Ryan: It’s time for NASCAR and teams to tighten it up on pit guns

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It is because of faulty air regulators, equipment that falls short of handling heavy torque and a simple lack of real-world testing for a massive undertaking.

It is because of the new pit crew restrictions, pressure-packed money stops and teams looking for something to blame for subpar performances.

There are two distinct sides (“Blame the guns!” “Blame the crews!”) and several schools of thought (along with many shrill voices championing them) on why the perceived reliability of the new pit guns has become one of the overarching stories of the 2018 season as pit stops have resulted in a spate of loose wheels.

There is one simple conclusion: It must be fixed.

As Dale Jarrett said Monday on NASCAR America, the prudent move in retrospect probably would have been to test these guns for a full season in the Xfinity Series before bringing them to Cup. But it’s now too late for such a retroactive Band-Aid.

Either the product must be upgraded by Paoli (or replaced entirely by a new manufacturer). Or Cup teams currently complaining need to get religion that the randomly issued guns can be trusted and no longer will be public scapegoats for pit miscues.

The discussion that dominated the postrace conversations about Kyle Busch’s victory Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway is fine for early season talking points, but if it persists into the summer, the potential damage to NASCAR’s credibility and competitive legitimacy exponentially will become highly dangerous.

It assuredly needs to stop before the playoffs begin. NASCAR can’t afford to have a playoff contender’s advancement – or God help them, the championship – called into question by a situation similar to what plagued Kevin Harvick at Texas.

The past two months have brought enough finger-pointing and social media snark to fill an hourlong episode of a NASCAR reality TV show, and it’s occasionally cathartic and compelling to see such raw emotion laid in the open.

But no more. The absolute top priority (even ahead of the uncontrolled tire controversy) during the weekend debriefs today at the R&D Center should be addressing the pit guns and setting a goal of putting the topic to bed by the Coca-Cola 600.

With everything aired out about pit guns, it’s time to tighten it up, literally and figuratively.


There were some suggestions made that Harvick experienced a dose of schadenfreude at Texas because he previously had dismissed the pit gun problems as a nonissue.

This doesn’t seem to ring true, at least not publicly. When Martin Truex Jr. had major pit problems at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Harvick was asked about the guns.

His answer:  “I honestly don’t know 100 percent what happened, so that’s way out of my category of things that I need to be commenting on,” he said.

There were similar answers that day when Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer also were asked about the guns – reinforcing the notion that an informal gag order had been in place from NASCAR about disparaging the new equipment.

That’s why it was significant and stunning to hear the postrace objections to the guns by team owners Joe Gibbs (who usually shies far away from public controversy) and Rob Kauffman.

Though some members of the Team Owners Council raised the concept to NASCAR of implementing common pit guns, and all teams voted on the topic, there obviously wasn’t consensus on the decision.


One of NASCAR’s selling points is its family values, and that extends to the working relationships between teams and officials. When you spend 36 weekends and thousands of hours on the road together, it’s unavoidable that bonds will be built.

But in today’s age of social media and GIFs that play on infinite loops, there must be clearer boundaries drawn on in-race displays of collegiality, particularly when team members and driver business managers are involved.

How would the world react if Ed Hochuli slapped a high-five with Cam Newton or Drew Rosenhaus? How would a fist-bump for Joey Crawford from LeBron James or Maverick Carter be perceived?

It’s great that NASCAR exists as one big happy family much of the time (it probably couldn’t survive without those dynamics), but that image must be shelved when the competition begins and the national TV cameras are rolling.


Out of the mouths of babes sometimes come pearls of wisdom, so let’s note what the highest-finishing member of the New Kids on the Track said about Sunday’s 500-mile race at Texas. With eight cautions, the event ran slightly over three and a half hours (not including an 11-minute red flag).

Toward the end, fourth-place finisher Erik Jones radioed his team that the race seemed longer than normal, particularly as the second 500-miler since the season opener.

“They all seemed quick to me,” Jones said of the previous five races this season after the Daytona 500. “Man, (Texas) seemed like a Truck race.

