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Why Does NASCAR Close Pit Road?

Pit road would be a dangerous place if NASCAR did not have sound rules and regulations in place to protect the people who work in it. These rules include speed limits in pit road and the number of crew members that can be over the wall. NASCAR also closes pit road at times.

NASCAR closes pit road for safety purposes. This occurs immediately after the race falls under caution, or within the last two laps of a stage. When pit road closes, no driver may enter it until all cars line up behind the pace car. Once order is restored on the track, NASCAR will open pit road.

In the article below, we will discuss in detail why NASCAR closes pit road. We will also discuss some of NASCAR’s short-lived safety mandates on pit road, go over some of its rules and regulations, and explore how these rules and regulations can vary from track to track.

Why Would NASCAR Close Pit Road?

NASCAR closes pit road at times for the safety of the people who are in it. There have been incidents in the past where pit crew members have been injured or have even died from accidents in pit road. NASCAR determined these incidents could be prevented by closing pit road at certain times.

While there is an inherent risk of injury in a sport as fast and as challenging as NASCAR, the organization doesn’t want to increase the chances of something bad happening. NASCAR decided to crack down on pit road accidents after the 1990 Atlanta Journal 500.

1990 Atlanta Journal 500

The Atlanta Journal 500 forced NASCAR to make several adjustments regarding pit road. During the race, Ricky Rudd’s brakes locked while he was driving to his pit stall, causing him to hit Mike Rich and Tommy Cole, both of whom belonged to Bill Elliott’s pit crew.

The incident resulted in Rich’s death. Cole suffered an arm injury in the event and made a full recovery. When interviewed later that evening, Rudd revealed he did not know what caused his brakes to lock. However, NASCAR had seen enough, and it necessitated drastic changes to be made for 1991.

Enter Safety Mandates

Any changes NASCAR makes are in the interest of safety, and closing pit road at designated times during the race is no different. These days, NASCAR closes pit road when the caution flag waves and also during the last two laps of a stage. This allows the cars to line up behind the pace car and enter pit road in an orderly fashion.

The incident at the Atlanta Journal 500 motivated NASCAR to implement and enforce pit road speed limits. They also noted that NASCAR did away with pit crew members holding up pit boards in front of their driver’s pit stall. These days, teams attach those boards to poles and hang them over the wall, so the driver knows where to stop.

NASCAR Pit Road Rules And Regulations

Some of NASCAR’s pit rules were just bizarre. Some of them we still see today, like pit road speed limits, pit road closing and opening, and the pit boards attached to metal poles. NASCAR fans might not even pay much attention to these rules because they’ve become second nature during a race.

In 1991, however, there were other rules. NASCAR limited the number of cars allowed to pit under caution. Cars that qualified in an odd-numbered position would pit during a designated caution lap. And cars with an even-numbered position would pit during a second designated lap. Predictably, these rules did not last long. By April of that year, NASCAR again allowed tire changes under caution.

In the 2020s, NASCAR pit stop rules and regulations are simpler. There are four special categories of rules and regulations during a pit stop. We can divide these rules into three categories: Pit crew rules, fuel rules, and driver rules.

Pit Crew Rules

NASCAR requires pit crew members of the same team to distinguish themselves from one another. This usually requires a numbering system. When crew members take to the film room, they and their teams can identify individual members, so it’s easier to develop sound strategies for the following race.

Until recently, seven crew members could climb over the wall to service the car. However, that number has since been cut to five, with NASCAR eliminating the catch can man and rear tire carrier. Some pit crew members may multitask services to the car. For example, the jackman may help remove the rear tires from the car, allowing the tire changer to change the tires more efficiently.

The tire carrier may also help with both the front and rear tires. Meanwhile, the gas man is relegated to filling the car. They must also wear a special fire apron to prevent burn injuries in the event they spill gas onto themselves.

Pit Crew Members

Only the gas man, two tire changers, a tire carrier, and a jackman may hop over the wall during a pit stop. A sixth member, called the utility man, may jump over the wall during the second half of the race. NASCAR took away the seventh member, known as the “catch can man,” when they introduced a locking mechanism that attached the gas can to the car’s fuel tank.

The utility man’s role offers any additional service to the car that the other members do not provide. This means handing the driver water and food if they need to stock up on them or clearing the windshield of grime.

Each pit crew comprises between 15 and 20 members. These are the mechanics, specialists, and managers. Watch any pit stop and you will see additional members behind the wall, often holding the old tires against it to signal the end of the pit stop.

Driver Rules

The driver must adhere to a speed limit between 35 and 55 mph in pit road, depending on the track. Larger tracks like Daytona allow for faster speed limits. Drivers will draw a penalty if they drive over the speed limit entering pit road, if they park in the wrong pit stall, or if they exit their stall before the old tires are in contact with a designated barrier.

Fuel Rules

In 2011, NASCAR introduced E15 gasoline, provided by Sunoco. This new fuel contained 15% ethanol, which was cleaner than the fuel NASCAR used in the past. NASCAR has mandated all teams to use the fuel since its introduction. All fuel tanks must hold 18 gallons and teams can refuel as often as they like.

How Often Do Pit Stop Rules And Regulations Change?

NASCAR is a constantly-evolving sport and you will see rule changes occur each season. These rule changes can be spontaneous. The 1990 Atlanta Journal 500 is a good example of an event that led to spontaneous rule changes in future events in the name of safety.

But, as the 1991 NASCAR Season proved, not all rule changes stick around. NASCAR will find some rules or regulations were unnecessary changes in hindsight. Other rule changes will fall to the wayside because the drivers and/or their teams did not approve of them after their implementation.

No one can really say for certain as to when NASCAR will change its rules and regulations on pit road. However, you can hypothesize when NASCAR might make a change. For example, if they go hybrid or electric in the future, what will the gas man’s role look like?

Final Thoughts

NASCAR closes pit road in the interest of safety during a caution or during the final laps of a stage. Once track conditions are in order, they will reopen pit road and allow the drivers to make their respective pit stops. There are rules and regulations all teams must follow on pit road.