Dr. Diandra: Pit road speeding from the driver (and engineer) perspective

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Last week, I explained how NASCAR monitors pit road speed and how their measurement method allows drivers to momentarily exceed pit road speed without incurring a speeding penalty. This week, let’s look at pit road speed from the driver’s — and the engineer’s — perspective.

We can break a pit stop into three parts:

  • The driver gets onto pit road (where pit speed begins) and stops in the pit box.
  • The pit crew changes tires, adds fuel and makes adjustments as needed.
  • The driver leaves the box and exits pit road.

Although the driver plays a role in the second step (positioning the car correctly), his primary job is getting in and out of the pit box.

Speeding on pit road is the most frequent pit road penalty. Through Sonoma, NASCAR Cup Series drivers have incurred 77 pit road speeding penalties. While that might seem like a large number, those 77 penalties happened during more than 3,700 pit stops.

About a quarter of the speeding penalties occurred during green-flag pit stops. Only 16 percent of all stops happened under green, which means drivers are more likely to speed during green flag pit stops than during yellow flag pit stops.

A driver caught speeding during green flag pit stops must serve a pass-through penalty. Yellow flag speeders restart at the tail of the field. While drivers can often recover from early speeding penalties, late-race mistakes can take a driver out of contention for the win.

Given the impact of speeding penalties, why do drivers even take chances on pit road?

They have to.

The graph below shows each driver’s fastest time getting into and out of his pit box at Sonoma last weekend. This graph doesn’t include the time in the box. Variations in pit stop speeds are in addition to these numbers.

A vertical bar graph showing driver time getting on and off pit road
Alex Bowman traversed pit road the fastest: 34.347 seconds. The graph shows the 22 drivers whose fastest runs were within one second of Bowman’s time. Seven drivers were within 0.18 seconds of the fastest run. When track position is paramount, as it is at Sonoma, every tenth of a second on pit road is critical.

Speed limits without speedometers

In 2016, NASCAR moved from analog gauges (gauges with dials and needles) to a digital dashboard. Digital dashes offer more information in a format customizable to each driver. But NASCAR still specifies what sensors may be used to display information.

Engine RPMs? Check.

Oil pressure and temperature? Check.

Lap time? Check — if the driver wants it.

The gear the car is in? Not only checked, but required to be displayed at all times in the top right corner.

But no speedometer.

The pit road speed limit at Sonoma was 45 mph: 40 mph plus the five mph NASCAR allows before calling a penalty. Drivers had to obey the speed limit without benefit of a speedometer.

NASCAR drivers instead rely on tachometers, which measure engine rotation rate in revolutions per minute (RPMs). But just because the engine rotates at 7,000 rpm doesn’t mean the wheels do. Sonoma tires were 89.61 inches in circumference, which means the car travels 89.61 inches every time the tire makes one rotation. If the wheels rotated at 7,000 rpm, the car would be going 594 mph.

The transaxle, which replaces the transmission and the rear gear from the Gen-6 car, steps down the rotation rate from the engine to the wheels. Once you know the transaxle gearing and the tire circumference, you can calculate exactly how many rpms the engine should rotate in any gear. Here’s this calculation using the Sonoma gearing and tire circumference in the figure below.

A flow chart showing the route from engine to wheels to transaxle and how rpms change

The five gears change the same engine rpm to different wheel rpm and thus different car speeds. That’s why pit road speed specs must include engine rpm and gear. Before the digital dash, the crew chief would remind the driver as he entered pit road: second gear, 4460. At Sonoma, that would put you at 44.97 mph.

Even if NASCAR allowed speedometers, drivers would still choose the tach because a tachometer provides better precision. In second gear at Sonoma, one engine rpm corresponds to 0.01 miles per hour.

No time for numbers

Although the crew member programming the dashboard sets up a numerical tachometer display, most drivers also utilize a light system so that they don’t have to watch the numbers so closely. Some pit road segments are only two seconds long. In addition to maintaining their speed, drivers also have to avoid other cars and pit crew members.

