FORT WORTH, Texas – After a spate of loose wheels this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, Kevin Harvick trashed the new NASCAR-mandated pit guns after finishing second in the O’Reilly 500.
“The pathetic part about the whole thing is the pit guns,” said Harvick, who also had problems in Saturday’s Xfinity race. “The pit guns have been absolutely horrible all year, and our guys do a great job on pit road, and the pathetic part about it is the fact you get handed something that doesn’t work correctly, and those guys are just doing everything that they can to try to make it right.
“It’s embarrassing for the sport.”
Asked by NBC Sports if he planned to address it with NASCAR, Harvick said, “They know they have problems. They just don’t want to talk about them.”
It was a rough day in the pits for Harvick, who had at least two loose wheels and was forced to make an unscheduled stop for one of them on Lap 136 that dropped him two laps down. His team had another mediocre pit stop because of a lug nut getting stuck in a jack and also was penalized for having a crew member over the wall too early.
Despite all that, Harvick rebounded to finish second by 0.300 seconds behind Kyle Busch after winning the first stage and leading 87 laps.
Asked if his No. 4 Ford would have won if it had been leading on the final restart with 30 laps remaining, Harvick responded, “What do you think? Probably would have been a straightaway ahead.”
Joe Gibbs, team owner for Busch’s winning No. 18 Toyota, also expressed discontent with the guns.
“I don’t like things not in our hands,” Gibbs said. “To be quite truthful, I’ve taken a stand on that. That’s something I hope we continue to really evaluate that.”
In a statement, NASCAR vice president of competition Scott Miller said, “We’ll continue gathering information on the pit gun’s performance like we do after every race. It is too early to make assumptions without all the facts. It’s also important to remember that this is a collaborative initiative with the race teams.”
Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers, told FS1 during the race that the pit guns needed to be addressed, and he was “tired of biting my lip about it.”
But Stewart-Haas Racing vice president of competition Greg Zipadelli wasn’t as quick to cite the pit guns as the primary reason for the No. 4’s struggles.
“We were just off on pit road today,” Zipadelli said. “We had been the last couple of weeks. Seems like we started the year off pretty strong. Other teams obviously caught up. We’re pushing the pressure to do a better job. When you go fast, it just seems we’re making some mistakes.
“I honestly don’t know I’d even blame the pit gun. I know exactly what the situation is. Yes, we had a loose wheel today, but we let the jack down early. So that’s not necessarily the guns’ fault. These guns seem to be just a little temperamental in (colder) temperature and things, but everyone’s got the same stuff, you know what I mean? I think it’s too early to draw conclusions there’s an issue. I do know it’s a lot different than what we’re using last year.”
NASCAR began using the Paoli-manufactured pit guns this season after consultation with the NASCAR Team Owners Council. In recent seasons, teams made seven-figure investments in building and developing their own pit guns, so the move was considered partly a cost-savings measure but also was hailed for its competitive benefits.
But there have been problems after multiple races this season, with defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn particularly irate after problems at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
However, NASCAR’s decision to move to a common pit gun wasn’t supported unanimously by teams, as Chip Ganassi Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing apparently were among those that resisted the decision.
“That’s the frustrating part when you felt you had a really good product last year,” Zipadelli said. “We were probably ahead of the curve and probably second or so on pit road as far as that part of it goes, but it is what it is. They changed the way they inspected them this year and we all got to figure it out and adjust to it. That’s just how our sport has always been. That part is nothing new. We started good and just making mistakes now.
But Zipadelli did confirm SHR’s teams have had problem with the pit guns (as did Adam Stevens, crew chief for Busch).
“We’ve changed a lot of regulators,” Zipadelli said. “We’ve changed the guns. We’ve had them leaking. But so have other people on pit road. When you run well and are up front, everything’s magnified.
“Do I wish we could go back to what we had? Yes. But I’m not bashing them or blaming them on the situation we’re in. Some people and teams felt this was the direction we needed to go. We weren’t in favor of it. But you win some, you lose some.
“We’ve got to figure it out as a group and not make mistakes as a group. Then if the gun is a limiting factor, then it’s the gun. But we as a group have made mistakes in the past couple of weeks also. There’s fault on many sides.”
Harvick said “everybody on pit road has talked to” NASCAR about problems with the pit guns.
“This is four out of seven weeks that we’ve had trouble with the pit guns,” he said. “Yesterday the rear pit gun wouldn’t even … we had two lug nuts that were tight in the last two pit stops. You had two lug nuts that had 30 pounds of torque on them. Today you have another one. The wheel doesn’t even get tight. It’s just a mess.”