Loose wheels and missing lug nuts in the search for speed: ‘Everybody is just pushing it’

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Fewer lug nuts seemingly are meaning more loose wheels in the Sprint Cup series this season.

Carl Edwards was among the victims Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway, where he started from the pole and led a race-high 124 laps before fading to seventh after a wheel problem necessitated a green-flag pit stop.

During a Wednesday interview on SiriusXM NASCAR’s “The Morning Drive,” Edwards conceded that such errors are a byproduct of pit crews electing to hit fewer than five lug nuts in order to accelerate their stops.

“Everybody is just pushing it,” Edwards said. “I’ve got a really amazing pit crew. These guys take a lot of pride in being the fastest guys on pit road and not making those mistakes … We usually don’t have problems. My guys will learn from it.

“They never stop. At the end of the year, having that mistake there, as painful as it was for all of us having it go down like that, it might help us in the long run. You’ve got to perform at that level. I don’t want my guys to slow down. If we learn from the mistake and figure out how to be better, we’re going to be awesome.”

In the switch to a more technologically driven officiating system in the pits last season, NASCAR stopped monitoring and penalizing teams for failing to hit all five lug nuts. It’s given teams the options of skipping a lug nut to gain the fractions of seconds that can make a difference in winning a race.

Four lugnuts might be sufficient. Most drivers say they are uncomfortable if a crew hits only three, and it seems to be happening more often as teams search for the limit.

Edwards wasn’t the only driver who was burned by haste at Texas. Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth also was among those who suffered a loose wheel.

Keith Rodden, crew chief for Kasey Kahne, said some of the mistakes result from uneven choreography.

“It’s risk vs. reward,” Rodden said on SiriusXM NASCAR. “We’re pushing our guys. It all starts with getting the tire off, and the carrier hanging the (new) one. The longer the carrier stays there, especially in the front, the more time it takes to get back to the wall and get the left-front tire.

“So these guys are bailing out quick. They’re not always sticking with their changer. So if you don’t hang it exactly perfect, you miss it a tiny bit, and you hit three to four lug nuts, it’s not going to get tight. You play with fire, man. You’ll have some great pit stops, but you can put yourself at a disadvantage. I think it’s what your comfort level is with that. … When you come down third and want to leave first and you’re on your guys, it’s how brave do you want to be?”

Asked with whether it might leave him feeling unsafe to be making 200-mph laps with fewer than five lugnuts, Edwards said he trusts his team.

“I’m comfortable with whatever (crew chief) Dave Rogers and my (tire) changers say,” Edwards said. “I trust in those guys. If someone on my pit crew looks up at Dave Rogers after the stop and says, ‘Man, I don’t feel good about this.’ We’ll come back (to the pits). We’ll change it.

“It’s really trusting those guys. They are the experts. The guys who go over the wall have so much experience with every single thing that can go wrong. They understand what needs to be done on those stops. If they say I’m good, I’m good with it.”