John Probst

Friday 5: Despite 2 wins in a row, Toyota boss has sharp words for teams

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Although Toyota has won four of 12 Cup races this season, including the past two, the president of Toyota Racing Development used the words “embarrassing,” “dog crap” and “unacceptable” in discussing a recent race, and performance this season.

A third of the way through the Cup season, Toyota has not shown the strength it did last year in winning 19 of 36 points races and the championship.

David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development said this week that the manufacture’s advantage has declined.

“It’s not that we’ve fallen behind as much as they’ve caught up, and there’s no question that that new Chevrolet Camaro and the nose that is on that car has elevated their program,” Wilson said. “The fact that they’re only sitting on two wins right now is shocking to me. I always look at not necessarily the wins, but the potential, what is the true potential of your race cars and that being a function of raw speed. You could argue that we’re punching above our weight right now and they’re not running at their full potential.”

MORE: Toyota executive keen on keeping young Cup drivers

Wilson said even with wins in the last two Cup races, that’s not satisfying because of the performance of the Toyota cars.

“Coming off two wins, I still think we’re on our back foot a little bit,” he said. “In many respects I feel much better about our loss at Atlanta than our win at Martinsville. … The reason I say that is because at Atlanta we had three cars in the top five, we led laps, we had a couple of cars that were good enough to win that race.

David Wilson. (Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

“In Martinsville, we embarrassed ourselves. This is one of the most embarrassing races I can remember for the Toyota family. We weren’t ready for the new tire that Goodyear brought to the racetrack. There’s circumstances behind it, but I’m not going to make excuses for it. We weren’t prepared for it.

“Our engine drivability was terrible. On pit lane and restarts. We could have had our worst finish since 2007 had it not been for Martin (Truex Jr.) hanging on long enough to get the car balanced correctly for the tires and putting himself, ultimately, in a position to win the race.

“I was encouraged at what we saw at (last weekend) Homestead. Where we need to be better is our consistency of how we unload from the haulers across the camp. We’ve had too many guys that are just dog crap for the first stage and use that time to try and catch up. That’s unacceptable. We should be better with the tools that we have, with the experience that we have, we should be better.

“There’s definitely room for improvement. Having said all of that, within our camp, within the JGR camp, we’re still positive because we know that our potential is there to lead laps and win races if we execute consistently on pit lane, if we do a better job with our sim, we will be in a position to win more races.”

Toyota is aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing, Leavine Family Family and Gaunt Brothers Racing. The drivers for JGR and Leavine all have scored significantly fewer points in the first stage compared to the second stage, illustrating Wilson’s frustration with how the teams begin the race.

Erik Jones has scored 12.5% of all his stage points in the first stage. Reigning Cup champion Kyle Busch has scored 29.6% of all his stage points in the first stage. Martin Truex Jr. has scored 37.8% of all his stage points in the first stage. Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin has scored 41.6% of all his stage points in the first stage.

To compare, Chase Elliott, who has a series-best 141 stage points this season, has scored 51.8% of all his stage points in the first stage. Joey Logano, who is tied with Truex for second with 127 stage points, has scored 49.6% of all his stage points in the first stage.

Among manufacturers, Fords have won six of the season’s first 12 races and Chevrolet has won twice this season.

Even if Toyota went on to win 12 Cup races this season, based on its current pace, it would be its fewest wins in a season since 2014. Toyota has averaged 15.6 Cup wins a season since 2015.

2. Looking ahead to 2021

With the Next Gen car’s debut pushed back to 2022, the sport will have an additional year with the current rules. That also means an additional year with a similar workforce. With the move to the Next Gen car, teams are expected to reduce their workforce because of limits on the cars.

Now, teams will keep a similar workforce through next year while finding sponsorship at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the economy.

David Wilson, president of the Toyota Racing Development, said next year will be among the key points discussed in a meeting among the manufacturers with NASCAR next week.

“Part of the agenda is going to be looking at ’21 and how do we as an industry help our teams bridge one more year that wasn’t in the plan,” Wilson said. “We already have enough teams in trouble and on the brink. The focus needs to be not selfishly on us as individual (manufacturers) but on the industry as a whole.”

3. Talladega changes

Rule changes for Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway will lead to slower speeds as NASCAR looks to reduce the chance of a crash similar to what Ryan Newman experienced at the end of the Daytona 500.

