The weekly NASCAR penalty report became available on July 12, which announced the reinstatement of JD Motorsports crew chief Kase Kallenbach. However, there was a lack of information about the No. 20 team of Joe Gibbs Racing.
The Cup Series car driven by Christopher Bell was a point of discussion both during and after the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It lost a wheel as Bell exited his pit stall with 22 laps remaining in the race, and it led to the No. 20 Toyota dragging the tire changer. Bell tried to spin his car around, but it ended up in another driver’s pit stall.
Losing a wheel has led to an automatic four-race suspension for the crew chief and two members of the pit crew. However, NASCAR did not do so after the trip to Atlanta Motor Speedway. Scott Miller, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition, explained this decision by saying that officials will examine each situation before making a ruling.
“That’s always a hard call for us, right?” Miller said during an appearance on SiriusXM, quote courtesy of NASCAR Media. “We’re still we’re continuing to look at that incident, and really the potential consequence for the wheel rolling down pit road.
“Now if that thing would have been going twice as fast as it was, we would have had a whole field on pit road, we may view that different than we did with hardly any cars on pit road, no speed to the tire, and it not getting away very far. So we always have a very difficult job sorting through what crosses the line and what doesn’t, and we’re still working through that on that particular case.”
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Another Driver Lost a Wheel on Pit Road
One reason why the lack of a penalty created surprise is that Bell is not the only driver to lose a wheel on pit road. A similar situation occurred during the AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway on May 15, but it involved the No. 31 team of Kaulig Racing.
Drivers headed down pit road roughly midway through Stage 1 of the Cup Series race for pit stops under caution. The majority of drivers were able to complete their stops without issue, but both Justin Haley and Denny Hamlin had to back up into their respective pit stalls.
Haley’s lost wheel took place on pit road, but his crew still received a penalty for violating Section 10.5.2.6 in the NASCAR Rule Book: “Loss or separation of an improperly installed tire/wheel from the vehicle.” NASCAR suspended crew chief Trent Owens and two crewmembers, Jonpatrick Kealey and Marshall McFadden, for four races as a result.
The cameras showed that Haley’s No. 31 had lost a wheel as he began to pull out of his pit box. He came to a stop after only a few feet before putting it into reverse and going back into the stall for a new rear tire. Though the team also had to deal with a fire, which was one of multiple unexpected issues at Kansas Speedway.
The Rule Has Received a Change in Recent Weeks
One reason why Haley’s team received a penalty back in May while Bell’s team did not is that the wording of the rule has changed. NASCAR officials now judge wheels lost on pit road less harshly, especially if there are fewer cars in the immediate area.
“So what NASCAR did is they changed the wording of this,” NBC analyst Steve Letarte said during the Quaker State 400. “Because the idea is they don’t want tires coming off on the race track. That’s why the penalty is so severe. It’s a major safety issue. What they’re trying to do is give them a chance.
“…They have reworded it where if the tire and wheel stay on pit road and they feel close enough to the pit box, it’s not an automatic suspension because of just that. They don’t want to throw the crew chief out for that. Now if it comes off on the race track, you can have a little bit of trouble.”
Both Haley and Bell lost wheels while they were on pit road, and the wheels stayed in the immediate area. They also lost their wheels while very few drivers were around them. Only one of their teams received a penalty, and it was simply due to the timing of the incident.