As a follow up to my blog post last month regarding the new pit road regulations (see it here), I wanted to post a quick update. Lee Spencer from Motorsport.com posted a story yesterday that includes a complete rundown of the system, including specifics on how it will work and photos of the system in use. Click here to see her full piece.
There was a meeting this week between NASCAR and the sport’s various pit crew coaches regarding the new pit road rules for 2015. The main story line we’ve seen emphasized this week is the fact that NASCAR is no longer going to enforce a lug nut rule. But that isn’t the only thing to come out of that meeting. There are other new rules and ways of enforcement that could have much more drastic impacts on races.
Before I jump into those other areas, let me first talk briefly about the lugnut situation. In the past, the NASCAR rule said lugnuts had to be “installed” to be legal. What exactly the interpretation of “installed” is, was up to the officials. As long as a lugnut was on the stud, most officials would usually let that ride. Only lugnuts that were on the ground were called. So this notion that every tire changer is only going to try and get three or four nuts tight now is a little over-exaggerated. This was happening before, and while you might see more chances taken with the new enforcement, it won’t be that drastic. You will see more loose wheels, but that is self-policing. Drivers will be forced back to pit road during these situations, and often under green.
Now, as for the rest of what was discussed. The big move for next season is the removal of more officials from pit road. Starting at Daytona, a new video system will monitor pit road, and penalties will be called from a central video-review location. That means far fewer “judgement” calls by officials. Cut and dry video evidence will rule. And the one area that nobody in the media has mentioned that will be affected the most is crews jumping from the wall early.
The rule for when crews can leave the wall goes like this: teams are allowed to be on the ground in their pit stall as soon as their car crosses the back line of the stall directly behind their own. You didn’t see this rule enforced all that often, because it had to be fairly blatant for an official to even notice it. Now, if a crew member is down even a split second early, the penalty will be called. Supposedly once NASCAR started testing this video system late in 2014, they were hundreds of “jumping early” penalties flagged by the system.
What this means, is that you could potentially see a lot of these penalties called early in the season until pit crews figure out what they can and can’t get away with. All coaches are emphasizing this point to their teams this offseason, but it will be an issue in 2015.
Another rule that will be more actively enforced with this video system is the drivers rolling through too many pit boxes before their own on entry. Drivers are only allowed to drive through three (I think) pit boxes before they enter their own. This was also a judgement call in the past, but this new video system will catch more of these in the future.
Other smaller points of emphasis for NASCAR included the elimination of helping your neighbor on pit road gather up his tires by being over the wall (i.e. the 27 &24 pit crews at Kansas). You would often see a member of another pit crew over the wall helping a team corral it’s tires. Now, if a crewman wants to help, they have to stay behind the wall. NASCAR is also going to pay closer attention to tire control by the pit crews. If tires aren’t in control of a crewman at least half way back to the wall, NASCAR will call a penalty. This rule isn’t new, but will be more actively enforced.
A lot of changes are coming to NASCAR for 2015, but these new pit road rules could be sneaky important to the outcomes next season. And even though the lugnut situation will be important, these other areas will be big as well.
NASCAR issued a technical bulletin to teams this week with some new language regarding where fuel filler cans could be filled at the track. The new rule basically states that fuel cans can only be filled at the designated Sunoco fueling stations in the infield. This move by NASCAR closes a loophole that some teams were exploiting on pit road to get an advantage with fueling during pit stops.
These days, when discussing fueling during pit stops, teams talk about things like head pressure and flow rates. It’s all fancy terminology used to describe how teams can get the fuel out of the cans and into the cars faster. What teams discovered, is that filling cans as full as possible allows the fuel to flow faster from them. But when cans get filled at the Sunoco stations at the track, they aren’t filled to capacity. The Sunoco workers put approximately the same amount of fuel in each can, which leaves a little extra space. Crew members were then taking these cans to pit road, and adding extra fuel to them from storage cans.
