News & Media


Changes may curtail Bristol timing-line abuse

March 16, 2012, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

Jeff Gordon lost the August Bristol race on pit road, but not because of anything his team did that night. (Autostock)

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Additional stripes expected to limit teams' ability to speed halfway down pit road

When Jeff Gordon returns to Bristol Motor Speedway, he thinks about how strong he was in the night race here last August, when his No. 24 car lead a race-best 206 laps. He tries not to think about the finish.

That would have been when Gordon wound up third, not because his car faded toward the end, but because of an unfortunate pit box that didn't allow him to take advantage of gaps in timing lines as some other drivers -- most notably winner Brad Keselowksi -- were able to do. Time and time again in the waning laps, Gordon would lead the field to pit road. And time and time again, traffic would hold him up upon exit, while others would zoom up to the timing lines that gauge pit road speed, and then slow down to the required speed to pass them.

"It's just a shame it took that long. I'm glad that they finally did address it."

--JEFF GORDON

"You think back to the August race," Gordon said Friday, "and how, just coming off pit road, if we were a couple of positions ahead of where we were what the outcome may have been."

The timing-line situation on Bristol's pit road -- which because of the track's length and layout is the only split pit road at any major NASCAR facility -- became a point of contention following the August race, with Gordon's crew chief Alan Gustafson saying that cars could speed from the entrance to the start/finish line, and then the start/finish line to the exit, without risking a penalty. After that event NASCAR seemed inclined to make changes, and for this weekend the sanctioning body did just that, adding two additional timing lines on each side that cut the former segments in half.

The move comes seven months too late to help Gordon, but would seem to benefit him if he finds himself in a similar situation Sunday afternoon.

"It needed to be done," he said. "There is no track that we should go to this day and age that there should be that big of an advantage in certain pit stalls. We all know track position is important, qualifying is important, and it still will be. We're going to put a lot of effort into that. But it's nice to know that no matter where we qualify, at least on pit road we should be able to have a much fairer pit stall location. We had such a great car here last time, and it truly was just lost coming off of pit road, and at no fault of my pit crew."

Gordon isn't the only driver who thought the change was necessary.

"I think whenever you can keep the playing field even on pit road is a good thing especially at a track this small with a pit road speed that is slow," Matt Kenseth added. "There is a big advantage to about eight cars or so with the lines you can pick depending where you qualified, and you could speed as fast as you could in that line and be spinning the tires and all that. I think that it is probably a good thing to get it the same for everybody on pit road and keep the racing on the track."

Drivers choose their pit stalls by virtue of their qualifying positions, and were well aware that some stalls provided more of a benefit than others. Adding more timing lines and keeping cars at a more consistent speed doesn't just matter in terms of balancing competition, Denny Hamlin argued, but from a safety standpoint as well.

"I think that there were a handful of boxes that had humungous advantages over others, and I think that that's going to change that quite a bit," Hamlin said. "I do think it is needed, because if you have a pit road speed -- and Martinsville is another track where they need to add some lines -- that speed is set at that mile-per-hour because that's where they feel safe with those cars driving through pit road. Well, if we're able to cheat it by 10 miles an hour, that's cheating it 30-something percent. That's beyond where they felt initially it was safe, so they need to keep us at that mile-per-hour they want us at and to do that, you need timing lines all over the place so people can't cheat the line."

The one solace for Gordon? He didn't have to bring the situation to NASCAR's attention. The timing-line abuse was so blatant, it was impossible for anyone to ignore.

"There's nothing better than being captured on live television, and the announcers going 'What is going on with pit road?'" Gordon said. "If I looked at Twitter and basically social media and every racing publication, every one of them was focused on it. I'm just surprised it took that long. It's been happening here for a while. It's just a shame it took that long. I'm glad that they finally did address it."