NASCAR addresses Denny Hamlin’s complaints on pit guns

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In the wake of Denny Hamlin’s pointed comments about pit guns, NASCAR senior executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said any that “any issues, we’ll get it fixed.” But he also expressed skepticism about snap judgments on the guns’ performance being made postrace by some drivers such as Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.

During his weekly visit to “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, O’Donnell said Tuesday there would be a previously scheduled meeting with team owners this week in which the guns likely would be discussed. Car owner Joe Gibbs alluded to the meeting after Kyle Busch’s victory Monday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“I think this is one of those topics we’ve always addressed, and to hit it head on on our part; it’s an initiative we continue to work on,” O’Donnell said. “We knew going in, the technology of the guns is not going to be what some of the teams were used to in the past. The hand speed (of pit crew members) is incredible. The talent is incredible.

“Somewhere in between lies the truth. … Any gun that malfunctions is not acceptable to us, but there are some occasions where someone may be moving a little too fast on a stop as well. That’ll be the dialogue that we discuss and really hearing from all the teams and what the feedback is. We’ve proven we’re going to get on that and work on that collectively and continue to improve on anything that might come up during a race.”

Both Hamlin and Harvick said the guns were faulty because they weren’t performing up to the air pressure and RPM standards that teams were accustomed to when they built their own guns prior to the 2018 season.

After consultation with the Team Owners Council, NASCAR mandated common pit guns that are issued randomly by manufacturer Paoli. The performance of the pit guns has been a significant storyline after at least three of seven races this season.

“Well, you look at the technology on the guns, the postrace reports, I’m frankly a little surprised that someone could come out after the race and talk about all the air pressures and everything when they have not diagnosed what may or may not have happened,” O’Donnell said. “So we do that. We work with our gun manufacturer to look through all those.

“When there is a gun failure, we absolutely will showcase it and admit it, but it’s also easy to say that the gun didn’t work. We understand that as well. Somewhere in there lies the truth. Any issues, we will get it fixed, but I’m also confident that we’re able to go out there and race and put on some great races as well. And not have that be the lead story going forward for sure.”

During an interview with NBCSports.com’s Dustin Long after Monday’s race, Hamlin said NASCAR should return to last year’s pit guns and suggested that Joe Gibbs Racing could supply pit guns to all teams.

Gibbs later downplayed that idea, though.

Denny Hamlin blasts pit guns, calls for NASCAR to make changes now

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Denny Hamlin says that if NASCAR continues to require teams to use standardized pit guns, “it’s going to cost somebody a race or the championship by the end of the year.’’

Hamlin is the latest driver to express his frustration with the pit guns all teams are required to use after he suffered a loose wheel and had to pit from the lead on Lap 266 of Monday’s Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway. He finished 14th, one lap down.

Hamlin was upset with the inconsistency of the pit gun, an issue others have expressed this season. Hamlin told NBC Sports that the team’s pit guns were at 12,000 RPMs on previous stops but at 8,000 RPMs on the stop where he had a loose wheel. Less RPMs can make it more likely that not all the lug nuts are tight and result in a loose wheel.

“It’s just inconsistencies,’’ Hamlin told NBC Sports after the race. “My frustration is that in absolutely no other professional sport does the league give you faulty equipment to play with and that’s what we have here.’’

A NASCAR spokesperson said the sanctioning body had no comment.

“The solution is to let the teams do what they are good at and that is providing reliable equipment,’’ Hamlin told NBC Sports. “It’s going to cost somebody a race or the championship by the end of the year. There’s no question, no doubt it’s going to cost somebody from making another round or something. NASCAR doesn’t have to answer to that. It’s the teams that have to answer to the sponsors when they don’t make the next round.’’

Hamlin said changes could be made.

“Teams have all the equipment ready to go,’’ he told NBC Sports. “JGR has said if you think our stuff is better we’ll supply it for everybody. I can assure it’s better than the junk we’re running.’’

Car owner Joe Gibbs wasn’t quite ready to offer to build pit guns for every team Monday but shared Hamlin’s concerns for what is taking place on pit road.

“We had two loose wheels today that put us down multiple laps,’’ Gibbs said, referring to Hamlin and Erik Jones. “For our sponsors and everybody, I’m calling trying to explain it and it’s hard to explain.

“We all work together. Our teams. NASCAR has been very good about working with us, and when we come up with a problem, we’ve been good at working hard to solve it.

“I think we have a number of meetings this week with NASCAR, and I think we’ll be working on this and hopefully work toward a solution. I think it would be hard for us to build the guns for everybody, that would be tough, but I think we need to come up with a solution for sure.’’

