Ryan: It’s time for NASCAR and teams to tighten it up on pit guns

Leave a comment

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.

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.

Report: Matt Kenseth to return to Roush Fenway Racing?

Getty Images
1 Comment

Roush Fenway Racing has what it is billing as a “Major Roush Fenway Partner Announcement” at 10 a.m. Wednesday, and a report states the team will reveal that Matt Kenseth will return to drive select races in the No. 6 Ford of Trevor Bayne.

No one from Roush Fenway Racing responded to multiple requests for comment from NBC Sports. Several industry insiders contacted by NBC Sports also had no knowledge of Kenseth going to the No. 6 car.

SB Nation’s Jordan Bianchi, citing unnamed multiple sources, reported Monday night that the 2003 Cup champion will rejoin the NASCAR team that Kenseth drove for from 1998-2012.

The report stated that Kenseth’s first race in the No. 6 is expected to be May 12 at Kansas Speedway.

Bayne is 26th in the points heading into Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. Bayne’s best finish this season is 12th at Texas. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner has not had a top-10 finish in his last 12 starts, dating back to last season. Sponsor AdvoCare signed a contract renewal with the team through the 2019 season in Nov. 2016. 

Kenseth left the series last year, unable to find a ride after he was told he would not be retained by Joe Gibbs Racing after the season. The move allowed JGR to put Erik Jones in the No. 20 car this year.

Kenseth told Nate Ryan in the NASCAR on NBC Podcast in November that he was putting his career on hiatus but didn’t say retirement.

“I’ve put a lot of thought into it and pretty much decided after Martinsville, which I kind of already knew anyway, but we decided to take some time off,” Kenseth told Ryan. “I don’t know what that means. I don’t know if that’s forever. I don’t know if that’s a month or I don’t know if that’s five months. I don’t know if that’s two years. Most likely when you’re gone, you don’t get the opportunity again. I just don’t really feel it’s in the cards.

“Really most of my life, everything has been very obvious to me. Moving to Joe Gibbs, everybody was like, ‘Oh that must have been the hardest decision. Actually, it was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. Both ends, everything lined up. It lined up to not stay where I was for a whole bunch of different reasons, and it lined up to go over there for a whole bunch of different reasons. It was just like it was really easy. This one, I’ve been fighting it as long as I can, because I’m like, ‘Man, once you’re done doing this, not many of us get to do this, especially at the top level.’ I think I fought it for a long time.

“Sometimes you can’t make your own decisions, so people make them for you. That’s unfortunate, because I wanted to make my own decisions. I felt like in a way I’ve earned that to be able to go out the way other drivers who had similar careers to dictate when your time is up. Anyway, I just came to the realization it’s probably time to go do something different.”

Kenseth joined JGR in 2013 after 13 seasons in NASCAR’s premier series with Roush, compiling 24 victories while making the playoffs eight times. The 2000 Cup rookie of the year also scored 26 Xfinity wins with the team, finishing runner-up in the standings in 1998-99. He ranks 20th on the all-time Cup wins list with 39.

NASCAR America: Jimmie Johnson doing more with less in last two races

Leave a comment

For the last two Cup races, Jimmie Johnson looked more like his old self.

At Bristol, Johnson scored his first top five since October. On Saturday at Richmond, after running off the lead lap for 267 of 400 laps, the seven-time champion used a series of late-race cautions to finish sixth.

It marked Johnson’s first consecutive top 10s since October at Dover and Charlotte.

On NASCAR America, analysts Steve Letarte and Dale Jarrett discussed the No. 48 team’s improvement.

“I think very clearly Jimmie Johnson and (crew chief) Chad Knaus have figured out a way to do more with less,” Letarte said. “The secret of Jimmie Johnson the last 10 years — the fastest race car with the best driver. … That’s how they won at least six of their seven championships, was the best race car. I think when you’re that good for so long … you perhaps don’t build the skill set of running a lap down, you don’t build the skill set of racing a lap down. That’s different than running on the lead lap or pit strategy to win the race.”

Johnson is mired in the longest winless streak of his career at 32 races.

“It’s hard to believe that someone like Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus can learn a new trick, but they’ve learned one,” Letarte said. “Through the summer, as the cars get better, look out. Because if they keep this sort of patience with good cars, I expect Jimmie to win races again and win multiple times in 2018.”

