NASCAR doesn't penalize Jimmie Johnson after very apparent pit road violation

Sometimes we’re not sure if the NASCAR rule book actually applies as written.

This is one of those times.

Sunday, the front tire changer for Jimmie Johnson very much appeared to have tighten a lug nut on Johnson’s left-front wheel while part of Johnson’s car was outside of his pit box.

Take a look at what happened. The pit stop happened during a caution for a lap 280 incident in the 334-lap race.

(via NBC)

According to NASCAR’s rules, “each vehicle must be within the designated lines of its assigned pit box on pit road to be considered “in the box.” The inner-most edge of the designated lines are considered ‘out of the box.'” The sanctioning body allows cars to have their right-rear wheels outside of the pit box because of spacing reasons.

As you can see. This has nothing to do with a right-rear wheel. As Johnson drove away, it seemed inevitable that he’d get a penalty. Take a look at the end of the stop in slow-motion. If the tire changer doesn’t touch the wheel, what is he doing?

(via NBC)

Furthermore “a vehicle may receive service only when they are in their assigned pit box and/or the garage area or at NASCAR’s discretion. Should a vehicle pit outside of its assigned pit box and begin to remove a wheel/tire(s), crew members must reinstall those same wheel/tire(s) and re-position the vehicle within their pit box to avoid penalty.”

And there’s also this graphic in the NASCAR rule book.

(Via NASCAR)

It’s pretty straightforward, right? Johnson should have been penalized a lap. Right? Right? Right?

He wasn’t. And while Johnson said after the race that he wasn’t sure if his left-front wheel was tightened by his front-tire changer or not while he was out of the box, it wasn’t going to be a penalty if it was. Why? Because NASCAR told him it wouldn’t be.

From NBC: 

“At (New Hampshire) a couple of weeks ago, we had a similar thing happen, and NASCAR informed us that we didn’t need to back up into our pit box to complete the stop, so that’s why (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) stopped me where he did,” Johnson said. “They informed us that doesn’t count as equipment outside of the box (which is a penalty). So I was going off Chad’s cue, stopped, put the lug nut on, and off we went.”

We’re totally confused. Johnson’s pit stop clearly seems to be in violation of the NASCAR rule regarding cars pitting in their pit boxes. Yet NASCAR told him what happened Sunday is legal? What?

“It basically served its own penalty by having to back up and we have allowed that in the past multiple times this year of allowing them to fix the lug nut,” NASCAR spokesperson Kurt Culbert said after the race. “Ultimately when that happens the penalty has occurred because they’ve had to fix it instead of going out on the track and having to deal with a penalty come Tuesday.”

Johnson finished seventh. He would not have gotten that top-10 finish if he would have been penalized a lap at the time. And therefore he would have fewer points than the 3,051 points he currently has. And he likely wouldn’t be seventh in the standings.

If teams are now allowed to do what Johnson did on Sunday, then NASCAR needs to take the time and update its rulebook. There is no entry in the “vehicle positioning within pit box” section that says teams may tighten lug nuts while a car is outside of the pit box.

While the sport has the freedom to make whatever rule it wants, it should also be able to put those rules in writing to show that things that look like rule violations aren’t really rules violations.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of Dr. Saturday and From the Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!