Friday, July 31, 2009
Drivers ponder speedometers in cars
LONG POND, Pa. -- Unlike a driver nabbed going 70 mph in a 55 zone, Juan Pablo Montoya couldn't talk his way out his speeding ticket.
Not when NASCAR's the traffic cop.
Busted at the Brickyard for speeding on the final pit stop, the penalty cost Montoya his shot at winning on the historic track.
Perhaps the result would have been different if Montoya had a speedometer instead of relying on a tachometer that monitors engine RPMs. Or maybe he would finished 11th anyway.
Still, some drivers would like a speedometer added to their cars, or have NASCAR's electronic timing system that records the pit row speeds refined to cut down on possible error.
"I have wondered why we don't have speedometers," veteran driver Mark Martin said Friday. "The tachs are not quite as accurate as a speedometer might be. But the system works. It's just really devastating when you have one of the races of your life slip through your fingers."
Montoya led 116 laps and was on the brink of his first Indy stock car victory to go with his Indianapolis 500 win when he was flagged for speeding. NASCAR allows a 5 mph cushion on pit road, where the speed limit Sunday was 55 mph.
Montoya was caught driving 60.06 mph in one spot and 60.11 in another.
"We checked ourselves after the race. It seemed OK, and everything seemed to be in the right place," Montoya said. "For some reason, they said we were speeding, and that's what it is."
Could NASCAR make the switch from RPM to mph on the dash? Not so fast.
Sprint Cup Series director John Darby said the tachometer was the most reliable factor in determining pit row speeds.
"They get multiple usages out of a tachometer as an engine meter as well, without having to bother with the expense and the troubles of adding another piece of equipment to the car," Darby said at Pocono Raceway. "The tachometers today are so sophisticated that teams can actually program their pit road speed into the tachometer."
Most teams have even added a lighting system to the tachometer. A green light means a driver's speed is in the clear, yellow signifies he is pushing the limit and red means the speed is over the limit.
"In NASCAR's defense, the system that they have, you can't dispute it," four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon said. "I would dispute the person that feels like they're in the wrong, because their system is very accurate."
There have been 75 speeding violations in 20 Cup races this season, Darby said. NASCAR does not warn teams when they're on the edge of speeding or give them a chance to plead their case. Speed once coming in or out of the pits, and a penalty is instantly assessed.
"The teams know exactly where they're supposed to be," Darby said. "They know where the threshold is."
Darby also said there are no plans to reveal pit road speeds to fans or the rest of the field during a race.
"If you have put your combination together and you're real confident in your driver and you've got him set to where you think he can run 3½ miles over all day long without getting caught, that's their business," he said. "We shouldn't display that to the other 42 competitors to let them figure out how they did it."
NASCAR switched from a stopwatch system to electric timing in 2005 to provide a more legitimate way of assessing pit road speeders.
"It's way better than it has been, way better than guys up there with stopwatches," Carl Edwards said. "There's enough moving parts there and potential for error that can be improved, and I think NASCAR will improve it."
Montoya's penalty baffled some of the top 12 drivers in the points standings who wondered why he risked a penalty when he had such a commanding lead.
"There's no sense of pushing it that close if you have that big a cushion on the track," Kurt Busch said.
Gordon, who was punished for speeding once earlier this season, said he trusted NASCAR makes the right call.
"What they've got is very accurate. What we've got is 90 percent accurate," Gordon said. "It would be nice for us to find something that works a little better. As long as the gas pedal is our control unit, it's going to be consistent."
Montoya, 10th in the race for the Chase for the championship, is done griping about his lost victory.
"Who cares? I moved on," he said.