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Toby's Take: Can We Reevaluate Track Limit Penalties? PLEASE!

NASCAR was consistent in calling penalties for drivers going off course in the esses all weekend at COTA, but after seeing how back-breaking the penalty was for minor errors, Toby Christie feels it's time to reevaluate track limits in NASCAR altogether.


hero image for Toby's Take: Can We Reevaluate Track Limit Penalties? PLEASE!

After NASCAR's race weekend at Circuit of the Americas, I have just one question; what the hell are we doing with track limits enforcement?

I get it, dipping your wheels off the track surface on road courses is frowned upon in open-wheel ranks like IndyCar and Formula 1, but you have to understand why that shouldn't be the case in NASCAR.

And before you ask, yes, I believe egregious attempts at cutting the course, like just mowing straight through the bus stop at Watkins Glen, should result in penalties in NASCAR. Hear me out.

COTA, the 3.410-mile road course in Austin, TX was designed with open-wheel cars in mind, F1 cars specifically. Stock cars are a completely different animal, and that's what makes NASCAR so great, and so popular. NASCAR race cars don't handle perfectly. They're heavier and bulkier and have to be slung through left and right turns. Turns that are designed for cars, as fictional crew chief Harry Hogge in Days of Thunder described, are half as heavy and with tires that are twice as wide.

With the cars being so hard to drive, mistakes are made as drivers tip-toe on the edge of mechanical grip. And as a result, unlike F1, passes happen in NASCAR at a much higher rate.

If you're looking for a similie; NASCAR is like rock-and-roll, whereas F1 is more like classical music. Open-wheel racing is very calm, buttoned up, and stiff, while NASCAR is more free-flowing, rough, and natural.

Issuing a 30-second time penalty or a pass-through penalty for being a couple of inches off the accepted track limit line in a NASCAR race is absolute insanity in my humble opinion. And it's even more ridiculous when a driver doesn't choose to go there to gain an advantage, such as what happened to Hendrick Motorsports' Chase Elliott on Lap 39 of Sunday's race.

While running sixth, Elliott clipped the rumble strip in Turn 3 at the beginning of the esses portion of the track, which upset his car, and sent the No. 9 Chevrolet flying off the racing line for Turn 4.

In these instances, NASCAR has an automated system that flags when a car runs off course, and officials are then able to review the footage to decide whether a penalty should be assessed or not.

I admit the screenshot of the moment that Elliott went off course is quite damning. But when you add in the context of how Elliott ended up there, I don't believe this should have been a race-altering penalty, as it ultimately turned out to be, for Elliott and his No. 9 team.

Due to the penalty, which the driver and team unsuccessfully argued with NASCAR for laps about, Elliott wound up with a 16th-place finish on Sunday.

While Elliott didn't place his car in that portion of the track of his own volition, even if Elliott went into that area willingly, would he have gained anywhere near 10 positions on track with that move? No. But, at the end of the day, that's what the penalty amounted to, which is where frustration continues to mount.

The punishment throughout the weekend for this infraction was far too greatly exaggerated for how minimal the crime was.

Shane van Gisbergen was flagged for the same thing on the next to last lap (according to NASCAR's post-race penalty report) of Saturday's NASCAR Xfinity Series race, while locked in a heated battle for the race win. I've looked back at the video of the esses on Lap 49 of the NASCAR Xfinity Series race, and if SVG went off-line, it was by the absolute thinnest of margins.

His penalty for maybe being an inch too far over the line? A 30-second timed penalty that ultimately dropped him from a second-place finish to 27th in the final results. It's absolute insanity.

While these were back-breaking penalties for van Gisbergen and Elliott, you have to at least give NASCAR credit for keeping the ruling consistent throughout the entire weekend. But even with the consistency in the rulings, it still feels incredibly odd that track limits were only enforced in the esses this weekend at COTA.

It's a strange dynamic to have drivers being allowed to gain an advantage by dipping off the track willy-nilly in 16 turns around the course while having to stay locked inside of a box for a four-corner section of the track.

Adding to the confusion is that making a move, that doesn't gain a driver a position, warrants a massive penalty, but a driver spinning out a fellow competitor for a position, as was the case with Christopher Bell spinning Kyle Busch, doesn't.

Sure, accidents happen, but at the end of the day, Elliott flying off-line was also an accident. Why is one punished but the other isn't?

To me, none of it makes any sense. If we want to hold stock car drivers to the standards of open-wheel racers on road courses, I say enforce track limits around the entire course. If you're not willing to do that, don't have track limits at all. And honestly, I'm a bigger fan of the latter.

Photo Credit: Gavin Baker, NKP, Courtesy of Ford Performance

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