Among the changes is a reduction in the throttle body from 59/64” to  57/64” that is expected to reduce horsepower by 35-40. That would put teams around 510-515 horsepower this weekend.

NASCAR also has eliminated the aero ducts to help reduce the likelihood of tandem drafting.

One change not made was to the spoiler. John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president of innovation and racing development, explained why such a change wasn’t made.

“Certainly spoiler changes were looked at,” Probst told reporters this week. “… The items that were under consideration were largely centered around slowing (cars) down, which would usually mean a bigger spoiler.

The spoiler that we have on there now is as tall as we can get them without putting significant bending … on the deck lid to the point at which we’d be worried structurally. From that standpoint, getting larger wasn’t really a good option. The more direct knob for us to turn to slow the cars down is directly to the horsepower.”

Another change is the addition of slip tape to the rear bumper. The contact from Ryan Blaney‘s car to the rear of Newman’s car triggered Newman’s crash.

“We’re trying to make the rear bumper of the car being hit like ice, where they slide across, don’t contact and start influencing the car in front laterally, left to right, if you will,” Probst said.

4. COVID-19 protocols

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, was asked this week if the sport has had anyone test positive for the coronavirus and about the status of protocols NASCAR has in place for each race weekend.

“Everything has been going, actually, remarkably smooth, in terms of the protocols that have been set in place,” O’Donnell said. “We’ve certainly had some folks who may have presented some symptoms that we’ve turned away early. That’s up to them to disclose if there were any issues in terms of did someone have COVID or not, but I would say (the protocols have) worked 100% according to plan.

“We’ve not had challenges during an event where anything has come up where we’ve had to react during the hours that the garage was open. It’s been if there were any issues prior to someone entering the facility, which have been very minimal.

“We expect there will be some challenges. We need to continue to do our due diligence. We need to continue to wear our masks. We need to continue to follow the protocols.”

5. Leader of the pack

Team Penske has won seven of the last 11 Cup races at Talladega Superspeedway, a 63.6% winning percentage.

Brad Keselowski has won four times during that stretch. Joey Logano has three wins during that time, and Ryan Blaney won last year’s playoff race. 

The races not won by a Team Penske driver during that stretch were won by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Aric Almirola and Chase Elliott.

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NASCAR announces safety additions, competition changes

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NASCAR issued a rules bulletin Friday to teams that included safety enhancements developed from the investigation of Ryan Newman‘s car after his Daytona 500 crash.

Newman suffered a brain bruise in a last-lap crash of the Feb. 16 event. He missed three races before the season was suspended by the coronavirus pandemic. He has been medically cleared by NASCAR to race.

NASCAR also announced competition adjustments Friday.

“As teams prepare for the return to racing, we want to provide as much advance notice as possible for upcoming technical changes,” said John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president of racing development, in a statement. “Some of these updates stem from the investigation into the (Newman) incident at Daytona, and all are intended to produce a safe and competitive race at all venues. We look forward to providing more details in the near future.”

The safety enhancements include:

  • Elimination of aero ducts at superspeedway tracks.
  • Reduction in size of throttle body from 59/64” to 57/64” (superspeedways only).
  • Updated roll bar padding specifications (mandatory at all tracks beginning June 1).
  • Oil reservoir tank or overflow expansion tank must contain a check valve (mandatory at all tracks beginning with Talladega).
  • Slip tape must be applied along the entire length of the lower rearward facing surfaces of the rear bumper cover and extension (superspeedways only).
  • Addition of a lower main roll bar support bar #20 / intrusion plate and upper main roll bar support bar #21 (mandatory superspeedways, optional elsewhere).

Click here for image of new roll bars and plates (shown in yellow)

The competition changes include:

  • The temporary ban on most testing will be lifted Monday (May 4), however on-track testing will not be allowed in the Cup, Xfinity or Gander Truck Series for the remainder of the 2020 season.
  • Organizations are allocated a total of 150 hours in the wind tunnel through Dec. 31, 2021 with a maximum usage of 70 hours in 2020 and 90 hours in 2021. Wind tunnel testing of Next Gen vehicles by individual organizations is not permitted.
  • All remaining parts submission meetings for 2020 have been cancelled.
  • Minimum number of short block sealed engines changes from 13 to eight.

