by Brendan Gaughan
First, I would like to thank the fans who tell me they not only read but, for the most part like this column. Coming up with a topic weekly is harder than I thought, so I have to give kudos to the columnists who do this for a living. However, with Talladega still fresh in everyone's minds, a relevant topic was obvious: pit road dangers.
Following the Talladega race, questions were raised about pit road procedures and more specifically, single-file entry onto pit road. Now, we have all heard the rules and we know the procedures, but there is a point where you have to just let us race. The big question was why there was no penalty for the drivers who passed the commitment cone and were not yet single file. The answer is simple and Mike Helton made it clear in the drivers meeting: "Be careful and be smart!"
On the track, decisions are made in a split second and at a place like Talladega it is nearly impossible to get onto pit road, never mind single file. As the drivers entered pit road they were not trying to advance or gain an advantage, they were simply trying not to wreck each other. Hence, NASCAR's decision to allow them free passage, and they made a great call. As long as the drivers are not trying to gain anything, like positions, NASCAR still honors the "Gentleman Code," even if you don't see it.
I, like other drivers, was assessed a penalty for speeding on pit road after entering the pits, way too hot. Not only was I speeding, l was flying! I made an error in judging the distance and velocity. NASCAR, rightfully and with no computer timing needed, gave us a penalty for it. I knew it was coming. Fortunately, there were no other drivers to worry about plowing into so I slowed to the proper speed and then took my penalty on the following lap. It wasn't easy, but I was wrong. They didn't need an electronic device to figure it out, though there have been times when I thought a radar gun would be more accurate.
The other rather amusing question raised was a few weeks back but, pertains to this situation. A reporter wanted to know if pit road debacles and the danger in certain situations could be eliminated by allowing only green flag pit stops so that everyone doesn't pile onto pit road at one time as we do now. Or better yet, stop racing off of pit road all together; pull in and leave in the same position. Are you kidding me?
Pit road has always been dangerous and always will be dangerous. The only way to eliminate the danger is to eliminate pit road and that is not an option. This is a team sport. Races can be won and lost on pit road.
NASCAR and the teams have taken steps to improve pit road conditions. Pit road speed is monitored and pit crews train regularly. Helmets and fire-retardant uniforms have been added to the required attire for over-the-wall crew members. Yet, pit road remains, and will always remain, a very dangerous place.
Last week, the jackman from Kevin Harvick's team almost got run over. Incidents happen all the time but because we are more aware of our surroundings and the dangers, they are becoming less, but they cannot be removed completely. All sports have their dangers. If the people participating were to quit because of the dangers, then they weren't meant to be a part of that sport. Football players get hurt all the time. Hockey, basketball and baseball players all have risks.
Addressing and facing the dangers are what sets us apart as professionals. Training is required; professional drivers on enclosed course; do not try this at home.
There are risks in anything you really want in life. Sometimes you have to let yourself make the choice whether or not the risk is worth taking. Just like my Kodak team. The risk they took this year wasn't physical but mental and emotional, to face the intense competition on NASCAR's Nextel Cup circuit with a rookie. Thank you to the road crew, race day team, and all the guys and gals back in the shop. It has been a struggle as of late, so thank you for persevering! I didn't think it would take this long to get our first top-five, but I don't believe the one at Talladega will be our last.