Commentary

Pit-road miscue in Montoya's rearview

Updated: July 31, 2009, 3:13 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

LONG POND, Pa. -- As far as Juan Pablo Montoya is concerned, it's over.

"Forget about it. Who cares? It is what it is. I've moved on."

OK. We'll take your word for it. Five days after the most disappointing moment of Montoya's NASCAR career, that's his message.

Montoya was caught speeding on pit road when he had the field covered Sunday in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.

Some fans say he was robbed. Some say he made a stupid mistake. And some wonder how this can happen.

It's nothing new. Montoya's infamous moment was the 75th time this season NASCAR penalized a driver for speeding in the pits.

That's almost four times a race. It should be four times a season. No one really noticed or cared until it cost Montoya a victory at Indy.

The question that comes up constantly is, why don't these cars have speedometers?

"I have wondered why we don't have speedometers," Mark Martin said Friday. "Maybe [NASCAR] has an explanation for it."

Yes, it does. Sprint Cup director John Darby said speedometers aren't always accurate, sometimes off by more than 5 percent: "Then you throw in things like tire inflation or transmission slippage, and it deteriorates," he said.

[+] EnlargeJuan Pablo Montoya
AP Photo/Darron CummingsJuan Pablo Montoya on Sunday's speeding penalty at Indy: "Last week was heartbreaking, but we finished 11th. If we finish 12th or better every week, we should be good enough [to make the Chase]."

So the tachometer, which measures RPMs (revolutions per minute in the engine), is the way drivers gauge speed.

"The tachs work well," Martin said. "The system works."

It works from the NASCAR side. They are catching more speed violators than the highway patrol on a two-lane downhill road from Mount Pocono.

But it isn't working from the competitor's side. Why can't these guys get it right? These are some of the best race car drivers in the world. Why risk it?

Drivers say it's the difficulty of passing on the track, so pit road is a great place to make up ground and gain track position.

"There are times when you've got to push it," Montoya said. "But when you have a 5-second lead with 30 laps to go, you don't push it, and I wasn't pushing it."

Montoya had that advantage when he was caught exceeding 60 mph at two spots on pit road (55 mph limit) at Indy.

"At the time it was really frustrating," Montoya said. "Especially since I believed I didn't do anything wrong. Our team really needed a win like that.

"Whether it was right or wrong, I can't change it. What would I gain wondering why? Was the tach set right? Was I wrong? Were they wrong? Even if [NASCAR] came to me today and said they made a mistake, it wouldn't change anything."

Mistakes happen. Darby said NASCAR incorrectly penalized Montoya for speeding in the pits earlier this year at Phoenix, calling it a "misalignment problem." NASCAR apologized to Montoya and the No. 42 Chevy team.

Not this time. No mistake was made at Indy, not on NASCAR's end, anyway.

Would a speedometer have saved Montoya from busting the 5 mph cushion?

"In a sense, they do have a speedometer," Darby said. "The tach has a needle that goes to a number, but it serves two purposes, as an engine meter as well, without the expense and trouble of adding another piece of equipment."

The Cup cars have a series of warning lights connected to the tach. It goes from green to yellow, at 10 RPM increments, before turning red when the RPM levels exceeds the calibrated amount for speeding on pit road.

That's as much electronics as NASCAR will allow. Teams could add a governor switch, which is used in open-wheel racing, to limit engine power on pit road so the car won't exceed the speed limit.

But NASCAR wants to keep it simple. It's a philosophical difference between NASCAR and a technology-based series like Formula One.

"We take great pride in our athletes' abilities," Darby said. "It's the same reason we don't allow traction control and anti-lock braking systems and digital computer control.

"You can reach the point where electronics drive the car more than the drivers. We want the driver to do this by the cheeks of his butt. We want our driver to make the decisions."

That doesn't happen now in the control tower. Pit-road speeding is based on electronic monitors through a series of zones down the pits.

So why not display the pit speeds on television and screens and the track for everyone to see?

"We don't feel it's fair," Darby said. "If one team put its setup to run 3½ miles per hour [over the pit speed limit], that's their business. We shouldn't display to the other 42 competitors.

"It would cause more speeding penalties with other teams trying to duplicate it when they didn't set up the car for it."

Darby expects speeding violations will decrease the next few weeks because Montoya's mistake will cause teams to be more cautious.

Montoya doesn't plan to change his approach. His overall goal remains the same: make the Chase.

"The main thing is we showed everybody how much potential this team has," he said. "Last week was heartbreaking, but we finished 11th. If we finish 12th or better every week, we should be good enough. That's the way we see it."

Montoya ranks 10th in the standings and could make the 12-man playoff for the first time.

"We told you we could do it from the beginning this year," he said. "Probably 90 percent of you guys went, 'Hee, hee, hee. What an idiot.'

But we can, and our car has a lot of potential. You can't expect that just the driver or just the engine will be enough. You need the whole package or you're not going to perform."

Montoya believes he has that now. He knows he has a good car this weekend at Pocono. It's the same car he drove last week at Indy.

"But I don't get why people say this track is similar to Indy," Montoya said. "This track is really bumpy. If it is similar, I hope I can find it because we'll have a really good week."

Right. As long as he doesn't get caught speeding in pit road.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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