Jose Blasco-Figueroa, lead race engineer for Sonoma winner Daniel Suárez, noted that a typical dash page might include six red lights and a few blue lights. The programmer would link engine rpm to the light display so all six red lights illuminate at the target engine rpm. If the first blue light blinks, the driver knows he’s okay, but better not push it any further. If the driver sees two blue lights blink, he’s gone too fast. He’ll need to back off the throttle until only five red lights illuminate to compensate.

Back when there was plenty of practice time, Blasco-Figueroa explained, teams could verify pit road speed settings during practice. Now, they have only one opportunity to check their settings when the cars come down pit road at pit road speed just before the race.

During that transit, NASCAR flags speeding cars and tells their crew chiefs in which segment their drivers sped. That’s exactly what happened to Tyler Reddick at Sonoma.

A tweet from Zack Alberts about Tyler Reddick's speeding issues at Sonoma

This is where the digital dash is especially helpful. Blasco-Figueroa said that teams plan for those eventualities by programming pages with slightly different rpm settings. Instead of the driver trying to remember a new target rpm, he just switches to a new dash page.

But even contingency plans sometimes fail. Sonoma featured only one speeding penalty: Reddick’s second stop. That’s the 34.394 second stop represented in the first graph — his fastest of the race.

If teams had needed wet weather tires at Sonoma, the driver would have switched to yet another dash page for trips down pit road. According to Goodyear, wet-weather tire circumference is 89.06 inches — smaller than the standard tires. That difference matters: 4381 rpm with the slick corresponds to 45 mph. The wet weather tire at the same engine rpm corresponds to only 44.72 mph.

This, by the way, is why you have to recalibrate your speedometer and odometer if you put bigger or smaller tires on your car.

In addition to pit road speeds, teams can program other pages of the dash with additional information: one for the driver to focus on lap time and specific pages for troubleshooting if issues should arise with, for example, the cooling system or the transaxle oil temperature.

Eventually, NASCAR will likely communicate directly with drivers though the digital dashboard. Race control will be able to hit a button and drivers will know the yellow flag is out.

Or that they were just caught speeding on pit road.

BJ McLeod, Live Fast team move to Chevrolet

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Driver/owner BJ McLeod and Live Fast Motorsports will race in Chevrolets beginning with the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Based in Mooresville, North Carolina, Live Fast has been a Ford team.

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Live Fast is owned by McLeod, Matt Tifft and Joe Falk. Jessica McLeod, BJ’s wife, is the team’s chief operating officer.

“Our team is excited to make this transition to Chevrolet,” BJ McLeod said in a statement released by the team. “Chevrolet Camaros have proven great success on the track, and Live Fast Motorsports is looking forward to becoming a part of this advance.”

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The team will use ECR engines.

McLeod had one top-10 finish in 29 starts in the Cup Series last season.

Dr Diandra: Delving deeper into 2022 NASCAR season statistics

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As I discovered earlier this year, cautions don’t capture everything. Sometimes drivers spin, crash, lose wheels or blow tires, but racing continues. Cautions are inaccurate proxies for counting these incidents.

Improving accuracy requires re-visiting each race in detail to find those incidents that didn’t produce cautions.

So that’s what I did.

Non-caution incidents

I use the same categories for non-caution incidents as for cautions. Only incidents significant enough to cost drivers spots count, regardless of where in the field they happen. I don’t claim to have found every incident, but I think I caught most of them.

The table below summarizes my counts for caution and non-caution incidents in the 2022 Cup Series.

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Non-caution incidents comprise 30.1% of total incidents. The percentages, however, vary widely within categories.

For example: While non-caution accidents are just 14% of all accidents, non-caution spins are almost 40% of the total spin count.

Non-caution incidents by race

The graph below shows total incidents — caution and non-caution. I show the races in chronological order from left to right. The totals do not include planned cautions.

The largest number of non-caution incidents happen at road courses. These tracks’ length and sprawling nature allow drivers to recover from a spin or accident without drawing a caution.

