Strategy is goal of pit road experiment in Xfinity, Trucks
While Xfinity and Truck Series teams will save some money with the newly announced pit crew and strategy rules for seven standalone races, two NASCAR team officials cited a desire to increase “strategy” and “wit” with the move.
The financial angle is a “small aspect” of the format according to Ryan Pemberton, competition director for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series, where the rules will be used in four races -- at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (May 30), Iowa Speedway (June 13 and Aug. 1) and Road America (Aug. 8).
“I really think it’s about leveling the playing field a little bit and mixing it up, giving people opportunities to do something different on pit road that don’t normally have that opportunity,” Pemberton said after the announcement. “You take a 15th-place car and you can pick one of those guys back there that are having a good day, and it’s hard to have a real successful day due to the fact that maybe (it’s) their pit crew versus somebody else’s (more experienced) pit crew.
“I think from a strategic point, from a crew chief’s point of view, it puts more people in play, and it should be broadened ‑‑ the competition, how many guys could be in the top 10 on a regular basis and have more opportunities. And then from a logistics standpoint, it helps out, too, as far as the people and moving people across the country.
“But for the most part, it’s really about competition.”
Pemberton emphasized that teams that take two tires on a pit stop will start ahead of teams that took four.
“That mixes things up, makes for different opportunities for different people,” Pemberton said. “And then maybe one guy does it, maybe two guys do it, and the third guy wants to do it, next thing you know it really flips the field.”
David Pepper, the general manager of ThorSport Racing in the Truck Series, made small team owner Jordan Anderson the poster child for those who could benefit from these rules in his series, which will use them at Iowa Speedway (June 12) and the playoff races at World Wide Technology Raceway (Aug. 21) and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Sept. 6).
Anderson, a driver-owner on an underfunded team, has only two top-10 finishes in 101 Truck Series starts. Those top 10s came at Daytona and Talladega.
“Jordan Anderson, who has had many good runs, and then we come down pit road and he can’t compete on pit road with the pit crew,” Pepper said. “This will allow that to go away and a team like that to compete at a high level and have an opportunity to showcase their crew chief and driver talent and their team’s talent in building a fast race truck.
“So we’ve leveled the playing field, and I think you’re going to see a lot of really good stories from a lot of really good race car drivers that are out there that are going to have an opportunity to go run in the top five and go run in the top 10.”
Among the rules is when teams can take two or four tires.
- On an oval track, teams may add fuel and change two tires per stop. A second stop must be made to change the other two tires.
- On a road course, teams may add fuel or change four tires per stop.
Pemberton raised the risk/reward that a team that is leading a race will have to consider when the caution comes out.
“How many people are going to take two behind me versus taking four?” Pemberton said. “That’s going to make even the guys up front rethink what they’re doing. Maybe they get cold feet and they go like, ‘Man, I’m only going to get two because I don’t want to give up the lead, and next thing you know maybe the guys right behind them get four.
“So it’s going to really change how you go about these pit stops. And that’s where the strategy comes in play, and I think that’s where the excitement level comes in.”
Eric Peterson, the Xfinity Series technical manager, addressed how the rules impact the relationship between the haves and have nots in the NASCAR garage.
“One of the things we looked at was kind of the data of our current pit stops and all the teams that consistently run in the top 10,” Peterson said “Our current pit stop strategy really did not mix the field up very well. The average position change was right around one position.
“That’s the reason we kind of took this other approach, is that kind of the purpose of coming down pit road and doing pit stops is to hopefully mix the field up a little bit where you don’t have a ‘follow the leader’ race the entire race.”
The first Xfinity race at Iowa last year saw Christopher Bell lead 186 of 250 laps to win. There were two lead changes in the last 190 laps of that race. Last year’s Truck race at Iowa saw Ross Chastain lead the final 141 laps to take the checkered flag before his victory was taken away when his truck failed post-race inspection.
The perspective of one Truck Series crew chief was provided by Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Rudy Fugle Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”
Fugle said he’d be “open-minded” about the rules change, but said he’s “not 100% for” them.
“As the son of a mechanic, my first job as a young kid was working with someone disassembling cars at a salvage yard,” Fugle said. “I kind of grew up wanting to be a guy that changes tires on pit road. Taking that element out, or maybe leading to taking that element out is kind of ... it’s not exciting to me. But I’ll be open-minded and we’ll attack and figure out how to make the system the best for KBM and figure out how to beat everybody, no matter what the rules are.”
Fugle also addressed how the new rules at the standalone races will impact the role of a spotter in pit strategy.
“Normally ... the crew chief gets a lot of help on some of the ways the rules are and the way the pit road rules are from the spotter,” Fugle said. “Because the spotter can see what’s happening. So you want your spotter to know 100% what the rule is. ... But now we go to the standalone races, you’re not going to have a normal spotter. You’re going to have a guy that only does three or four NASCAR races, so he’s not going to know those rules, let alone the new rules. We’re going to have to spread those delegations out a little bit through the team to make sure that we’re thinking of everything and not messing something up so we don’t make a mistake. I think that’s the biggest fear.”
While the financial savings of this limited pit format might be a “small aspect” for a team like JR Motorsports, it’s a different conversation for Tommy Joe Martins, who will race for his family-owned team in the Xfinity Series this year.
Great compromise by @nascar here. It’s SO EXPENSIVE to bring entire crews out to those standalone races. I know fans want pit stops. I like pit stops too. This is a major cost cutting things for teams like @TeamMartins. Hope fans understand that. https://t.co/2gI2HWjbgX— Tommy Joe Martins (@TommyJoeMartins) January 7, 2020