Watch the above video for more on Johnson and his teammate William Byron.

NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: Richmond recap, fantasy update

NBCSN
Leave a comment

Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6-6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and recaps last weekend’s Cup race in Richmond.

Carolyn Manno hosts from Stamford, Connecticut. Steve Letarte and Dale Jarrett join her from Burton’s Garage.

On today’ show:

•   In an overtime finish at Richmond Raceway, Kyle Busch made his way to Victory Lane for the third consecutive time this season. But first, “Rowdy” made an unexpected move – joining the fans in the crowd to celebrate. Our own Dave Burns was at the track Saturday to catch up with him after the win. 

•   We’ll also break down Saturday’s efforts for runner-up Chase Elliott, fourth-place finisher Joey Logano, and sixth-place finisher Jimmie Johnson. For Johnson and the No. 48 team, they’ve earned their first back-to-back top-10 finishes since last October. DJ & Steve debate why they’re finding ways to get good results while still lacking in speed.

•   The NBC Sports NASCAR America Fantasy League continues. Which NASCAR on NBC broadcaster and which fans are in the lead after three races. Join the conversation and share your league team each week using #NASCARAmericaFantasy.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Ryan: The curious lack of strategic gambling was the pits at Richmond

2 Comments

Sometimes, the best option to win a race isn’t outrunning the competition but outmaneuvering them.

Never is that more applicable than with a late-race caution on a short track.

Which made the final pit stop sequence of Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway even more inexplicable.

When the yellow flag waved with a scheduled 10 laps remaining, all 16 cars on the lead lap pitted for four tires.

Why didn’t a crew chief gamble on keeping his car on track? Or at least taking two tires?

Generally, the tried-and-true axiom for any late caution at a short track is to do the opposite of those in the lead or near it – even in instances of the high tire wear evident Saturday at Richmond.

Sometimes, the strategy gets taken to the extreme.

In the April 18, 2004 at Martinsville Speedway, a caution flew with 85 laps remaining. Leader Jimmie Johnson stayed on track … and the 14 lead-lap cars behind him all pitted. On tires that fell off quickly, Johnson still managed to keep the lead for another 40 laps and hung on for a fourth-place finish. Crew chief Chad Knaus said two days later that he was “floored” that even the cars outside the top 10 stopped (expecting that at least a few might risk staying out and hanging on for a top 10).

Stunned would be an understandable reaction to Richmond, too, especially given the circumstances. When the race restarted, there were six green-flags left. As it turned out, because of a caution on the next lap, just four of the final 12 laps were contested under green.

Why not elect to remain on track or try a swifter two-tire stop rather than stay behind the top contenders?

For three drivers – Austin Dillon, David Ragan and Matt DiBenedetto – the strategy play wasn’t much of a choice. They took a wavearound 20 laps earlier and probably couldn’t risk the extra distance on tires.

But for every other driver who was trailing as eventual race winner Kyle Busch entered the pits on Lap 391 – a list that comprised, in running order, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, William Byron, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez – rolling the dice was a legitimate option.

Ten of those 13 drivers don’t have a win, which is the easiest way to qualify for a playoff berth. While you can make the case for “every point matters,” if you were running outside the top 10 and had an opportunity to steal a victory, why pass it up?

Yes, worn tires would have factored into the call (it was roughly halfway through a typical green-flag run), and they highly increased the likelihood of spinning the tires and stacking up the restart.

That could have ruined the results for many other teams that then would have become the victim of circumstances beyond their control.

But who cares?

You are supposed to make life more difficult for competitors during a race, whether it’s by banging fenders or battling wits. There is no sense of entitlement or fair play that the front-running cars somehow “deserve” a clean restart to decide the race.

There also is strength in numbers. If the back half of the lead-lap cars had pitted, it would have been extremely difficult for the previous front-runners to regain many spots over barely three and a half laps of green on the 0.75-mile oval.

It certainly would have presented a show to watch unfold in a race that was relatively tame (though there was consistent passing for first and no runaway leader).

But fans were deprived of a potential slam-bang finish. Instead, we got another example of the garage groupthink that can be so pervasive, it comes at the detriment of competitive ingenuity.

When the 16-driver playoff field likely is set in September without some of those teams, none will point to Richmond as the race that cost them a championship bid because they won’t know for sure if it did.

Which is why at least a few of them should have tried to find out Saturday.