In doing so, and getting better flow rates from the cans, teams can have faster pit stops and get cars fuller, which creates a competitive advantage. Especially at tracks where tires aren’t an important factor, like Daytona and Talladega. Having cans that dump faster allows fuel only stops to be quicker, the now popular two tire/two can stops to be quicker, and for cars to be completely full on standard four tire stops.
Some teams have been getting away with this all season, but in recent weeks NASCAR has become vigilant in their efforts to stop the practice. Officials have been walking pit road during the race and forcing teams to remove extra storage cans from pit stalls. There was not a rule in the rule book prohibiting it per se, but NASCAR has been letting teams know all season they didn’t want it to happen. Now this bulletin makes it official.
As has been reported nearly everywhere, both Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle are in play on the free agent market. Nobody on either side is saying much, and that silence is deafening. What Biffle does will likely be dictated by the move Edwards makes, but make no mistake, Roush Fenway Racing could be about to lose their top two drivers.
During the last free agent year for Edwards, it took a monster deal put together by RFR and Ford to keep Edwards in the 99. After nearly winning the championship in 2011, Edwards missed the Chase in 2012, and was a non-factor in the 2013 Chase. This combined with a shortage of wins is why Edwards is again looking for a new ride. He wants to compete for wins and championships, and he wants to do it now.
The focus and speculation by many seems to be that Edwards is on his way to a potential fourth Gibbs car, but don’t bet on that just yet. Edwards is rumored to have been spotted in the Team Penske shop in recent weeks, and he would make a potent addition to the Penske lineup. Ford doesn’t want to lose Edwards, and a move to Penske would at least keep him in the family.
For Biffle, any move he makes will most likely be made after a resolution comes for Edwards. Edwards is ten years younger than Biffle, and clearly the more sought after free agent. An Edwards departure from RFR would leave Biffle in a very strong position to negotiate a nice extension with his current employer but we’ve also heard that Biffle could be in the mix for that potential fourth car at JGR, or in a third car for Michael Waltrip Racing.
With a lot of the season still to play out, my gut right now says Edwards is gone and Biffle stays. The promotion of Trevor Bayne feels like RFR expects to lose at least one of them, and I think that is Edwards. Biffle would be the top dog at RFR if he stays, which isn’t true if he moves to JGR or MWR.
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.
I really, really, really hope you’ve been paying attention this season to what is happening in the lower series and with a few upcoming young drivers. Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, and Ryan Blaney may be three of the best young drivers we’ve had come up in a long time. There are a few others who will make their marks before the year is over, but these three in particular are the future of the sport.
The influx of “funded” drivers into the sport is something we’ve discussed on this site ad nauseam in the past (some of you might say ancient past). It’s easier for team owners to bring in a kid with his own money, than it is to take a chance on a young driver with no big time backer behind him. Because of this, some really good drivers never got legitimate shots to prosper. These three are an exception.
Blaney and Elliott definitely had a leg up because of their name recognition, but both are in the seats they’re in because they are very talented. Race wins in the Nationwide Series and Truck Series for both prove that.
Larson is a different story. He came up how guys used to come up, and how we wish they would all come up. No famous family members, and no rich benefactor writing checks to get him in seats. He earned every ride by winning, and winning a lot. Larson is a throwback to a different time, when all drivers wanted to do was drive. If Chip Ganassi would let him, Larson would still be running mid-week sprint car shows all over the country.
Blaney is running a limited Nationwide and Cup schedule this season, but don’t expect him to be without a full time ride in an upper series for long. If Penske can’t hang on to him, somebody else will give him that chance in the next year or two.
At this point, the future for Elliott would seem to be behind the wheel of a Hendrick Motorsports Cup car. It might be a few years away, and will probably depend on how much longer Jeff Gordon wants to drive, but make no mistake, Mr. H. won’t let young Chase get away.
