DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Sprint Cup driver Elliott Sadler says a four-race suspension is the least the crewman for Marcos Ambrose's team should have received for chasing a runaway tire across pit road in Sunday's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
"I honestly thought it was going to be for the season," Sadler said of the suspension handed down to crew member Jimmy Watts. Sadler spoke during Wednesday's tire test at Darlington Raceway.
"If you've noticed, there is no playing on pit road," he said. "We can hit each other under caution on the track, but any time we bring any kind of violence like hitting a car or doing something stupid on pit road NASCAR reacts very heavily."
The governing body first suspended Watts for the remainder of the race, then on Tuesday decided on a four-race suspension. Also, Ambrose's crew chief, Frank Kerr, was placed on probation until the end of the year because he is considered responsible for his crew's actions.
"Pit road is a non-play area," Sadler said. "NASCAR has always reminded us about pit road and the safety of our crew members. You don't cross that line."
The incident forced NASCAR to call the caution on in the middle of green flag pit stops on Lap 67 because Watts was in harm's way if a car had spun out or lost control coming off Turn 4.
The caution put more than half the field a lap or more down, directly affecting the rest of the race, which was won eventually by Kurt Busch. Sadler lost two laps because of the incident. Had Watts not run into the infield grass, the governing body may have opted to wait until green flag stops were over to throw the yellow flag.
But Sadler said safety was more of an issue than the way the race was affected.
"Not only is he putting himself in a bad spot, you're putting drivers in a bad spot, too," he said. "Atlanta is a slick track anyway. If something would have happened, had somebody gotten loose going through that corner, it would have put [the driver] in a bad spot.
"NASCAR doesn't even want us at Daytona to sit on pit road without our helmet on in case something happens. I'm looking at it as a safety precaution. Getting a four-race suspension makes sure nobody else is going to make that mistake and run across pit road again."
Sadler considers himself a friend of Watts, but still spoke out.
"He's a great guy," he said. "I've known this guy for a long time. He's a fireman. That's probably why he ran across there. Firemen aren't scared of anything. I just think he had tunnel vision, trying to help his team as much as he could.
"You can't fault him for that. I just think when it comes to the safety of crew members, when it comes to safety period, NASCAR doesn't play."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.