By Toby Christie, Editor — Follow on Twitter @Toby_Christie
Sunday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway, played out like a Southwest Airlines advertisement. You know those television ads where someone makes a horrific blunder in front of the entire world and as they freeze to look at the camera you hear, “Wanna get away?” NASCAR’s sanctioning body had this type of moment during pre-race inspection for the AAA Texas 500.
Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team rolled their car through tech and failed a couple of times. However, the third time through inspection was a charm and Johnson was set to chase his first win in what has been a frustrating year for the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.
Then, NASCAR ruled that due to failing inspection twice, Johnson would have to forfeit his 23rd starting position and drop to the rear of the field for the start of the race. There’s just one problem — that isn’t the penalty that is in the rule book for failing pre-race inspection twice. In order to lose your starting position for a Cup Series race, you must fail pre-race inspection three times.
Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus vehemently fought the ruling but by the time the green flag had waved, Knaus and Johnson had not been pardoned.
After getting swept up in an accident with his teammate William Byron on lap 98 and suffering several miscues throughout another frustrating day, Johnson — who finished 15th — was left fuming about the current process of getting NASCAR to review infractions in a timely manner.
“There is no format for the teams to communicate to the tower. So, whatever the tower says is the way it is. This is just one of a few calls that have been wrong due to that situation. I don’t know how they do it,” he said.
In the end, Johnson surrendered that in a sport where things happen so fast sometimes, “Stuff happens.”
But it does little to erase the large hole his No. 48 team was unrightfully forced to dig from Sunday at Texas. NASCAR’s Chief Racing Development Officer, Steve O’Donnell fired a tweet to Johnson following the race to apologize on behalf of the sanctioning body.
In the tweet, O’Donnell said, “It wasn’t acceptable. All I can do is apologize-fix what went wrong prior to next race so it can’t happen again-that does nothing for you-we cost you and your team today.”
O’Donnell and the sanctioning body also reportedly met with Knaus, Jeff Gordon following Sunday’s race to apologize.
On Monday morning, O’Donnell doubled down when he talked about the incident on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s Morning Drive.
“We’ll certainly put procedures in place prior to Phoenix to ensure that just can’t happen going forward,” he said on the show. “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. We’ll have those done today, and we’ll be communicating those first and foremost to the team that was affected and then to the industry as well.”
We will get our first look at the new procedures that will be in place as the series heads to ISM Raceway in Phoenix this week, however I’m sure the officials that made the gaffe on Sunday wish it was all a harmless comedic television advertisement.
Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images