NASCAR has changed the definition of what an uncontrolled tire is.
The pit stop rule has been one of the most tedious to enforce over NASCAR’s three series due to the subjectivity of the rule’s wording. And as of Wednesday, the definition of an uncontrolled tire is much more lenient.
No more ‘within arm’s reach’
NASCAR had previously said that a “crew member must remain within arm’s reach and moving in the same direction as the tire when removing the tire from the outside half of the pit box” and that the tire in question “must not roll uncontrolled into an adjacent competitor’s pit box.”
Now, an uncontrolled tire is simply defined as one that does not cause a safety issue or interfere with a competitor’s pit stop or roll into the outside half of a competitor’s pit box.
That (presumably) means that the missed call on a Kevin Harvick pit stop during the spring race at Texas in 2018 would still be a penalty for causing a safety issue. Harvick wasn’t penalized after a tire rolled into one of the two lanes of traffic on pit road. Because of it, he had an opportunity to challenge Kyle Busch for the race win.
In GIF form— Nick Bromberg (@NickBromberg) April 8, 2018
This was not an uncontrolled tire penalty for Kevin Harvick: pic.twitter.com/AQYp6TV3B1
In that same race, Ryan Blaney’s team was called for an uncontrolled tire penalty for this pit stop.
This was an uncontrolled tire penalty for Ryan Blaney pic.twitter.com/GsZ93vWKOO— Nick Bromberg (@NickBromberg) April 8, 2018
What likely would now not be a penalty is the uncontrolled tire penalty that was called on Denny Hamlin at Kentucky.
UNCONTROLLED TIRES ARE A SCOURGE AND MUST BE SQUASHED AS THEY ARE HARMING THE PROGRESS OF NASCAR pic.twitter.com/j7QEdaZc9c— Nick Bromberg (@NickBromberg) July 14, 2019
The week before that penalty, Hamlin had spoken out against NASCAR’s uncontrolled tire penalty rule because of that aforementioned subjectivity. Hamlin was penalized during the June 28 race at Pocono for an uncontrolled tire during a pit stop.
Ruined our day. And for what? A nickel and dime judgment call? This intent is not why this rule was put into place. Let’s go back to using common sense. https://t.co/KdlBT234bp— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) July 1, 2019
That’s true. However a tire sitting in place right next to a changer is not uncontrolled. If it’s a real safety issue then let’s get back the 40 guys we laid off who used to carry these tires in a “controlled” manner https://t.co/iBVt1yeg3W— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) July 1, 2019
And during the Truck Series race at Iowa in June, Ross Chastain’s team escaped a potential uncontrolled tire penalty because NASCAR didn’t have its camera-based pit road inspection system installed at the track.
The lack of a penalty allowed Chastain to go on to win the race, but the win was later stripped after his truck failed post-race inspection.
The new rule’s leniency is much-needed. With the increased importance of restarts in the Cup Series in 2019 thanks to NASCAR’s rules this season, you can argue that pit road penalties play an outsized role in determining races. Potentially decreasing the number of pit road penalties via a rule change isn’t a bad thing.
But it’s also only a matter of time before someone will get penalized for violating the wording of the new rule. After all, NASCAR teams like to push the limits. And there’s still some subjectivity in the new rule. Don’t be surprised if there’s a little controversy around an uncontrolled tire penalty for a playoff driver over the final 10 weeks of the season.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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