It’s been a common thread this year; a driver has a shot to win, but a bad pit stop or two derails the whole day and somebody ends up getting called out on the radio or national television. Yes, the pressure is as high as it’s ever been on the pit crews with track position being at a premium, but some teams are at a disadvantage before they even step off the wall.
One area many teams have spent time and a great deal of money improving recently is the equipment used by the pit crews. The impacts (pit gun, gun, whatever you want to call it) specifically have seen a big jump forward in the last few seasons. If tire changers can get the lugnuts off and on faster, the entire stop can be sped up dramatically.
For a basic description of how an impact works, click here. One of the main innovations has been the removal of the traditional hammer system in the impacts. The hammers have been replaced with a clutch mechanism that improves the gun performance in a few ways. First, the removal of the hammers has reduced the rotating mass inside the gun which makes it smoother to operate and allows it to spin at higher RPMs than ever before. Also, the clutch keeps the lugnuts from being over-tightened in the event the tire changer stays on one nut too long. The guns effectively shut themselves off once the lugnuts reach a certain torque setting. These changes have resulted in some pit crews being able to do pit stops in the low 11 second range, or under.
Most of the top level organizations have the new style guns in some form or another. Some, like Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports, seem to have a little better handle on them than the others. And in the hands of the right tire changers, the results can be pretty amazing.
The problem with these changes, and one of the reasons we’ve seen mistakes, is not everyone has these new style guns. And even among the teams that do, not all are equal. The pit crews that are at a disadvantage know they must push the envelope to keep up with the haves, and that can easily result in mistakes.
After what we saw at Charlotte, don’t be surprised if you hear this week about some changes to a few teams. Drivers that are trying to contend for wins and the championship will not stay quiet for long about slow pit stops.