Ryan: How a single lug nut could impact pit crew salary structure

0 Comments

The tools will be the same, the choreography (mostly) will be the same, and the number of crew members will be the same.

The aesthetic impact of NASCAR’s move to single lug nuts will be negligible next season.

When wheels on the NextGen car are fastened via a center-locking hub system, the appearance virtually will be indiscernible from afar aside from the eagle-eyed viewers who can spot the variance in how the tire changers’ hands move across the wheels.

It theoretically should be better for safety (fewer loose wheels, and no stray lugs whizzing through the pits). Because of the 18-inch tire (that the single lug is designed to support), drivers have been pleased in early returns by the mechanical grip. And it will enhance the street model relevance of the NextGen.

In many ways, this could be a change that is similar to electronic fuel injection – a huge fan outcry (though not all negative) in the short term but largely accepted within a year.

But similar to EFI (which resulted in the long-term ramifications of having throttle trace data widely available to all drivers and helping negate their trade secrets), the single-lug pit stop still could have a significant behind-the-scenes impact on NASCAR.

In this case, it could mean a reshuffling of the salary structure for the five-person pit crew that is highly valued for changing tires in 11 seconds.

As analyst Steve Letarte noted Monday on NASCAR America (video above), the switch to a single lug nut could be a financial windfall that drives up the price for the jack man and gas man while decreasing for tire changers.

These wouldn’t be necessarily dramatic shifts. Salaries for fast tire changers have risen into the low- to mid-six figures. They still should expect to be handsomely paid because teams will pay to gain positions in the pits, and tire changers will remain an important part of the process.

The talking points Monday from NASCAR were that fast tire changers with good hand-eye coordination would remain valuable, and that skill and speed still will be at a premium.

That is true – to a degree. There is no getting around the fact that accuracy and hand speed will be less important when hitting one lug instead of five.

The scramble around the car will be even more important, but it should be easier to find (or train) finely honed athletes with those physical attributes. The actual changing of the tire is a more specific skillset and a limited talent pool.

As Letarte said, the single lug nut “takes the 10 A-plus tire changers on pit road and makes 20 or 30 of them.

“But it takes the 10 to 15 A-plus jack men and makes five of them.”

The reason for that is because with a single lug shaving a few tenths of a second off the five-lug pattern, tire changers will be ready quicker for the jack to raise the left side of the car. That should increase the demand for fast jack men, who already are critical as the de-facto “quarterbacks” with oversight of the pit stop and the adjustments made during it.

The time difference also could make the fueler more critical during a two-can exchange (which requires a swap at the pit wall). With a 17.75-gallon fuel cell, it’s estimated that teams currently can fill about 1.7 gallons per second – or about 10.4 seconds for a full tank.

If the single lug nut drops times for changing four tires in the 10-second range, suddenly having a swifter fueler could make the difference in leaving early.

Time is money, and that could be one of the main takeaways from a single lug nut next year.

Some other stray thoughts on Monday’s news:

–The switch to aluminum alloy wheels prompted many fair questions about how effective they will be in crash damage vs. the steel rims currently in use by NASCAR.

Presumably, due diligence has been done on their durability, and many other series (IMSA and Supercars to name a few) have success with using aluminum wheels. But it will bear watching the first few times a NextGen car hits the wall and tries to limp to the pits.

–Yes, there aren’t many passenger cars with one lug nut. But there also aren’t many with 15-inch wheels. The argument that the move makes Cup cars “less stock” sort of misses the point that it also makes them more relevant (a primary thrust of the NextGen) via the 18-inch wheels while also allowing for better braking and cooling systems.

— The social pushback from diehard fans was understandable given that NASCAR fans have been asked to absorb a lot of change over the past two decades (with some growing attuned to resisting much of it). However, there was a sense of optimism, too, that was missing in similar furors about the top 35 rule and the Car of Tomorrow.

The sense here is that the storm over center-locking wheels quickly will pass and probably won’t become a third rail issue that eventually will occupy the NASCAR dustbin of history.

–The next big news on the NextGen car?

It probably will be about three months until NASCAR provides a grand unveil of the 2021 model (from its special features to the car’s suppliers, vendors) sometime in June.

After next year’s rollout, the focus will turn toward an engine overhaul (maybe by 2023 but with lesser modifications possible before then).