  • The Indy road course had the highest overall number of non-caution incidents — nine spins, six accidents and one car on fire. That comes to a total of 16 non-caution incidents and three natural cautions.
  • COTA had the second-highest total of non-caution incidents with 13 — two accidents, nine spins, one tire issue and one wheel issue. Seven natural cautions bring COTA’s incident total to 20.
  • Bristol’s asphalt race came in third in total incidents. Although all of the accidents, spins and stalls recorded there caused cautions, six tire issues and five wheel issues did not. Bristol wins the award for most non-caution incidents at an oval.

Road courses accounted for one-third of all spins in 2022. Capturing total spins is important because spins indicate how easy it is to lose control of the car.

The first third of the season tallied 34 spins. The number rose to 40 in the second third, but fell to 25 in the last 12 races of the year. The numbers from the first two-thirds of the season included 10 spins each at COTA and the Indy Road Course.

The strong dependence of spins on track type makes it hard to draw a conclusion about whether drivers improved their ability to manage the car during the year.

Tires blown

The Next Gen’s symmetry makes the car harder to turn, which demands more from the tires. Crew chiefs also gained the ability to adjust rear camber. Goodyear reported force spikes of 200 to 300 pounds in the tires. Force spikes load a tire quickly, which can lead to blowouts.

I only counted situations in which it was clear that the tire went flat before any other incident, like a spin or accident. If it was possible that another incident caused the tire to blow, I didn’t include it as a tire issue.

I counted a total of 59 blown tires in the 2022 season, which includes those that caused cautions and those that didn’t.

Teams used around 26,600 tires this season. The 59 tire failures represent about 0.2% of all tires run.

Christopher Bell and Austin Cindric had the most blown tires with five each. Bell’s teammate Martin Truex Jr. had four. Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Chase Briscoe and Daniel Suarez each had three.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s four cars totaled 13 blown tires or 22% of the total number. Hendrick Motorsports, with the same number of cars, had eight blown tires, while Stewart Haas Racing had only six.

The Bristol asphalt race had the most tire issues, with 13. Texas came in second with eight and Kansas third with five. Atlanta, which was repaved and reconfigured, had six tire issues across its two races.

The number of tire issues at Kansas decreased from five in the first race to two in the second. I expect the overall numbers to go down next year as crew chiefs use what they’ve learned this year to refine their setups.

Wheels lost

The Next Gen’s single-lug wheel challenged pit crews, despite built-in indicators that confirm when a wheel is properly tightened. I counted 13 times cars had to back up on pit road to deal with a loose wheel and 19 times cars pitted right after a tire change to re-tighten wheels.

The four-race suspension for crew chief and pit crew members makes teams extra cautious.

I counted 14 wheels coming off cars during the 2022 season. Seven merited cautions. The remaining seven either happened on pit road, or a car that lost a wheel on track was able to make it back to pit road.

Fourteen wheels is 0.05% of all tires used. Again, this number reflects human error more than any design flaw in the wheels. More concerning to me are the handful of stops where teams couldn’t get wheels off cars. For example, debris between the wheel and hub at Darlington ended up costing Ross Chastain four laps.

The good news is that fewer wheels left cars as the season went on.

  • Eight wheels came off cars in the first third of the season.
  • Four wheels were lost in the second third of the season.
  • Only two wheels failed to stay on in the final third of the season.

As is the case for most statistics in the first year of a new car, these numbers will become more meaningful next year, when they’ll serve as benchmarks.

Goodyear renews agreement to remain NASCAR tire supplier

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NASCAR and Goodyear have entered into a new multi-year agreement maintaining Goodyear’s role as the exclusive tire for NASCAR’s top three national series. 

Goodyear also will be the title sponsor for the Cup race at Darlington Raceway in May 2023. Goodyear and NASCAR’s relationship dates back nearly 70 years and is one of the longest-running affiliations in any sport.

“From our manufacturing plants to offices around the world, racing is ingrained in our culture, and the importance of our relationship with NASCAR is reflected in the quality, performance and engineering we put into every Goodyear Eagle race tire,” said Richard J. Kramer, chairman, chief executive officer and president at Goodyear, in a statement. “Our performance on the racetrack plays an active role in the success of the sport and inspires the development of our consumer tires, fueling our commitment to take performance and innovation to the next level.”

