Martin Truex Jr., Cole Pearn upset with new mandated pit guns

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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.

MORE: Explainer on the new pit guns

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.”

NASCAR America: Better equipment, skilled drivers changed road racing

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The Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway is the first of three road course races on the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series calendar and the preparation involved in setting up these cars is much greater today than it has been in the past, according to NASCAR America analysts Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dale Jarrett.

“I think the same emphasis is put in those two road course races and the cars that will be in those races,” Earnhardt said. “And now the Roval that will be at Charlotte – being a very important race in the playoffs – these road course racers are even more important.”

Man and machine need to be equal to the challenge.

“Not only is the emphasis more on the drivers to prepare and learn how to become road course racers, but there is a lot more emphasis on the cars too,” Earnhardt said. “All the cars are so much more similar and there is a lot more dedication to preparing the cars for these particular races. It’s almost like there is as much effort into putting a good road course car on the track as there is speedway cars – like Daytona and Talladega cars.”

Even the best driver cannot compete in equipment that is not up to the challenge and it took some outside expertise to raise NASCAR to the level of other marquee road racing series mechanically. Car owners like Jack Roush and road ringers like Boris Said contributed to the evolution of the racing discipline.

“The cars are so much better now than when we started,” Dale Jarrett said. “Whenever I got started in the Cup series fulltime in ’87, there were a couple of good road racers – and I think of Mark Martin, Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace … but Jack Roush brought something totally new into the sport a little later in the 80s and early 90s. … Their equipment was a little bit better because they understood road racing a little more. Now everybody has all that.”

Jarrett recalled what he believes might be one of the biggest upsets of his career. He won the pole for the 2001 Global Crossing at the Glen because he received a tip from Said, who told him he was not getting deep enough into the corners because his brakes were not good enough.

“You talk about road course ringers: Boris Said and Ron Fellows and some other guys coming in,” Jarrett said. “One of the things that helped them, they were better because they did it all the time, but they also would tell the teams they were going to drive for, ‘hey, there’s a lot better braking and other things out there that you can do.’ They came in and they had better equipment, which made them look even that much better than what we were.”

For more, watch the video above.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Dale Jarrett preview upcoming races

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN with Dale Earnhardt Jr. making his weekly appearance on the show.

Krista Voda hosts with Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett from the Big Oak Table in Charlotte.

On today’s show:

· Not long ago, Dale Earnhardt Jr. bragged about his ability to remember who he’s beaten for wins in past races. In this episode, we’ll test his memory in a trivia game called “Who Did Junior Pass For The Win?” We’ll be taking your questions for Junior throughout the show. Just send it on social media with the hashtag #Wednesdale.

· Sonoma begins a critical summer stretch for the Monster Energy Cup Series. With Chicagoland, Daytona, Kentucky and New Hampshire on the horizon, teams will be challenged and playoff hopes will rise and fall. Dale Jr. & Dale Jarrett preview the upcoming races.

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 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Three Cup drivers will reach career start milestones at Sonoma

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Three Cup drivers will reach career start milestones when the series visits Sonoma Raceway this weekend.

Ryan Newman leads the way with his 600th Cup start.

The Richard Childress Racing driver will become the 28th driver to reach the mark. His first start came on Nov. 5, 2000 at ISM Raceway with Team Penske.

Newman is one of four remaining active Cup drivers, including Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Derrike Cope, who competed against Dale Earnhardt in a Cup points race. Only Newman and Busch compete full-time.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin will make his 450th start. He will become the 52nd driver to reach that mark.

Hamlin’s first start came on Oct. 9, 2005 at Kansas Speedway. All of his starts have been with JGR.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will make his 200th career start. He will be the 132nd driver to reach that mark.

Stenhouse’s first start came in the 2011 Coca-Cola 600 with Wood Brothers Racing when he substituted for Trevor Bayne, who was out due to illness. Every other start has been with Roush Fenway Racing.

The last race at Michigan International Speedway saw AJ Allmendinger make his 350th Cup start. 71 drivers have reached that mark.

How much does starting position matter at Sonoma?

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Do you need to qualify on the pole, the front row or the even the top five to better your chances of winning a NASCAR race?

On a typical race weekend one would think that’s the case. Through 15 races this season, the winner has started in the top five eight times. Only four winners started 10th or worse.

But this isn’t a typical race weekend as the Cup Series heads to Sonoma Raceway for its first road course race of the season.

The series has held 29 races at the road course since 1989. In those 29 races, the winner started from the pole five times (17.2 percent).

That makes it the most prolific starting position at the track in terms of wins.

But a winner hasn’t come from the pole since 2004 when Jeff Gordon did it for a track-best third time.

The driver starting second has won three times, the last occurring in 2010 with Jimmie Johnson. Since that race, only one Sonoma winner – Carl Edwards (fourth) in 2014 – has started in the top five.

In the 13 races since Gordon last won from the pole, the race winner started in the top five three times.

The last three races saw the winner start 11th (Kyle Busch), 10th (Tony Stewart) and 12th (Kevin Harvick).

In contrast, the 14 races from 1992-2005 saw every race winner came from inside the top 10 and 11 from the top five.

What’s changed? Road course racing became much more aggressive with the transition to double fire restarts in 2009. The introduction of stage racing last year added another wrinkle to a type of racing that already saw aggressive pit strategy.

But Sonoma isn’t too kind to drivers starting in the back half of the field.

The deepest in the field that a race winner has started is 32nd, when Juan Pablo Montoya won in 2007. Only one other time has the winner come from outside the top 15, when Kyle Busch started 30th and won in 2008.