“We came here, it was like this race is dragging.  It wasn’t, like, I was wore out or anything.  It just seemed like it was never going to end for a minute. With the red flag and everything, it kind of exaggerated that thought that was running through my mind. They’re long races.  I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to racing 500 miles. That’s a long time.  I think overall this year I just have a better idea of how to race ’em.”

So should the races be shorter?

“I feel like you’re trying to get me in trouble now,” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver laughed. “I mean, in my opinion only, yeah. I think 400 miles is enough.  I think there’s marquee races that need to stay: Daytona 500, Southern 500, Coke 600.  But I do think 400 miles is probably enough.”

Jones should face no repercussions for offering the honest opinion of a 21-year-old who is in tune with the generation of fans that NASCAR desperately needs to attract.

And though his view might be anathema to Texas president Eddie Gossage and old-guard fans, it needs to be seriously considered when assembling future schedules.


NASCAR took six cars from Texas to the Aerodyn wind tunnel in Mooresville, North Carolina, for testing today, presumably to measure downforce levels between manufacturers.

Maybe the sanctioning body also might explore the effects of aerodynamics after a particularly edgy Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

Several drivers lost the handle between Turns 3 and 4 when on the bottom with a car on the outside. Brad Keselowski, who was collected in a multicar crash that started when Denny Hamlin lost control with Aric Almirola on the outside, said the blame mostly could be attributed to aerodynamics.

Race winner Kyle Busch agreed. “It does lend itself to aerodynamics,” he said. “The guy on the outside just doesn’t want to get any wider than he has to because of how wide the racetrack is. You want to stay in that rubber.  The closer you can stay or the lower you can stay, the better the grip is.  So you’re going to pinch that guy that’s on the inside of you as much as you can in order to hold your position, if you’re the guy on the outside, sacrifice yourself.

“You’re playing with fire.  It’s a double‑edged sword.  You can pin him, keep that spot, or you can pin him and crash, and he can take you with him.  You have to be mindful of that.”

Though there were some examples of drivers making great saves (namely Busch and Bubba Wallace), there is a fine line between making the cars hard to drive and going beyond the bounds of top-level talent.

Texas showed that the current car might straddle that boundary too much on a supersonic 1.5-mile layout.


NASCAR confirmed Tuesday that it was Ryan Blaney’s right-front tire that was deemed uncontrolled and triggered a penalty on Lap 43 (and not the right rear that briefly was unattended while stationary on the outside of the pit box).

Normally, this would be mostly nonessential information but with the (admittedly wrong) noncall on Harvick’s team late in the race, Blaney’s penalty provides important context to how the rule is interpreted and assessed.

Kyle Busch to run five Truck races for KBM in 2023

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Kyle Busch Motorsports announced Wednesday the five Craftsman Truck Series team owner Kyle Busch will race this season.

Busch’s Truck races will be:

March 3 at Las Vegas

March 25 at Circuit of the Americas

April 14 at Martinsville

May 6 at Kansas

July 22 at Pocono

Busch is the winningest Truck Series driver with 62 career victories. He has won at least one series race in each of the last 10 seasons. He has won 37.6% of the Truck races he’s entered and placed either first or second in 56.7% of his 165 career series starts.

Zariz Transport, which specializes in transporting containers from ports, signed a multi-year deal to be the primary sponsor on Busch’s No. 51 truck for all of his series races, starting this season. The company will be an associate sponsor on the truck in the remaining 18 series races.

Myatt Snider to run six Xfinity races with Joe Gibbs Racing

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Myatt Snider is the latest driver to be announced as running a select number of Xfinity races in the No. 19 car for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Snider will run six races with the team. Ryan Truex (six races), Joe Graf Jr. (five) and Connor Mosack (three) also will be in JGR’s No. 19 Xfinity car this year.

Snider’s first race with the team will be the Feb. 18 season opener at Daytona. He also will race at Portland (June 3), Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7), Las Vegas (Oct. 14), Martinsville (Oct. 28) and the season finale at Phoenix (Nov. 4).

The deal returns Snider to JGR. He worked in various departments there from 2011-15.

“We’re looking forward to have Myatt on our No. 19 team for six races,” said Steve DeSouza, executive vice president of Xfinity and development. “Building out the driver lineup for this car is an opportunity for JGR to help drivers continue to develop in their racing career, and we’re looking forward to seeing how Myatt continues to grow.”

