HAMPTON, Georgia – NASCAR’s new mandatory pit guns made an impact on at least four teams Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, earning a less than ringing endorsement from the defending series champions.
“They’re pieces of shit,” said Cole Pearn, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr.
Pearn said Truex’s No. 78 Toyota team went through three pit guns during the 500-mile race before landing on an adequate piece of equipment. Pearn said one of the pit guns initially was unresponsive when switching from removing to fastening and needed multiple attempts to engage the lug nuts. NASCAR then issued the crew what Pearn said “are like the old spec guns or something, so it was a hunk of garbage. And we used it the next stop, and it was basically unusable. Then they got us a newer gun after that that was fine.”
In addition to Truex’s Furniture Row Racing crew, the teams of race winner Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch also had problems with the guns, which were introduced by NASCAR this season in part to curb development costs on equipment that had become highly specialized. NASCAR distributes the guns via lottery before the race and also mandates their air pressures.
Teams are issued three guns – front, rear and spare – and NASCAR intended to test them regularly for consistency.
Truex, who rebounded to finish fifth, said he had been concerned about the reliability of the guns entering the race.
“I think everybody is,” he said. “You think about these teams and all the preparation, and the parts and the pieces and they do all the work on them.
“Essentially it’s on you if something fails, and now we’re getting it from an outside source, and 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.’ We need to tighten it up here and figure it out and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“There is none of that. It’s ‘oh well, we’ll get it fixed.’ It’s a little bit frustrating from that standpoint, but at the same time, it is new to everyone, and we’ve got to give them a chance to figure it out and make sure they can make these things bulletproof.”
Busch’s team also was issued a new gun after apparently experiencing problems with air pressure.
Rodney Childers, crew chief for Harvick, said he hadn’t explored the problem with his team’s stop, which reportedly was because the hose was disconnected from the gun. Harvick’s No. 4 Ford fell from first to 19th at the end of the first stage after pitting again to secure lug nuts
“We’ve got good pit crew coaches to investigate that stuff,” Childers said. “The people that have took that on, they have done an outstanding job. I can’t complain about anything they’ve done. I can’t imagine taking that on over a two- to three-month span. We’re going to go through ups and downs, and we need to go through them together and learn together and that’s part of it.”
NASCAR didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday night on the guns’ performance in the season’s second race. During his Monday appearance on SiriusXM’s “The Morning Drive,” senior vice president Steve O’Donnell said NASCAR knew the likelihood was “fairly high” of having kinks during the firs year. O’Donnell said the Atlanta problems were, “something we’re going to review. We never want to see failures with any part or piece. We’ll have conversations and get it right. We want it to be in hands of drivers and teams. We’ll head to Vegas and hopefully get that cleaned up.”
Asked if the problem was fixable, Pearn smiled and said, “Ask the RTA.”
The Race Team Alliance, a consortium of team owners (that excludes Furniture Row Racing’s Barney Visser), worked with NASCAR to implement the pit guns without the consultation of the Drivers Council.
“Honestly, I don’t think I’m allowed to have an opinion,” runner-up Brad Keselowski said when asked if he had concerns entering the race. “Nobody asked me when they changed them, and it was a decision made by the RTA and NASCAR. I don’t think I’m allowed to have an opinion.”
“Mine worked, so we’re happy,” fourth-place finisher Denny Hamlin said of his team’s guns. “If it didn’t work, we wouldn’t be happy.”
NASCAR also has reduced the number of pit crew members this season, increasing the difficulty and choreography of stops.
“I think everybody had trouble on pit road at one point or another,” third-place finisher Clint Bowyer said. “As these teams keep learning and perfecting their program and getting in that rhythm just like we do on the track. I know our guys had good stops and stubbed their toe once and lost a few. It’s just there’s a lot going on right there with not very many people. I think that’s a work in progress, and I think you’ll continue to see some jumbling up of the program as we come on to pit road and off of it.”
Particularly as crews work with pit guns that they aren’t building for the first time in years.
“I think the reason teams built them on their own is because they were more reliable that way,” Hamlin said. “They could control everything. Amongst the competition side of things, they don’t want a failure because it’s a bad luck thing. They want it to fail because (the crew) did a bad job. It’s your own fault then.”