NASCAR bans Watts 4 races

Updated: March 10, 2009, 7:48 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The crew member who forced NASCAR to call a caution that played a key role in the outcome of Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway has been suspended for four races.

Jimmy Watts of Marcos Ambrose's No. 47 team was suspended for the remainder of the race after chasing a tire into the infield grass when it got away from the team during a pit stop.

The governing body tacked on the four-race penalty under the rule that says crew members must not go on the racetrack for any reason while the cars are racing or while the cars are running under the yellow or red flag unless otherwise directed by a NASCAR official.

Watts also was placed on probation until the end of the year.

In addition, crew chief Frank Kerr was placed on probation for the remainder of the year because policy states he is responsible for the actions of the team.

Watts was not available for comment. A spokesman for Ambrose's team said earlier in the day the team was ready to put the incident behind it and later said no appeal was planned.

NASCAR was forced to call the caution on Lap 67 because Watts would have been in harm's way had a car spun out or lost control coming off Turn 4 while he was chasing the tire. The caution came in the middle of green flag pit stops, putting more than half the field a lap or more down.

Had Watts not chased the tire NASCAR officials said they would have waited for the green flag stops to cycle out before calling a caution, thus keeping cars all on pit sequence.

"Maybe he's new," said Matt Kenseth, who rallied from a lap down to finish 12th. "Maybe he hasn't seen us drive, but we tend to wreck a lot. I wouldn't want to be out in the middle of the grass."

Race winner Kurt Busch was among those who did not go a lap down. His crew chief, Pat Tryson, said he would have come off the top of his pit box had it been one of his crew members.

"We know better than that," he said. "I'm sure that person is going to learn."

Crew members are subject to penalty for actions detrimental to stock car racing. In 2006, a member of Clint Bowyer's team was suspended for several weeks because he did not place racing fuel in the designated collection area.

Crew chief Gil Martin also was fined $2,500 because he was considered responsible for the crew member's action.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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