Col­umn: Wrong call on John­son on NASCAR’s bad day in Texas

Rome News-Tribune - - SPORTS - By Jenna Fryer AP Auto Rac­ing Writer

CHAR­LOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR did not have its finest day at Texas Mo­tor Speed­way, where things first went awry with an er­ro­neous penalty even be­fore the race.

Kevin Har­vick won and ad­vanced to the cham­pi­onship round for the fourth time in five years. His vic­tory wasn’t all that sur­pris­ing be­cause the 2014 cham­pion had said for months he was most look­ing for­ward to Texas be­cause he be­lieved it would be his win­ning ticket into the fi­nal four.

The drama in­stead came from NASCAR of­fi­ci­at­ing, one play­off driver com­plain­ing that an­other raced him too hard and an­other snoozer of a race.

Jim­mie John­son was in­cor­rectly sent to the back of the field mo­ments be­fore the race be­gan. Of­fi­cials in NASCAR’s scor­ing tower pun­ished John­son’s team for fail­ing pre-race in­spec­tion three times. The prob­lem? His car had only failed in­spec­tion two times, so the penalty was in­cor­rect.

NASCAR ad­mit­ted the er­ror dur­ing Sun­day’s race but it was too late to rem­edy. Steve O’Don­nell, NASCAR’s chief rac­ing devel­op­ment of­fi­cer, didn’t hide from the er­ror af­ter the event and promised steps would be taken to pre­vent such a blun­der mov­ing for­ward. O’Don­nell called the mis­take “un­ac­cept­able” and promised sys­tem up­grades be­fore this week­end’s penul­ti­mate race of the sea­son at Phoenix.

“It was one of those things, again, a hu­man er­ror that we’ve re­ally got to look at and look at some ad­di­tional pro­ce­dures we can have in place prior to Phoenix,” O’Don­nell said Mon­day on Sir­iusXM NASCAR Ra­dio. “We’ll have those done (Mon­day), and we’ll be com­mu­ni­cat­ing those first and fore­mast to the team that was af­fected and then to the in­dus­try as well.”

John­son, the seven-time NASCAR cham­pion, has al­ready been elim­i­nated from this year’s play­offs. But he’s win­less this sea­son, just signed a new spon­sor and went to Texas with just three races re­main­ing with Chad Knaus, the crew chief who built his team in 2001. An er­ro­neous penalty is­sued af­ter he was al­ready in his car set the tone for a rot­ten day that can’t be cor­rected.

O’Don­nell was also asked to ex­plain a penalty on Clint Bowyer, who is still in the play­offs and whose team was flagged for a crew mem­ber be­ing over the wall dur­ing a pit stop. Ex­cept the crew mem­ber in ques­tion was ac­tu­ally sit­ting on the pit road wall, though the penalty was cor­rect be­cause his feet were rest­ing on the ground. Yes, a rule was bro­ken. But it was a call that left some won­der­ing if NASCAR has got­ten too heavy-handed in en­forc­ing a cum­ber­some and con­fus­ing rule­book.

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