Asked if he agreed with Hamlin that pit guns could cost someone a race or even the championship, Gibbs said:

“I think when you get something like this going on and it’s happened to multiple teams each week, I think you’ve got to find a way to fix it, to address it. I think that’s what we’ll be talking about this week. I feel good that NASCAR is on board. Obviously, they don’t want issues. I think we’ll all work together and come up with a solution.’’

Last week, Kevin Harvick said the inconsistent pit guns were “creating “a safety issue,” blaming the number of loose wheels on that.

Last week, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, responded to Harvick’s comments, telling NBC Sports:

“I think you’ve got to take a step back and look at safety as part of the narrative in NASCAR. I would say if you put us up against any motorsport, we feel pretty good there. When you start looking at pit stops in general, are pit guns part of that? Absolutely, but it’s the entire pit stop. To put something all on a gun, I think, is a bit premature without the facts.

“So our job is to look at each stop and look at each race, what happens with those races and put all those facts together and then make changes if necessary. I’m confident in the partner that we have and the work that we’re doing in the industry that directionally we’re in the right spot. Certainly some improvements we can make … but we feel like we’re in a good spot in continuing to work through this to get to the best place.’’

Complaints about the pit gun have been made public since early in the season. Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn were both upset with the pit guns at Atlanta in the season’s second race.

Truex forewarned in February what could happen if problems with the pit guns persisted.

“We have no control over it, so if it costs you a race win or it costs you a spot in the playoffs or a spot in the championship four or something like that, somebody’s going to be really, really, really upset, and there’s nothing you can do about it because you can’t go home and say, ‘Well, it’s your fault,’ Truex said. “We need to tighten it up here and figure it out and make sure it doesn’t happen again.’’

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Friday 5: One more change that should be made to All-Star Race

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The buzzword after the Monster Energy All-Star Race format was announced this week was that NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway wanted to make it a race again.

Do away with many of the gimmicks. Forego the math requirements to figure out average finishes. No more mandatory pit stops.

Just race.

“We wanted to make it as much like a race as possible,’’ said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer.

But if this event — 80 laps over four stages this year — is going to be viewed as a race, then something else needs to be added.

Playoff implications.

No doubt that $1 million winner’s check is meaningful to the team, which gets a large chunk of that, but it’s time to add another carrot. Playoff points and even a spot in the playoffs.

Offer five playoff points to the winner and one playoff point for each of the stages before the end of the race.

Also, if the winner does not record a victory in the regular season, then the All-Star Race victory puts them in the playoffs.

Had this been in place in 2014 when Jamie McMurray won the All-Star Race but went on to miss the playoffs, it would have given him a chance to run for the championship that season.

Some will argue that there should not be any playoff implications for this race because there’s not a full field competing.

Drivers had since last year’s event to win a race to be eligible if they weren’t already. That’s 36 chances. With five races left to qualify for the All-Star Race, the event is guaranteed to have at least 21 drivers — nearly 60 percent of the charter teams. There are already 17 drivers qualified, three who will earn a spot via the Open, and one who will be selected based on a fan vote.

Others might argue that because there aren’t any points given in the Clash in February at Daytona, why should this race award any points?

Simple. The All-Star Race is for race winners. The Clash is primarily for pole winners. Until NASCAR pays points for qualifying, I’m fine with that race not having any points.

But it’s time for the All-Star Race to matter more.

2. Moving the All-Star Race

Maybe the package with restrictor plates, aero ducts, a taller spoiler and different splitter will work. Maybe it can make the All-Star Race a memorable event again. Or maybe it will lead the sport in a direction to make racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway and other 1.5-mile tracks more exciting.

If it does, maybe the debate of where the All-Star Race should be held goes away. But until then, voices will be raised to move the event to places such as Bristol Motor Speedway or Martinsville Speedway or even some place like South Boston Speedway as a way to return to NASCAR’s roots and give fans something different — just as the Trucks do with their race at Eldora Speedway.

It’s a great idea in concept. There’s an issue.

Charlotte Motor Speedway is owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc., a publicly traded company that owns eight tracks that host Cup events.

Take away a race and there’s the potential Wall Street isn’t going to like that, and that could further impact SMI.

Admittedly, it shouldn’t matter what Wall Street thinks, it should be what’s best for the sport. And maybe there will be a day when NASCAR moves it. Maybe that day will come as soon as 2021 when the schedule could look vastly different with the five-year sanctioning agreements ending after the 2020 season.

But to say move the race elsewhere is not that simple.

“If it is good for our sport and would be good for our company, too, I’m always thinking what we can do individually and collectively to move our sport forward,’’ Marcus Smith, president of SMI, told NBC Sports about an address change for the All-Star Race. “That’s kind of the paradigm of how I operate. Of course more specifically everything is always more complicated than it seems.’’

3. Safety issue?

Kevin Harvick continued his frustration with pit guns this week, saying on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show “Happy Hours” that the matter was creating “a safety issue.’’