Said Snider in a statement from the team: “With six races on our 2023 schedule, I’m looking forward to climbing into the No. 19 TreeTop Toyota GR Supra with Joe Gibbs Racing this year. Having worked with JGR as a high schooler and a young racer, it’s an awesome full circle moment to return as a driver to the team that taught me so much about racing itself.

“It’s good to be reunited with (crew chief) Jason Ratcliff as we have an awesome history working together. With many memories and wins from 2013 and 2014 when I worked on the No. 20 Toyota Camry under Jason’s leadership, the team has always been more of a family relationship to me. I’m glad to be returning to the JGR family and looking forward to continuing to learn and grow as a driver.”

Daytona will be Snider’s 100th career Xfinity start. He has one series win and 21 top 10s. He was the rookie of the year in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2018.

Tree Top will be Snider’s sponsor for his six races with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Also in the Xfinity Series, Gray Gaulding, who will run full season with SS Green Light Racing, announced that he’ll have sponsor Panini America for multiple races, including the Daytona opener. Emerling-Gase Motorsports announced that Natalie Decker will run a part-time schedule in both the ARCA Menards Series and Xfinity Series for the team.

 

Travis Pastrana ‘taking a chance’ at Daytona

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In so-called “action” sports, Travis Pastrana is a king. He is well-known across the spectrum of motorsports that are a bit on the edge — the X Games, Gymkhana, motorcross and rally racing.

Now he’s jumping in the deep end, attempting to qualify for the Daytona 500 and what would be his first NASCAR Cup Series start.

Pastrana, who is entered in the 500 in a third Toyota fielded by 23XI Racing, will be one of at least six drivers vying for the four non-charter starting spots in the race. Also on that list: Jimmie Johnson, Conor Daly, Chandler Smith, Zane Smith and Austin Hill.

MORE: IndyCar driver Conor Daly entered in Daytona 500

Clearly, just getting a spot on the 500 starting grid won’t be easy.

“I love a challenge,” Pastrana told NBC Sports. “I’ve wanted to be a part of the Great American Race since I started watching it on TV as a kid. Most drivers and athletes, when they get to the top of a sport, don’t take a chance to try something else. I like to push myself. If I feel I’m the favorite in something, I lose a little interest and focus. Yes, I’m in way over my head, but I believe I can do it safely. At the end of the day, my most fun time is when I’m battling and battling with the best.”

Although Pastrana, 39, hasn’t raced in the Cup Series, he’s not a stranger to NASCAR. He has run 42 Xfinity races, driving the full series for Roush Fenway Racing in 2013 (winning a pole and scoring four top-10 finishes), and five Craftsman Truck races.

“All those are awesome memories,” Pastrana said. “In my first race at Richmond (in 2012), Denny Hamlin really helped me out. I pulled on the track in practice, and he waited for me to get up to speed. He basically ruined his practice helping me get up to speed. Joey Logano jumped in my car at New Hampshire and did a couple of laps and changed the car, and I went from 28th to 13th the next lap. I had so many people who really reached out and helped me get the experience I needed.”

Pastrana was fast, but he had issues adapting to the NASCAR experience and the rhythm of races.

“It was extremely difficult for me not growing up in NASCAR,” he said. “I come from motocross, where there’s a shorter duration. It’s everything or nothing. You make time by taking chances. In pavement racing, it’s about rear-wheel drive. You can’t carry your car. In NASCAR it’s not about taking chances. It’s about homework. It’s about team. It’s about understanding where you can go fast and be spot on your mark for three hours straight.”

MORE: Will Clash issues carry over into rest of season?

Pastrana said he didn’t venture into NASCAR with the idea of transferring his skills to stock car racing full time.

“It was all about me trying to get to the Daytona 500,” he said. “Then I looked around, when I was in the K&N Series, and saw kids like Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. They were teenagers, and they already were as good or better than me.”

Now he hopes to be in the mix with Elliott, Larson and the rest of the field when the green flag falls on the 500.

He will get in some bonus laps driving for Niece Motorsports in the Craftsman Truck Series race at Daytona.

