One of the major controversies of Sunday's Daytona 500 - at least until lap 120 - was the pit infraction and subsequent penalty incurred by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. With one unforced error to his credit on pit road already, Earnhardt stopped with his right front tire on the white line and before he could move the car back into legal position his crew completed service drawing a one-lap penalty from NASCAR.
Earnhardt expressed dissatisfaction in the rule in his post-race comments. He believes "one inch" on the line shouldn't draw any penalty and he shouldn't have been placed a lap down.
As a student of the sport's history, Earnhardt should know why that rule is in place and there should be little question as to why such penalties are levied.
It was November 1990, the Atlanta Journal 500 at Atlanta International Raceway, and Earnhardt's father was locked in a title fight with Mark Martin. The senior Earnhardt would eventually lock up the title but his fourth championship was tempered by the death of crewman Mike Rich.
Rich was servicing Bill Elliott's car when Ricky Rudd spun on pit road and impacted the right rear corner of Elliott's car. Rich was trapped between the two cars and perished from his injuries.
The following season, NASCAR implemented new rules to reduce the traffic on pit road starting at Daytona. Teams would not be allowed to pit for tires under caution and once the green flag came out the field was split in half and each half could pit on subsequent laps. It was a confusing system and it was eventually changed after a handful of races.
The rules put into place for the North Wilkesboro race are fairly close to what we see today: the pits are closed until the pace car picks up the field under caution; lead lap cars pit the first time by and lapped cars the following lap; there is a speed limit on pit road at all times; spinning on pit road will draw a penalty between one to five laps depending on the severity of the infraction; and teams must pit their car in the pit box.
It used to be the teams could service the car with only one tire inside the box. That was dangerous and often saw crew members out in the lane of traffic with cars speeding by. The rules put in place in 1991 keep crew members closer to the pit wall and out of traffic.
Earnhardt's crew serviced his car and the tire changers, tire carriers, and jackman were all out in the lane of traffic. Earnhardt has every right to be upset for losing a lap, but the blame falls squarely on his shoulders. He drove the car and stopped it with the right front on the white line. NASCAR doesn't differentiate between one inch or twelve; on the line is on the line.