Harvick blamed a spate of loose wheels last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway on inconsistent air guns.

NASCAR’s O’Donnell doesn’t quite see it the same way.

“I think you’ve got to take a step back and look at safety as part of the narrative in NASCAR,’’ he told NBC Sports in response to Harvick’s comments. “I would say if you put us up against any motorsport, we feel pretty good there. When you start looking at pit stops in general, are pit guns part of that? Absolutely, but it’s the entire pit stop. To put something all on a gun, I think, is a bit premature without the facts.

“So our job is to look at each stop and look at each race, what happens with those races and put all those facts together and then make changes if necessary. I’m confident in the partner that we have and the work that we’re doing in the industry that directionally we’re in the right spot. Certainly some improvements we can make … but we feel like we’re in a good spot in continuing to work through this to get to the best place.’’

4. Changes in Race Control?

A week after NASCAR admitted it erred in not penalizing Kevin Harvick’s team for an uncontrolled tire at Texas Motor Speedway, no significant changes are coming in how NASCAR handles such issues.

O’Donnell said the main change will be with communication.

“I think ultimately it’s always going to be a judgment call,’’ O’Donnell said of the call on an uncontrolled tire. “I would say from our standpoint just some improved communication in terms of everything moves so fast in race control and we want to make a call quickly. Maybe taking a little bit more time to have some more folks review that who could do that.

“I think taking the time on each and every call to make sure we’ve got all the resources behind that.’’

5. Postrace inspection

Last week at Texas, NASCAR completed inspection after the Xfinity race at the track so no cars were sent to the R&D Center.

That was done with the four cars that qualified for this weekend’s Dash 4 Cash race at Bristol. By completing inspection at the track, it immediately ensured the eligibility of those four cars instead of the potential of having one replaced later in the week because of a rules infraction found at the R&D Center.

While there has been movement to complete inspection at track instead of waiting a couple of days for penalties — such as occurred Wednesday with the L1 penalty to Chase Elliott’s team — O’Donnell said series officials aren’t there yet to do that on a regular basis.

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NASCAR examining air gun issue with Daniel Suarez’s team

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A NASCAR executive noted that while “one failure is too many’’ with the new air guns, he downplayed the notion as air guns being the leading story from Sunday’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway won by Kevin Harvick.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, addressed the issue of air guns on “The Morning Drive” Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“First of all, I wouldn’t assess the race as that’s the leading story by any means,’’ O’Donnell said. “Air gun issues have been part of the sport forever. Let me dispel the myth that there never has been a failure. I think that Larry (McReynolds) said that very well during the (Fox) broadcast.

“I believe that we had one that we’re looking into on the Cup side with the 19 car (Daniel Suarez) that we’re looking at. We don’t view an air gun issue like on the 4 car (Harvick) where the gun actually works on the pit stop and then has an issue.

“I think we’re making a lot out of this, which I know fans want to do. I’ve never heard pit guns talked about in the past, which is fair when there’s been failures. It’s new. Paoli manufactures the guns, worked with the teams to put this in place.

“We’re working through it as I said last week. One failure is too many, but again I think it’s something we’re focused on getting them all right and the teams have been great in doing that and will continue to do so and happy that Harvick was able to go out there and dominate and put on a great show, and I think it’s something that we’re going to work on but not the focus of every race for sure.’’

Suarez expressed his frustration with the new air guns after the race.

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NASCAR suspends three team members but only for Truck Series

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NASCAR suspended three members of Kyle Busch’s Camping World Series Truck team Wednesday because a wheel came off the truck during last weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

However, the three-race suspensions are only for the Truck series instead of across all three national series.

LONG: NASCAR shows common sense has a place in dispensing punishment

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, hinted Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that series officials were looking at making such suspensions for the series the infraction occurred instead of across all three national series.

The matter became an issue because two of Busch’s pit crew members work for other teams in other series.

Rear tire changer Coleman Dollarhide also is a rear tire changer on Cole Custer’s Xfinity team and Kurt Busch’s Cup team at Stewart-Haas Racing. Jack man Ernie Pierce also has that role for Clint Bowyer’s Cup team at SHR.

The suspensions to Dollarhide and Pierce will not impact their ability to work in Xfinity and Cup.

Also suspended was Marcus Richmond, crew chief for Kyle Busch’s truck team.

NASCAR also announced Wednesday:

A $10,000 fine to crew chief Rodney Childers because Kevin Harvick’s winning Cup car had one lug nut not secured after the Atlanta race.

$5,000 fines each to crew chief Tim Brown (of the No. 52 team of David Starr) and Mike Shiplett (of the No. 42 team of John Hunter Nemechek) because each team had a lug nut not secured after the Xfinity race.

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