NASCAR Brickyard 400 News: Drive Shafts and Drivers Shafted

David YeazellSenior Analyst IJuly 27, 2009

Another weekend of NASCAR racing brought about another weekend of controversy over NASCAR decisions. Saturday night during the Nationwide race at ORP, caution was displayed on the speedway just as the leader’s were crossing the start finish line and heading for turn one.

O'Reilly Raceway Park is a short, and narrow, .686 oval track.

Slowing from a speed of over 100mph, leader Trevor Bayne and second place Steven Wallace entered turn one and were surprised by an emerging pace car.

Bayne stood on his brakes to avoid a collision, and a rules infraction.

Wallace, also surprised by the emerging pace car, jammed on his brakes to avoid a collision, but caught Bayne's Toyota in the left rear and spun him around in the middle of the track.

Still in harms way, Bayne barely missed striking the pace car during this spin.

Bayne and Wallace both got their cars stopped, Bayne's was sideways on the track, and Wallace's was still pointed in the right direction.

Once both cars resumed, they were penalized for not maintaining a proper pace lap speed, and were relegated to positions behind the cars that had passed them during the incident.

As bizarre as this may sound, it is true.

Had Bayne passed the emerging pace car, he would have also incurred a penalty. If he had hit the pace car...well, that's never happened, so who knows what penalty would have been assessed.

Obviously NASCAR dispatched the pace car way too early and put all three drivers in harms way. Bayne and Wallace both avoided imminent disaster by reacting quickly, but were penalized in doing so.

Denny Hamlin, sitting fourth in the driver standings, seemed to be doing everything right at Indy on Sunday.

Then he made a pit stop, and all that changed.

While exiting pit road, Hamlin accelerated his Fed Ex Toyota and shifted up through the gear box. During one of those gear changes, Hamlin says the gear shift lever came right out of the transmission.

It would be later determined that a broken drive shaft is what caused Hamlin’s dilemma, and his eventual short day.

While it was thought that Hamlin's problem would cause a significant drop in the points standings, he eventually fell only one position from his comfortable nest in the standings.

Juan Pablo Montoya was also cruising comfortably in Sunday's race. Actually, he was cruising with a five second lead.

Then, he made a pit stop, and all that changed.

During what was supposed to be his final scheduled pit stop, JPM was assessed a penalty by NASCAR.

Infraction: Speeding

Fine: Pit road pass through at pit road speed.

Result: Bye bye Brickyard win.

NASCAR said Montoya was going too fast exiting pit road. According to NASCAR, he was caught going a fraction over the posted speed limit in two of the eight loops he passed through.

On the radio Montoya was assuring his crew chief, even swearing on the life of his wife and children, he was not speeding.

"If anything, I was slower," said Montoya. "I swear on the life of my wife and children, I was not speeding, all three lights were green."

Montoya's car was fixed with three lights on the dashboard. These lights turned green when he was at or under the mandated pit road speed limit. If he exceeded it, they turned red.

If those lights were wrong, or his gage was out of calibration, then why wasn't Montoya speeding each time he was on pit road?

Before this stop, he was leading the race, but not by five seconds.

NASCAR uses loop data to check speed on pit road. Each car is fixed with a transmitter those talks to other transmitters around the track, and on pit road.

It was those transmitters that said Montoya was speeding. A NASCAR official inside the NASCAR trailer sees this data and reports it to officials on the track.

A crew chief can request to see the data, but like other departments of NASCAR, say the drug testing department, it is up to NASCAR if they chose to reveal the results.

As with anything NASCAR, there is room for improvement here. As with anything NASCAR, it's shrouded in secrecy.

Brian France called Felix Sabates after the race and assured him they were correct in their decision, and were not targeting Montoya. Suggestions were made about calibration of Montoya's equipment.

If not Montoya, then what was the target?

Indy is not a place where you pass. If you're ahead leaving pit road, or on a restart, then you're pretty much staying there.

Was Johnson's back to back win more important? Was Montoya dominating this snooze fest a little too much? If tires were no longer the top story, did they need to create another one?

Once again issues are suspect and shrouded in secrecy. Things just don't add up. Once again, this time at both races, NASCAR makes decisions and then waits in the shadows while others are left to figure out what happened.

There are those who doubt the conspiracy theories.

To those I say this: If fans can think up different scenarios, so can NASCAR.