Goodyear produces more than 100,000 tires for NASCAR’s top three series each year at Goodyear’s global headquarters in Akron, Ohio.

“Goodyear has been a trusted partner to the NASCAR industry since 1954, playing a critical role in our shared pursuit to deliver the best racing in the world,” said Steve Phelps, president of NASCAR, in a statement. “For more than 25 years, Goodyear Eagle tires have been the only component that connects the stock car to the racetrack. Our continued partnership will allow us to push boundaries and innovate our racing product for generations to come.”  

Jes Ferreira selected as Comcast Community Champion of the Year

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Comcast announced Jes Ferreira as the 2022 Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award, the eighth to receive the annual award. Among all the turmoil of the pandemic, Ferreira looked for an opportunity to give back. Despite her heavy workload, she decided to take on an even heavier challenge, becoming a foster parent to two young girls. 

“I am overwhelmed, humbled, and blown away to be recognized as the Comcast Community Champion of the Year,” said Jes Ferreira, 2022 Comcast Community Champion, “the amount of support this will provide for the Charlotte foster families ensures the best services for these children. I hope this sheds light on the foster community and encourages everyone to support in many different ways.” 

Ferreira, originally earned a foster license to become a foster parent for one child, but a few months later, the child’s younger sibling needed a new foster home. Although Ferreira, Senior Director of Live Shows for CSM Production, already had a crazy work schedule which included traveling to the race track most weekends on top of fostering one child as a single parent, she knew without a doubt these two siblings deserved to be together while in foster care. Now two young siblings who are going through the most trying time in their lives have been reunited thanks to Ferreira. 

On any given day, there are nearly 424,000 children in foster care in the United States. In 2019, over 672,000 children spent time in U.S. foster care. On average, children remain in state care for over a year and a half, and five percent of children in foster care have languished there for five or more years.  

Ferreira’s affiliated charity is Foster Village Charlotte (FVC), an organization that allows foster parents to connect with and support each other. FVC collaborates with 16 private foster parent licensing agencies, local government, child welfare organizations and the community to serve families holistically and represent the foster family voice to Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services (DSS). 

To further honor Jes’ incredible dedication, Comcast will donate $60,000 to Foster Village Charlotte (FVC).

“Jes encompasses everything the Comcast Community Champion of the Year stands for. Anyone that is at the track knows how dedicated Jes is to the sport of NASCAR and, we are so glad we expanded the eligibility for this award so we can uncover and honor the compassion, selflessness and generosity Jes provides off the track, and that is what makes this honor so special, ” said Matt Lederer, Comcast’s Vice President, Brand Partnerships and Amplification.  

 Ferreira, was chosen by a panel comprised of Comcast and NASCAR executives, as well as Curtis Francois, the 2021 Comcast Community Champion, who received the award for his work with the Raceway Gives Foundation 

For the first time, Comcast opened the eligibility for anyone in the NASCAR community with a 2022 annual credential or NASCAR full season license, and with this expansion, Comcast is now able to share these exceptional stories.   

Josh Williams, driver of the #92 DGM Racing car for the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Sherry Pollex, founder of Sherry Strong, were selected as finalists and will be awarded $30,000 each towards their respective selected charities – the Ryan Seacrest Foundation and Sherry Strong. 

Comcast has a long track record of community service, aiding in the advancement of local organizations, developing programs and partnerships, mobilizing resources to connect people and inspiring positive and substantive change. To learn more about these efforts, visit the Comcast Community Impact site. 

About Comcast Corporation’s Partnership with NASCAR 

Comcast’s Xfinity brand entered NASCAR as entitlement partner of the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2015 and is now Premier Partner of the NASCAR Cup Series. Since then, the company has donated $840,000 to more than 20 different NASCAR-affiliated organizations to honor their efforts and to help further the impact of their worthy causes. Fans can visit ComcastCommunityChampion.com to learn more about past and present finalists and their acts of selflessness.