I have noticed a trend toward cowardice on pit road. It began in 2009 when Jimmy Watts (better known as the gas man for Macros Ambrose) chased a tire into the infield grass at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Watts was promptly censured by commentators for his dangerous action and given a four-race suspension by NASCAR.
I want to measure exactly how dangerous Watts' actions were. If one car spins into the grass at Atlanta every race, then the chances of it happening on any given lap are 1 in 300 (that is one-third of one percent); in contrast, the chances of today being Christmas are 1 in 366. This only covers the possibility of the car spinning onto the grass, not necessarily coming within a 15 foot radius of Watts. Watts himself is neither suicidal nor blind to danger. By day Watts is a captain in the Charlotte Fire Department; therefore, we can assume he knows how to assess risk in a dangerous situation. Granted NASCAR (allegedly) has a rule against crew members going onto the racetrack; however I do not see how the grass infield can qualify as part of the track.
Three years later a tire carrier for Paul Menard at Richmond is chastised for retrieving a wayward tire on pit road, even though there was clearly no traffic approaching him. I am not going to tell children that it's always safe to play in traffic, but it's not always dangerous either. I'm known to be a trusting person, so I assume anyone working on a pit crew is smart enough to know when to chase after a tire, and when not to.
A few years ago, I found some footage of a CART race at Pocono where a broken down car was pushed behind the inside retaining wall. This sounds relatively unimpressive until we consider that the car was moved during green-flag conditions; blown engine aside, nothing bad happened. I do not present this as a model for future behavior, but to show the failure of Murphy's Law: just because something can go wrong, does not mean we should assume that it will.
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