Ah, we have so much to talk about this week in the aftermath of the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma! Huston Ladner touched upon it in his post race report, but the pit road incident between Scott Dixon and Will Power deserves a closer examination, don’t you think?
First, let’s start with what is concrete. Here, directly from the INDYCAR rule book, is the entire section on pit road penalties—what earns you one and what type of penalty may be given. (A little bit of an aside, but take note, NASCAR, how much smoother this sort of thing can go when a media member can actually look this stuff up and pass it along so there is understanding over where the league is coming from on a call. Good decision to finally make yours public next year.)
7.10.1. The following matters and any others which may be determined by the Race Director are cause for a Car to be penalized:
126.96.36.199. Failing to follow designated procedures entering or exiting the pit area, including the acceleration and deceleration lanes;
188.8.131.52. Leaving the assigned pit with air hoses, fuel hoses, tools or other equipment attached to or hanging from the Car;
184.108.40.206. Car passing over or under any air line or hose or any other equipment;
220.127.116.11. Car contact with pit equipment outside of standard pit stop procedures;
18.104.22.168. Contact with another Car;
22.214.171.124. Contact with personnel;
126.96.36.199. Pit personnel not wearing proper attire as set forth in Rule 188.8.131.52;
184.108.40.206. More than six crew members to be on the Track side of the pit wall during a Race;
220.127.116.11. Car entering a pit other than the Car’s assigned pit.
18.104.22.168. Penalties for violations of this Rule include, but are not limited to, a black flag and/or exclusion from the Event. No such decisions may be protested or appealed.
Dixon was specifically penalized for a violation of Rule 22.214.171.124, contact with personnel. If I’m reading and interpreting this correctly, he could have been penalized for violations of 126.96.36.199 (hitting the tire) or 188.8.131.52 (he was actually within Power’s pit stall at the time) as well, so no matter which individual rule INDYCAR went with, he still committed an offense that merits a penalty.
For INDYCAR and Race Director Beaux Barfield, it’s pretty cut and dried. If they follow their rule book, Dixon gets a penalty for a pit road infraction. What that penalty should be leaves more room for interpretation, but the pass-through he received was certainly within the realm of the rule (Dixon could have been parked for the remainder of the race) and it was consistent with other pit road violation penalties. E.J. Viso received a penalty on the same series of stops for running over an air hose and it was also a pass-through.
INDYCAR then, acted correctly. The bottom line for them is it is their job to enforce their rules as they are written. Did it cost a team a race? Does it have championship implications? Yes to both, but did INDYCAR do anything out of line and was there any intent on their part to influence the outcome of the race or the championship? No. Sure, they had some discretion over what penalty to give, but they issued the same penalty as they did to other drivers who ran afoul of the same section of the rule book.
Barfield’s comments on the matter make it clear the first thoughts of INDYCAR lie with enforcing safety rules that exist for a reason. He also cites as a reason the fact that Dixon had crossed into the No. 12 pit stall when the incident happened.
“Ultimately, we have a duty to protect everybody in the pit lane,” Barfield said. “If we have somebody who uses less than great judgement when they leave their pit box and we have an incident, then we have to make a statement by penalizing. And we’re going to make that call. There are a couple of different (video) angles, and clearly the 9 car crosses right into the 12 car’s space and that’s where the violation occurred. He was in the 12 car’s box for a good half-car length.”
For once the controversy coming out of an incident is not over INDYCAR’s officiating. Instead, it’s coming from the incident itself and the intent of those involved. At best, Travis Law, the guy carrying the tire, was completely not paying attention on pit road and accidentally crossed into the path of an oncoming car. Shame on any crewman for being so careless on pit road. At worst, he was purposely interfering with a competitor.
I’d like to think a competitor would want to win a race fair and square, and not by a tactic as underhanded as sabotaging another team. I’d especially like to think that’s the case when he put himself, and his teammates, at risk of bodily harm. I don’t think he intended to get hit. I would hope no one would go to that length to win a race. But given the odd way he carried the tire and how far away from the back of the No. 12 car he was, it honestly looks suspicious, as if he was thinking he could block Dixon’s way out of the pits, slowing the No. 9 down just enough to get his driver off pit road in front and with the advantage. That’s pretty much how Dixon saw it.
“It looks like he walked straight into our car,” said Dixon. “You could see where the other car in front of us was pitted and he walked into us, on purpose. That’s probably the most blatant thing I’ve seen in a long time. If you watch most pit guys, they try and get out of the way of other people. It’s pretty annoying because we had a pretty good Target car all day long and if they want to try and win like that, then that’s pretty bad. I had a straight line heading out of the pits and he just walked right into us.”
Dixon had to settle for a finish of 15th, while championship points leader Helio Castroneves—Power’s teammate, incidentally—came home a conservative seventh but gained more ground on second-place Dixon. The margin was 31 going in but it’s increased to 39 now with four races remaining. Again, one would hope it’s all just a coincidence, but if Dixon doesn’t close the gap on Castroneves, something that would have happened if he’d won the race, guaranteed this incident will be part of the conversation.
But there’s one more part of this discussion, namely that Dixon was driving through Power’s pit box when he hit the tire Law was carrying. There didn’t look to be anything unusual about the way Dixon exited his pit stall so it’s probably safe to say drivers are cutting through the next guy’s stall every time they exit in an effort to take the fastest, most direct route out of the pits. Most of the time, we don’t even notice, but in this case Dixon got caught out by it.
From that end of it, while not advisable, Law was in his team’s pit stall and could have been doing the Hokey Pokey in there if he really felt like it. And if we go back to the idea that he obstructed Dixon on purpose, for whatever reason, his strategy counted on Dixon cutting that corner and putting himself in that position. Whether he intended for Dixon to draw a penalty or just to stop and lose time, he had to do it from within his team’s pit box.
INDYCAR acted correctly per their rulebook and the penalty, and while it may seem harsh, the action was consistent with the penalties given to other drivers for pit road safety violations. Scott Dixon didn’t do anything out of the ordinary or clip the back of the No. 12 car particularly close, but he got caught out by making contact with another team’s crew and the way the rules read, he’s the one that draws the penalty. As for Team Penske, Travis Law knows whether he was simply not paying attention or whether he was trying to “help” his driver by slowing down a competitor. I don’t guess we’ll ever really know but I sure hope we’re not talking about it when the big trophy gets handed out after Fontana. It would be a shame for Dixon to lose a championship anywhere but on the track and it would put a blemish on the title should Castroneves win by the points Dixon lost at Sonoma.
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