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No Shortage Of Pitfalls In Atlanta Motor Speedway Pits

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 6 2009
The pits at Atlanta Motor Speedway can be a dangerous place on race days.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The pits at Atlanta Motor Speedway can be a dangerous place on race days. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

Hampton, Ga. – If the key to winning at Atlanta Motor Speedway is navigating the 1.54-mile quad-oval’s sweeping turns, avoiding  incidents on pit road at 45 miles per hour is a close second.

That was the case for Juan Pablo Montoya, who appeared to be in the cat’s bird seat after narrowly missing a late-race pit road collision between Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr. during last year’s Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

But Montoya suffered a similar same fate after ducking onto pit road for fresh rubber during the next caution.

While exiting his pit box, Montoya wound up clipping Clint Bowyer’s Chevrolet. The collision resulted in extensive damage to a fender and relegated Montoya to the rear of the field.

A promising day got even worse after the Colombia native’s No. 42 Dodge was collected in a pileup on the track following the ensuing restart.

He went from legitimate contender to walking away with 40th-place pay.

Former crew chief Jimmy Makar, the Vice President of racing operations for Joe Gibbs Racing, isn’t surprised that drivers, at times, will try to turn Atlanta’s two-lane pit road in a triple-lane by driving into the grass.

“Really, (exiting pit road at Atlanta) shouldn’t be an issue because you do have a grassy area,” Makar said. “A lot of places we go there’s a wall and you can’t get away from cars pulling out.

“People come in bumper-to-bumper and, if they have the same kind of pit stop, they’re going to be leaving bumper-to-bumper and trying to force themselves into little wholes that aren’t there and, typically, that’s when you start seeing those fenders getting banged.”

Tony Stewart, a two-time winner at Atlanta, believes AMS’ pit road offers ample room for competitors.

“I don’t think the pit boxes here are small by any means,” Stewart said. “Everybody is getting so competitive on pit stops now and, you get two or three guys coming out at the same time, I think what happens is you may have cars two-wide and then you get a third guy that comes out and he doesn’t realize that the third lane isn’t open.

“They’re trying to get into that second or first lane, and that creates some of the problems. That’s just because of competitive pit stops and good action on pit road.”

David Gilliland, who is substituting for the injured Bill Elliott in the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Ford this weekend, says Atlanta’s pit road is treacherous on both entry and exit.

“It’s just such a fast place,” he said. “Anytime the track is so fast like this and you come onto pit road, a lot of times you have the tendency to overshoot the entrance. And it’s slippery. This place eats tires and it’s slippery.

“Whenever you go to a track where the tire wears a lot and there’s a lot of rubber and a lot of marbles. That stuff comes down and it all gathers on the inside of the track. So when you get off pit road to get down in there, it’s slippery like driving on ice.

“And the exit is the same way. It’s definitely a tricky pit road. Pit road comes up really quick, so you’ll see guys trying to brake, and maybe have too much rear brake in the car.”

Ryan Truex Jr. offered another theory on why Atlanta often produces at least one pit road mishap between the front-runners during a Sprint Cup event.

“It’s just one of those places where the guys that qualify up front are the guys that race well on Sunday,” Truex said.

“And it seems like everybody likes that end [near Turn 1] of pit road for some reason. So the leaders are always coming out at the same time.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 6 2009
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