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

0 Comments

Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

0 Comments

Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front

0 Comments

A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).

Talladega’s tale of two drivers: One celebrates, one laments

0 Comments

TALLADEGA, Ala. — It’s dangerous to forecast what is going to happen next in these playoffs in a Cup season unlike any other. 

So keep that in mind, but Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega moves him one step closer to returning to the championship race for a third consecutive season.

It’s easy to overlook that beyond earning a spot in the Round of 8 with his win Sunday, Elliott scored six playoff points. That gives him 46 playoff points. He has the opportunity to score seven more playoff points this weekend at the Charlotte Roval — an event he has won twice — before the next round begins.

Once the current round ends, the points will be reset to 4,000 for each of the remaining playoff drivers and they’ll have their playoff points added. 

At this point, Elliott would have a 21-point lead on his nearest competitor and a 31-point lead the first driver outside a transfer spot to the championship race.

The next round opens at Las Vegas, goes to Homestead and ends with Martinsville. 

A key for Elliott, though, is to avoid how he has started each of the first two rounds. A crash led to a 36th-place finish in the playoff opener at Darlington. He placed 32nd after a crash at Texas to begin this round.

The up-and-down nature of the playoffs, though, hasn’t taken a toll on the 2020 Cup champion.

“I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing,” said Elliott, who is advancing to the Round of 8 for the sixth consecutive season. “It’s going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don’t. That’s just part of the deal.

“So, yeah, just try to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. Obviously great to move on into the next round, get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic, we’re super proud of that.

“This deal can humble you. We can go to the Round of 8 and crash again like we did the first two rounds, or you can go in there and maybe have a really good first race. I don’t know. You show up prepared, do the best you can, figure it out from there.”

————————————————————————————————————————————————

Joey Logano has always been one who wants to race at the front in a superspeedway event instead of riding at the back.

When asked last month about the idea of Texas Motor Speedway being reconfigured to provide superspeedway-type racing — as Atlanta Motor Speedway was before this season — Logano questioned the value of that type of racing.

“Is that the type of racing fans want to see?” Logano said. “Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. 

“They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano sought to race at the front as much as possible Sunday at Talladega, even after his car was damaged in an early incident, but he took a different tack on the final restart. He restarted 24th and dropped back, finishing 27th.

“We just wreck all the time, so we thought, ‘Boy, we’ve got a big points lead, let’s just be smart and don’t wreck and we’ll be able to get out of here with a top 10, assuming they would wreck because they always do,’” Logano said after the race. 

“That was the only time I’ve ever stayed in the back, ever, was today and they didn’t wreck. We gave up a bunch of our points lead. We’re still plus-18, which is a decent spot to be, but, the goal was to race for stage points and then drop to the back and wait for the crash. I hate racing that way. I’ve gotten beat many times from people that do that, then I tried it and it didn’t work.”

————————————————————————————————————————————————

Michael McDowell’s third-place finish continues his strong season. 

McDowell’s finish extended his career-high of top-10 finishes to 12. He has five finishes of 11th or better in the last seven races. 

“I’m proud of the season we’ve had and the run that we put together,” McDowell said. “Everyone did a great job on pit road executing and getting us track position when we needed it. It’s good to be there at the end and have a shot at it, just disappointed.”

Front Row Motorsports teammate Todd Gilliland finished seventh. 

“Race car drivers are greedy,” Gilliland said. “I wish I could have gotten a couple more there, but it was still a really good day. We ran up front most of the day and my car handled really well, so, overall, there are definitely a ton of positives to take out of this.”

Sunday marked the second time this season both Front Row Motorsports cars finished in the top 10. They also did it at the Indianapolis road course. 

————————————————————————————————————————————————

NASCAR confirms that the Hendrick Motorsports appeal of William Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas will take place Thursday.

Should Hendrick lose that appeal, the team could then have a hearing before the Final Appeals Officer. That session would need to take place before Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Twenty-five points in the playoffs is a ton,” car owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday of Byron’s penalty. “I mean, in the regular season if you got a bunch of races, you can make it back up.

“I’ve seen other cars under caution hit each other. In that situation, (Byron) wasn’t trying to spin him, but they got a tower full of people, they could have put him in the back, could have done something right then rather than wait till Monday or Tuesday, then make a decision.”

Byron is 11 points below the cutline after Talladega.