During one of the most crucial practices of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, a miscommunication caused a collision between Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski – before they were even on the racetrack.
As Truex followed Keselowski out from the garage to pit road, both drivers were confused by a NASCAR official's motions. Truex said the official usually puts one hand out as if to say "STOP!" But this time, the official had one hand out and one hand waving in a different direction – and Truex was confused as to what that meant.
"I've done some dumb shit in my life, but ain't nothing ever topped that," Truex said after practice. "... My bad. Totally my fault. You get in a hurry in and out of the garage, and it's kind of hard to see what the guy is doing, you know?"
Drivers navigating that part of the Chicagoland Speedway garage rely on the official's hand motions because they can't see the cars merging from the other part of the garage. The official acts as a traffic cop to help drivers get safely to pit road and onto the track.
Truex said he saw Keselowski start to make the turn to pit road and figured he'd follow. But when Keselowski suddenly stopped at the official's hand motion, Truex wasn't ready.
"I was just checking to make sure a car wasn't coming (from the left), and he already hit the brakes and I was like, 'Oh, shit,'" Truex said. "You can't see them when you're coming, so you've got to watch the guy. But the guy did something different than normal."
Truex's No. 56 car sustained a small amount of front-end damage – Truex said he was worried because he saw a crack – but the team was able to fix it quickly. The rear end of Keselowski's No. 2 car was partially caved in, but the team somewhat repaired the damage (though it still looks like it needs work).
After the practice was over, Keselowski walked over to find Truex but didn't immediately see the driver and had to get to the Nationwide car for another practice session. Keselowski told SB Nation there were "too many fuckin' people in the garage" and he didn't see the official's stop sign until it was almost too late.
"You're trying not to run over people and you can't see what's going on," Keselowski said. "I couldn't see the damn guy because there are too many people in the garage. There are more people in the garage than the stands – that's the problem!"
Chicagoland Speedway's grandstands were not open on Friday except to a small amount of campers and fans who could sit in a designated section in exchange for a charity donation. There were plenty of fans wandering around the garage, though; they lined up along the Cup haulers to watch drivers pull in and out of the stalls.
Truex ended the practice session in 25th but said he was pleased with his car; Keselowski improved to 16th by the end of practice.
"He was fast, so I guess we're all good," Truex said. "It's one of those deals where you've seen it happen a few times and you're like, 'Damn, that must suck!' It scared me pretty bad."