NASCAR apologizes after mistakenly penalizing Jimmie Johnson at Texas playoff race

FORT WORTH, Texas — Tony Stewart has spent two decades in NASCAR and still doesn’t grasp some of the series’ rules, a topic that became an issue when seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson was mistakenly penalized moments before Sunday’s AAA Texas 500.

“You have to make it simpler,” said Stewart after one of his drivers, Kevin Harvick, won the race to clinch a spot in the Championship 4. “Half the time, you don’t know what the penalties are supposed to be and I’m a car owner. I don’t know how fans are supposed to keep up with it either.”

Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet failed inspection twice, but passed a third time. (Cars aren’t penalized track position when a car passes before three attempts, although they can be docked  practice time at the next race.)

NASCAR  Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell said “there was a communication breakdown” between inspection officials and racing control.

“There was an assumption there was a third failure,” O’Donnell said outside the NASCAR hauler following Sunday's race at Texas Motor Speedway. “There wasn’t. There were only two. In that case, the 48 should not have started in the back.

“It’s disappointing. It’s not something you can fix during the race, unfortunately. All we can do is own up to it and fix it.”

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Johnson hung in line during the warmup laps where he qualified (23rd) as his crew chief, Chad Knaus, attempted to get officials to recognize the error. Johnson, however, eventually went to the back of the pack.

“It put us in a bad situation,” Knaus said. “I’m really proud of the guys on the 48 team. We came back strong. We had another penalty later, a spun on the racetrack and still finished reasonably well.”

Johnson finished 15th and remains without a win this season with two races left. He’s won in each season as a full-time driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series — a run that goes back to 2002 — but hasn't taken the checkered flag since June 4, 2017 at Dover International Speedway.

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