- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Five-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson apologized on Tuesday for criticizing NASCAR for what he believed to be a bogus speeding penalty on pit road Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
Johnson called out the governing body during his postrace interview and again on Twitter after the penalty saddled him with an 11th-place finish. That ended his run of most consecutive top-10 finishes at 17, one short of the NASCAR record of 18, shared by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
On Tuesday, Johnson said he was mistaken, that the timing segment that NASCAR accused him of speeding through was different from what he believed during the race.
"The fact is we were wrong," Johnson said. "I was referring to a segment I knew I couldn't get busted in. At the end of the day it wasn't the segment we were busted on."
Johnson said he shouldn't have made the comments without all of the correct information, although he said NASCAR could take care of misinformation by making pit-road speeds instantly available for drivers and fans to see.
NASCAR says it has no plans to do that.
"At the end of the day, I called out NASCAR's credibility and judgment and I apologize for that," Johnson said. "I was wrong. I guess I was right about the segment I thought I was speeding in.
"The problem is we were talking about the wrong box."
Johnson was caught speeding in timing zone segment 3, where his average speed was ruled 35.53 mph. The pit-road speed limit at Martinsville is 30 mph, with a 5 mph tolerance.
NASCAR has a maximum pit-road speed for every track, then gives the driver a 5 mph tolerance.
Pit road is then divided into segments, called timing zones or lines, through which drivers must stay below the speed and tolerance limit.
There are exceptions and allowances, and drivers and crew chiefs have taken this to an exact science.
Once a driver is caught, he or the crew chief is allowed to see a computer printout showing exactly where he sped. NASCAR insists there is no reason to post the speeds for all to see.
"We don't feel the need to display the speeds to the other competitors to let them figure out the other teams' strategy. That's why they call it competition," NASCAR spokesperson Kerry Tharp said.
NASCAR also argues that the computers that measure pit-road speeds are exact and that the tachometers that drivers use to measure their speed sometimes are off. Drivers also have a light inside the car that comes on when they are close to breaking the limit.
NASCAR vice of president of competition Robin Pemberton dismissed the notion that fans will never trust the numbers unless they are given in real time because NASCAR can allegedly manipulate the numbers after the fact to show whatever it wants. He then rattled off a list of high-profile speeding penalties that ruined what could have been a good day for the sport.
"It's a bad day to penalize anybody, whether it's Juan Pablo Montoya, Brian Vickers, Dale Earnhardt Jr., anybody. That ruins our day, too," Pemberton said. "It would have been great if Juan won at Indianapolis, or Dale Jr. didn't speed at Bristol and could have won there.
"It's not good for anybody when someone gets penalized. But we don't turn a blind eye to breaking the rules."
Johnson's penalty came with 33 laps remaining as he was running second to Kyle Busch after the final pit stop. Johnson was adamant at the time that he wasn't speeding, and that NASCAR penalized him for taking advantage of his timing zones by accelerating at well-planned out moments.
"I had this happen one other time where I do a good job of my timing lines, I knew exactly where I needed to accelerate, where I need to stop," Johnson told reporters immediately after the race. "There's just no way. The math that we do and way we know our timing lines, there's no way."
Johnson then suggested on Twitter that all pit-road speeds should be posted for drivers and fans to see.
"If NASCAR wanted to eliminate speeding controversy, they would post the times for the world to see," Johnson, who is third in points, 12 behind leader Busch, wrote on Twitter in a reply to ESPN's Marty Smith.
Johnson said he hasn't heard from NASCAR, which in the past has fined drivers for detrimental comments about the sport on Twitter. If a fine comes, Johnson said, he hopes the money is put to good use.
"It would be nice to have all the information, especially with the interaction we have with the media," Johnson said. "I was out of the car 15 to 20 seconds and right into interview. I hate to say something out of turn.
"We just want to know. How many times have we had people swearing on their family they weren't speeding? [Making speeds visible] would eliminate any of that in all shapes and form."
As frustrated as Johnson was, he was adamant that he doesn't believe NASCAR would change the numbers to suit its own purposes.
"I don't think that would happen," Johnson said. "I know it wouldn't happen."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
2dK. Lee Davis