According to multiple media estimates, the crowd for Saturday night’s race was around 40,000. That would be up about 10,000 from the previous year on Sunday afternoon, which marked the second consecutive scheduled daytime start for Richmond’s spring race.

In moving both of its races back under the lights this season, track officials proclaimed that Saturday night racing was its “brand,” and the modest attendance uptick might affirm that.

However, does a track that once had a 112,000-seat capacity and sold out 33 consecutive races from 1992-2008 have its swagger back a little bit with the move?

Yes, there is that ongoing $30 million infield renovation that produced some positive vibes, and maybe encouraging signs have emerged from aligning with a renowned pro wrestling promoter in hopes of goosing promotions and ticket sales.

But with a (greatly reduced) capacity of more than 50,000, there probably were still at least 10,000 empty seats Saturday night. It was a good step forward but much work remains to be done in a market that always has been is a cornerstone for race fans.


Though it appeared to be triggered by Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s Ford scraping the wall, the final caution Saturday was sourced to “debris,” marking only the second debris yellow of the season and the first since the season-opening Daytona 500.

Last season, there were nine debris yellows through the first nine races.

This is the lowest total for debris yellows through nine races since at least 1990 (the first season in which caution reasons were listed for every race on Racing-Reference.info). There were four seasons (1990, ’91, ’92 and ’95) with three debris cautions through the first nine races.

As Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott noted postrace (and many others have said), last year’s implementation of stages came with a tacit understanding that the scheduled yellows would effectively serve as “planned” debris cautions.

NASCAR deserves credit for sticking to the pledge of letting races play out naturally, avoiding the quick-trigger temptation to bunch the field on restarts and draw the justified ire of its teams.


No one ever will confuse a seven-time champion with a wily starting pitcher, but Jimmie Johnson has been grinding out races this season with the efficacy of a journeyman trying to win without his best stuff every fifth day. As analyst Steve Letarte said Monday on NASCAR America, it’s tricky to keep winning as your fastball slides from 98 mph to 95, but Johnson is managing the dropoff.

Bristol (third) and Richmond (sixth) are the first time the Hendrick Motorsports driver has earned back-to-back top 10s since Dover and Charlotte last October, which isn’t exactly remarkable in a career with 344 top 10s in 588 starts (58.5 percent). But it’s been admirable to watch the way in which Johnson has adjusted to patiently gritting it out and making the most of what he is given.

During their heyday, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus could win on any Sunday because of their No. 48 Chevrolet’s speed. That they seem to be recalibrating their approaches is as impressive on some levels as their dominance.

“We’re taking steps forward,” Johnson said. “I’d love to take a jump forward, but we’re definitely taking steps forward.”

Maybe Johnson (whose quest to return to greatness was the subject of a well-done Associated Press story last week) should begin tweeting quotes from Jim Bouton instead of Babe Ruth.


So where are the Hendrick Chevrolets a quarter of the way into the Camaro era?

Elliott had said it would be reasonable to evaluate the team this season after Martinsville Speedway (when the West Coast Swing was over). Three races later, the No. 9 driver said he was “realistic” after finishing second at Richmond (where he mostly ran in the top 15 but benefited from some late breaks).

“I think we’ve been getting better, for sure, over the course of the past handful of weeks,” he said. “I thought (Bristol) was really probably our best effort as a company.

“I think we have to continue to be realistic with ourselves.  We can’t look at the results tonight and think we’re right there, because in reality I think we still have some work to do.  I think anybody amongst our team would say the same thing. I’m not knocking anyone, anybody on my team or whoever, but we all know we need to do better.  I think we just have to be realistic with ourselves.”

Talladega Superspeedway won’t reveal much next week, but the May stretch of Dover International Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway will be a critical test of how far Hendrick needs to go over the summer to be ready for a playoff push.


After coming up agonizingly short of a breakthrough victory at Richmond, Martin Truex Jr. at least can erase some of the sting at Talladega. The defending series champion has yet to win a restrictor plate race in 52 starts, which still falls short of his 0-for-75 record on short tracks.

According to Racing Insights, Truex (16 victories) ranks second behind Greg Biffle (19) for most wins without a short-track triumph. (Sterling Marlin is third with 10).

Truex said last year he needed to race “more like a jerk” to end his plate drought. With short tracks, it might be as simple as catching some good luck if the last two visits to Richmond are an indication.