbers Tell the Tale

Mary Jo BuchananSenior Writer IApril 19, 2009

ATLANTA - MARCH 06:  Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, sits in his car during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 6, 2009 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

There has been much talk and even more written about the costliness of pit road errors and penalties in the 2009 NASCAR Cup season to date. 

Focus has been placed on several high-profile drivers, from Dale Junior to Jeff Gordon in particular, when it comes to pit road woes.

Indeed, even in the most recent race this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, pit road infractions and penalties affected the outcome of the race.

For example, Kyle Busch had a pit road speeding violation that cost him dearly in his race finish.

Another example of pit road problems from the Phoenix race occurred with points leader Jeff Gordon.  His crew experienced a lug nut problem that resulted in a 25th place finish.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. succumbed to the same pit woes as his Hendrick teammate Gordon, at Phoenix, hanging a lug nut in the pits.  He was forced to come back down pit road, got behind in the pack, and eventually hit the wall, finishing a disappointing 31st.

While this summarizes the experience of the most recent race, it is important to analyze the numbers for the 2009 season to date.  First, it is interesting to examine the types of pit road infractions that most often occur.

To date, the largest number of infractions are with cars being penalized to the tail end of the longest line for pitting before the pits are open.  There have been 63 of these infractions recorded to date to be exact.

The next highest category of pit road infractions are speeding penalties, including too fast entering and too fast exiting the pits.  There have been 33 recorded incidents of these types of violations in the 2009 season so far.

Not surprising, the next area of pit road violations is lug nuts not being properly installed.  This has occurred 14 times to date in the race season.

Other issues, such as pitting outside the box, teams not being in contact with the tires, commitment line violations, too many members over the wall, and removal of equipment from the pit area happen fairly infrequently.  The total count on these violations so far has been 11 infractions.

When purely analyzing the numbers of pit road violations of all types, some of the highest counts have occurred with those drivers that might be expected to be affected, those that have been struggling all season. 

For example, the driver with the highest number of pit road infractions is Aric Almirola in the No. 8 car.  Almirola has a total of 12 pit road infractions.

Unfortunately, Almirola's No. 8 car has recently disappeared from the Sprint Cup scene, with no sponsorship and no financial backing to move forward.

The next highest pit road penalty offender is Robbie Gordon.  He has a total of nine pit road violations and no one would argue that he has been having a challenging season so far in 2009.

Sam Hornish, in the No. 77 car, is not far behind Gordon at seven pit road violations.  Hornish's violations have been spread between speeding penalties and pitting before pit road was open. 

Several other drivers, including David Stremme, Reed Sorenson, and Elliott Sadler, are all tied at six pit road violations apiece.

While the number of violations seems indicative of the struggles of the drivers and teams, there is also another element that must be examined.  And that is the severity of the penalty for that specific pit road violation.

This analysis becomes very telling.  The most severe penalties include being held a lap, or having to come back down pit lane which usually results in losing a lap, or serving a pass through penalty which again usually results in losing a lap.

For these types of penalties, often resulting in the loss of a lap, the leader is none other than Dale Earnhardt Jr.  To date, Junior has been held one lap for pitting outside the box at the Daytona 500.

At the Las Vegas race, Junior was assessed a pass through penalty for excessive speed entering the pits.  At both Texas and Phoenix, Junior had to come back into the pits for lug nut violations.

When the "seriousness" of the pit road violations is analyzed, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. leads the pack at a total of four pit road violations. 

Robbie Gordon barely trails him with three violations.

Carl Edwards has two "serious" pit road violations, as does David Reutimann.

There are several drivers with just one "serious" pit road violation, including the likes of David Stremme, Greg Biffle, Martin Truex, Kevin Harvick, A.J. Allmendinger, Michael Waltrip, A.J. Allmendinger, Jeff Gordon, Casey Mears, and Bobby Labonte.

For whatever reason, the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway had the greatest number of pit road violations.  The total number ended up being 28 pit road infractions.

So, the numbers do indeed tell the tale, especially when it comes to pit road violations.  Those that are struggling on the race track also appear to be struggling when it comes time to pit.

But even more telling is that those who commit the "serious" pit road infractions, paying the price with a lap.  These drivers and teams are the ones that are being most severely impacted as far as performance on the track.

Even one pit road violation can turn the tide of the race.  This past race in Phoenix proved just that, particularly with some of the top drivers including Jeff Gordon, Junior and Kyle Busch.

There is no doubt that the drivers and teams that can turn around their pit road struggles in the future will most certainly be those that are most successful on the track and in the points standings.

The numbers do not lie. They simply bear that out.