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NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 71: Steve Letarte on the mystery of pit speeding penalties

Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500

MARTINSVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 26: Steve Letarte, crew chief of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, looks on from the pit box during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

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Why were so many NASCAR drivers penalized for speeding in the pits at Atlanta Motor Speedway and why will it happen again?

NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte provided an answer on the most recent episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast.

In a breakdown of the 13 speeding penalties at Atlanta (around the 18:00 mark of the episode), Letarte explained that the debut of the digital dashboard last year and the shortening of speeding vectors in the pits have combined to make it more likely for drivers and teams to err on speeding.

“That dash is electronic, and there’s a little bit of a delay,” Letarte said. “If I text you, it says it was delivered, but is it 1 second or 6 seconds? It doesn’t matter in a text conversation. But it makes a really big difference if you’re trying to run exactly at pit speed.

“The driver controls the speed with his foot, but it takes a few milliseconds of delay (for the speeding gauge). There’s a delay to the dash, and it’s the same for every team.”

There is no speedometer in a Cup car, so drivers must rely on other means for limiting their speeds since electronic timing was introduced in the pits 13 years ago. After once using tachometer meters, teams now use a system of lights connected to the tach.

“The only reason people speed is there’s an advantage to be had,” Letarte said. “It’s real simple, with the diameter of the tire, you can tell the RPM you’re shooting for from the engine.

“Forever you had this cool little tach, and you just had to look at the needle, like in your car.”

But that’s changed with the introduction of lights that are based on data received from the digital dash.

And with NASCAR virtually doubling the number of timing zones in the pits since the midpoint of last year (speeding is measured by time over distance), there’s less margin for error.

Teams are given a buffer of 5 mph over the speed limit, and Letarte said teams easily could avoid getting busted if they played it safe – but no one can.

“If you shot for 58 (with a 60 mph limit), you couldn’t be over because of this so-called delay,” Letarte said. “But you can’t because the next guy is going for 59.5 mph.”

Other topics discussed

--How crew chiefs handle a postrace confrontation similar to Kyle Busch and Joey Logano at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “The only person who has the ability to make the decision (to fight) is the driver,” Letarte said.

--Whether the lower downforce rules package is having an impact on racing in the 2017 Cup season (with respectful apologies and sincere gratitude to SiriusXM Satellite Radio host Pete Pistone for inadvertently suggesting the topic).

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

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