Ryan: It’s time for NASCAR and teams to tighten it up on pit guns
It is because of faulty air regulators, equipment that falls short of handling heavy torque and a simple lack of real-world testing for a massive undertaking.
It is because of the new pit crew restrictions, pressure-packed money stops and teams looking for something to blame for subpar performances.
There are two distinct sides (“Blame the guns!” “Blame the crews!”) and several schools of thought (along with many shrill voices championing them) on why the perceived reliability of the new pit guns has become one of the overarching stories of the 2018 season as pit stops have resulted in a spate of loose wheels.
There is one simple conclusion: It must be fixed.
As Dale Jarrett said Monday on NASCAR America, the prudent move in retrospect probably would have been to test these guns for a full season in the Xfinity Series before bringing them to Cup. But it’s now too late for such a retroactive Band-Aid.
Either the product must be upgraded by Paoli (or replaced entirely by a new manufacturer). Or Cup teams currently complaining need to get religion that the randomly issued guns can be trusted and no longer will be public scapegoats for pit miscues.
The discussion that dominated the postrace conversations about Kyle Busch’s victory Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway is fine for early season talking points, but if it persists into the summer, the potential damage to NASCAR’s credibility and competitive legitimacy exponentially will become highly dangerous.
It assuredly needs to stop before the playoffs begin. NASCAR can’t afford to have a playoff contender’s advancement – or God help them, the championship – called into question by a situation similar to what plagued Kevin Harvick at Texas.
The past two months have brought enough finger-pointing and social media snark to fill an hourlong episode of a NASCAR reality TV show, and it’s occasionally cathartic and compelling to see such raw emotion laid in the open.
But no more. The absolute top priority (even ahead of the uncontrolled tire controversy) during the weekend debriefs today at the R&D Center should be addressing the pit guns and setting a goal of putting the topic to bed by the Coca-Cola 600.
With everything aired out about pit guns, it’s time to tighten it up, literally and figuratively.
There were some suggestions made that Harvick experienced a dose of schadenfreude at Texas because he previously had dismissed the pit gun problems as a nonissue.
This doesn’t seem to ring true, at least not publicly. When Martin Truex Jr. had major pit problems at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Harvick was asked about the guns.
His answer: “I honestly don’t know 100 percent what happened, so that’s way out of my category of things that I need to be commenting on,” he said.
There were similar answers that day when Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer also were asked about the guns – reinforcing the notion that an informal gag order had been in place from NASCAR about disparaging the new equipment.
That’s why it was significant and stunning to hear the postrace objections to the guns by team owners Joe Gibbs (who usually shies far away from public controversy) and Rob Kauffman.
Though some members of the Team Owners Council raised the concept to NASCAR of implementing common pit guns, and all teams voted on the topic, there obviously wasn’t consensus on the decision.
One of NASCAR’s selling points is its family values, and that extends to the working relationships between teams and officials. When you spend 36 weekends and thousands of hours on the road together, it’s unavoidable that bonds will be built.
But in today’s age of social media and GIFs that play on infinite loops, there must be clearer boundaries drawn on in-race displays of collegiality, particularly when team members and driver business managers are involved.
Also want to point out that members of Kevin Harvick’s team fist-bumping and back-slapping a NASCAR official after a no-call looks *really, really, really bad* after this admission from NASCAR that Harvick should have been penalized. pic.twitter.com/zLOjKzojro— Nick Bromberg (@NickBromberg) April 9, 2018
How would the world react if Ed Hochuli slapped a high-five with Cam Newton or Drew Rosenhaus? How would a fist-bump for Joey Crawford from LeBron James or Maverick Carter be perceived?
It’s great that NASCAR exists as one big happy family much of the time (it probably couldn’t survive without those dynamics), but that image must be shelved when the competition begins and the national TV cameras are rolling.
Out of the mouths of babes sometimes come pearls of wisdom, so let’s note what the highest-finishing member of the New Kids on the Track said about Sunday’s 500-mile race at Texas. With eight cautions, the event ran slightly over three and a half hours (not including an 11-minute red flag).
Toward the end, fourth-place finisher Erik Jones radioed his team that the race seemed longer than normal, particularly as the second 500-miler since the season opener.
“They all seemed quick to me,” Jones said of the previous five races this season after the Daytona 500. “Man, (Texas) seemed like a Truck race.
“We came here, it was like this race is dragging. It wasn’t, like, I was wore out or anything. It just seemed like it was never going to end for a minute. With the red flag and everything, it kind of exaggerated that thought that was running through my mind. They’re long races. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to racing 500 miles. That’s a long time. I think overall this year I just have a better idea of how to race ‘em.”
So should the races be shorter?
“I feel like you’re trying to get me in trouble now,” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver laughed. “I mean, in my opinion only, yeah. I think 400 miles is enough. I think there’s marquee races that need to stay: Daytona 500, Southern 500, Coke 600. But I do think 400 miles is probably enough.”
Jones should face no repercussions for offering the honest opinion of a 21-year-old who is in tune with the generation of fans that NASCAR desperately needs to attract.
And though his view might be anathema to Texas president Eddie Gossage and old-guard fans, it needs to be seriously considered when assembling future schedules.
NASCAR took six cars from Texas to the Aerodyn wind tunnel in Mooresville, North Carolina, for testing today, presumably to measure downforce levels between manufacturers.
Maybe the sanctioning body also might explore the effects of aerodynamics after a particularly edgy Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
Several drivers lost the handle between Turns 3 and 4 when on the bottom with a car on the outside. Brad Keselowski, who was collected in a multicar crash that started when Denny Hamlin lost control with Aric Almirola on the outside, said the blame mostly could be attributed to aerodynamics.
Race winner Kyle Busch agreed. “It does lend itself to aerodynamics,” he said. “The guy on the outside just doesn’t want to get any wider than he has to because of how wide the racetrack is. You want to stay in that rubber. The closer you can stay or the lower you can stay, the better the grip is. So you’re going to pinch that guy that’s on the inside of you as much as you can in order to hold your position, if you’re the guy on the outside, sacrifice yourself.
“You’re playing with fire. It’s a double‑edged sword. You can pin him, keep that spot, or you can pin him and crash, and he can take you with him. You have to be mindful of that.”
Though there were some examples of drivers making great saves (namely Busch and Bubba Wallace), there is a fine line between making the cars hard to drive and going beyond the bounds of top-level talent.
Texas showed that the current car might straddle that boundary too much on a supersonic 1.5-mile layout.
NASCAR confirmed Tuesday that it was Ryan Blaney’s right-front tire that was deemed uncontrolled and triggered a penalty on Lap 43 (and not the right rear that briefly was unattended while stationary on the outside of the pit box).
Normally, this would be mostly nonessential information but with the (admittedly wrong) noncall on Harvick’s team late in the race, Blaney’s penalty provides important context to how the rule is interpreted and assessed.