As for Larson, he’s obviously found a home in the Cup Series with Chip Ganassi and the Target ride. Going forward, Ganassi will have his work cut out to keep Larson in the fold. There have already been rumors of other teams making offers to Ganassi for “Young Money,” and his growing popularity and early success will make him a target for bigger teams (no pun intended).
Keep an eye out as the season progresses, because there are probably two or three other drivers in the Nationwide and Truck Series who could become household names very quickly. They have the talent and the backing to succeed, they just need that one break through performance.
On a normal NASCAR weekend when the Truck Series and/or Nationwide Series run companion to the Cup cars, there are a lot of pit crew members who double or triple dip. Crew members make some extra cash and get more reps, and the teams get top talent pitting their cars. But this last weekend presented a unique challenge for teams with the trucks in Texas, NNS cars in Iowa, and Cup cars in Pocono. With good weather, there were many guys who could have pitted two, or all three races. A rainout in Iowa threw a wrench into those plans.
Once it became official that Saturday night’s NNS race was postponed, the race was on for teams to get essential people from Iowa to Pocono, and for those teams with holes to fill in Iowa to find replacements. Most crew members are committed to their Cup teams first, so none of the big Cup teams were affected. But there were also some smaller Cup teams like BK Racing and Front Row Motorsports that had to scramble for fill-ins.
Because so many Nationwide teams rely on Cup crew members, there were holes to fill up and down Iowa’s pit road. Teams used backups, crew members from teams in other series, and some retired over-the-wall veterans made comebacks.
If you watched the race, it was probably pretty evident who was using replacements. The race was dominated by Austin Dillon, and that was helped in part by the fact that his team was fully intact. The same was true for teammate Brian Scott. Sam Hornish got most of the #22 crew, because his team is made up of a lot of Cup guys, and the #22 was pitted by replacements. All three Gibbs cars are usually pitted by Cup guys, so all three had mostly new teams. Even race winner Trevor Bayne didn’t have his full usual crew.
Two drivers who were victims of bad stops by fill-in crews were Ryan Blaney and Brian Vickers. After starting in the back, Blaney had to come from the rear of the field a second time in the race after there was confusion on an early pit stop. And later, confusion during a two tire stop for Vickers put him deep in the field, and ultimately led to him being involved in a wreck with Alex Bowman and Travis Pastrana.
When crews are thrown together at the last minute, it can be difficult to get everyone on the same page. Different teams use different methods, and any breakdown in communication can lead to disastrous stops. It’s vital for crew members who are thrown into these situations to back the pace down, make sure they know the calls, and just do the job right.
It will be back to business as usual this weekend with both the Nationwide and Cup cars at Michigan. But teams will again be looking for replacements the following weekend, with the NNS teams tackling Road America in Wisconsin, and the Cup Series heading out west to Sonoma.
I’ve got to be honest, I don’t understand why there has been so much discussion this week about restarts. The rules are really pretty clear. The green flag waves, the leader can go between the two lines, you can’t beat the leader to the line, and don’t change lanes before the start/finish line. Seems pretty simple to me. And regardless of whether you think Montoya had a bad restart or not, Jimmie Johnson broke the rule and was penalized in accordance. It was an open and shut case.
But today at Pocono, the discussion continued as both drivers involved made comments regarding the situation. In a nutshell, Montoya says he did what he was supposed to do, and Johnson called Montoya out for “flopping.” Johnson also called NASCAR out for not doing anything about Montoya’s flopping, and wants NASCAR to make it clear what is and isn’t allowed.
I don’t know about you, but JJ’s comments sound like sour grapes to me. He broke the rules, got busted, and just doesn’t want to admit fault. It’s difficult to feel sorry for him.
Going forward, I don’t expect NASCAR to make any changes to the restart policy. The rules are not difficult to understand, and we have plenty of restarts every week that are executed without incident.
As a side note, this whole situation was evidence that NASCAR does not indeed favor and want the #48 to win.