“For the first time, my main goal, other than qualifying for the 500, isn’t about winning,” Pastrana said. “We’ll take a win, of course, but my main goal is to finish on the lead lap and not cause any issues. I know we’ll have a strong car from 23XI, so the only way I can mess this up is to be the cause of a crash.

“I’d just love to go out and be a part of the Great American Race.”

 

Front Row Motorsports adds more Cup races to Zane Smith’s schedule

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Reigning Craftsman Truck Series champion Zane Smith, who seeks to qualify for the Daytona 500, will do six additional Cup races for Front Row Motorsports this season, the team announced Tuesday. Centene Corporation’s brands will sponsor Smith.

The 23-year-old Smith will drive the No. 36 car in his attempt to make the Daytona 500 for Front Row Motorsports. That car does not have a charter. Chris Lawson will be the crew chief. 

Smith’s remaining six Cup races will be in the No. 38 car for Front Row Motorsports, which has a charter. Todd Gilliland will drive the remaining 30 points races and All-Star Open in that car. Ryan Bergenty will be the crew chief for both drivers this year.

Smith’s races in the No. 38 car will be Phoenix (March 12), Talladega (April 23), Coca-Cola 600 (May 28), Sonoma (June 11), Texas (Sept. 24) and the Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8). 

He also will run the full Truck season. 

Centene’s Wellcare, which offers a range of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug Plans will be Smith’s sponsor for the Daytona 500, Phoenix, Talladega and Sonoma. Centene’s Ambetter, a provider of health insurance offerings on the Health Insurance Marketplace, will be Smith’s sponsor at Texas and the Charlotte Roval. 

Smith’s sponsor for the Coca-Cola 600 will be Boot Barn. 

The mix of tracks is something Smith said he is looking forward to this season.

“I wanted to run Phoenix just because the trucks only go to Phoenix once and it’s the biggest race of the year,” Smith told NBC Sports. “I wanted to get as much time and laps as I can at Phoenix even though it’s in a completely different car. I wanted to run road courses, as well, just because I felt road course racing suits me.”

Smith also will be back in the Truck Series. Ambetter Health will be the primary sponsor of Smith’s Truck at Homestead (Oct. 21). The partnership with Centene includes full season associate sponsorship of Smith’s Truck and full season associate sponsorship on the No. 38 Cup car. 

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150
Zane Smith holding the Truck series championship trophy last year at Phoenix. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Smith’s connection to Centene Corporation, a St. Louis-based company, goes back to last June’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. Smith made his Cup debut that weekend, filling in for Chris Buescher, who was out with COVID-19. Smith finished 17th.

“It’s cool to see how into the sport they are,” Smith said of Centene Corporation. “It started out with an appearance I did for them (at World Wide Technology Raceway). I’ve gotten to know that group pretty well.”

Centene also is the healthcare partner of Speedway Motorsports and sponsors a Cup race at Atlanta and Xfinity race at New Hampshire. 

Smith’s opportunity to run select Cup races, including major events as the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600, is part of the fast trajectory he’s made.

In 2019, he made only 10 Xfinity starts with JR Motorsports and didn’t start racing full-time in NASCAR until the 2020 season. Since then, he’s won a Truck title, finished second two other times and scored seven Truck victories.

“I feel like I’ve lived about probably three lifetimes in these four years just with getting that part-time Xfinity schedule and running well and getting my name out there,” Smith said.

He was provided an extra Xfinity race at Phoenix in 2019 with JRM and that proved significant to his future.

“That happened to be probably one of my best runs,” he said of his fifth-place finish that day. “We ran top four, top five all day and (team owner) Maury Gallagher happened to be there. He watched that.”

He signed with Gallagher’s GMS Racing Truck truck.

“It was supposed to be a part-time Truck schedule and (then) I won at Michigan and it was like, ‘Oh man, we’re in the playoffs, we should probably be full-time racing.’ I won another one a couple of weeks later at Dover.”

His success led to second season with the team and he again finished second in the championship. That led to the drive to a title last year.

The championship trophy sits in his home office and serves as motivation every day.

“First thing you see is when you come through my front door is pretty much the trophy,” Smith said. “It drives me crazy now thinking I could have two more to go with it and how close I was. … Really just that much more hungrier to go capture more.”