In regards to the testing issues, NASCAR banned all testing not related to the Next Gen car on March 17. That included but was not limited to wind tunnels (full and scale models), climatic tunnels, 7/8 posters, K&C rigs (static and dynamic) and driver simulators, etc.

 

 

NASCAR delays debut of Next Gen car to 2022

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NASCAR announced Thursday that the debut of the Next Gen will be pushed back to 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The car was scheduled to have debuted with the 2021 Daytona 500.

NASCAR issued a statement from John Probst, senior vice president of racing innovation:

“Due to challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic, the debut of the Next Gen car will be delayed until 2022. The decision was made in collaboration with the OEMs and team owners. We will continue to develop the Next Gen car, and a revised testing timeline will be shared when more information is available.”

The Next Gen car has been viewed as a long-term cost-savings measure for teams and will include common parts from vendors. With vendor work halted by stay-at-home orders, the timeline of getting vehicles to teams by July became an issue. Also, with NASCAR intending to run all the races this season, it would put an extra burden on teams to compete and test and prepare the new car for next year.

NASCAR had done four tests with Next Gen car since last year. NASCAR had tests at Richmond Raceway in October with Austin Dillon, at Phoenix Raceway in December with Joey Logano, at Homestead-Miami Speedway in January with Erik Jones and at Auto Club Speedway in March with William Byron.

NASCAR has had all its events postponed from the Atlanta race weekend March 14-15 to  the Dover Cup race on May 3 becuase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Pit stops will change to single lug nut in 2021 season with NextGen car

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NASCAR will switch to a single lug nut for fastening its tire and wheel assemblies in Cup cars next season, ending decades of using a renowned five lug nut pattern.

An official told NBC Sports the move was driven by the new 18-inch aluminum wheels (3 inches bigger than the current wheel) that will be used with the NextGen car, which will make its debut with the 2021 season, and are intended to increase product relevance for manufacturers.

According to engineering analysis, NASCAR senior vice president of innovation John Probst said the durability of the new wheels decreases by 30 percent with five lug nuts.

“The answer became pretty clear that we needed to go single lug nut,” Probst said. “And I know that a lot of folks might say, ‘Well, if product relevance is your main goal, name me a car that has a single lug nut.’ I’m not sitting here saying I could, but I can name lots of cars that have 18-inch aluminum wheels. And that once we decided 18-inch aluminum wheels was the primary driver, the engineering solution was pretty clear.

(Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)

“It’s almost never the case that all five lug nuts are literally tight to the wheel, and if we don’t have five lug nuts tight to the wheel, the durability of an aluminum wheel drops. If all lug nuts could be guaranteed tight, five is a workable solution. With the pressure to do a very fast pit stop, I can’t say that we have knowledge that all five are ever completely 100% tight to the torque spec.”

Because of a higher torque, the pit gun will be applied longer to a single lug nut vs. five but still will take a shorter amount of time. NASCAR estimates that it will take roughly 0.5 seconds to remove the single lug (and the same time to reapply) vs. the 0.8-1.0 second for a top-flight tire changer removing five lug nuts (and running the pattern back on in the same time). So the move could drop four-tire pit stops consistently into the 10-second range.

Probst said most Cup teams are in favor of the move, which NASCAR hopes will allow teams to use wheels in multiple years (instead of multiple races with the current steel wheels). There has been some pushback from teams that cite the competitive advantages from investing money and time for training crews to change five lug nuts.

There also has been speculation on how such a move might impact the value of tire changers.

A Goodyear rendering of the 18-inch aluminum wheel with a single lug nut.

Unlike other racing series that use single lug nuts and allow tire changers to be in place before the stop (such as IndyCar), NASCAR is keeping the same pit stop procedures with a single lug nut. Probst said the choreography of scrambling from the right to left side should keep pit crew members in demand as highly skilled athletes who are among the most well-paid team members in NASCAR.

“Nobody’s done it, so I’m not sure anyone can have an informed opinion on how it’s going to affect them,” Probst said. “But there’s still a premium on getting from the pit wall to the right hand side of the car. That’s not going to change. You’re still going to have to get the nut off and back on as quickly as possible. That’s not going to change. You’re going to have to go from the right hand side to the left hand side of the car as quickly as possible.

“The amount of the time on a lug nut today is less than a second, but the time from the right hand side to left hand side is much more than that. So shaving off the time from the left to right side is going to have a bigger impact. I don’t anticipate myself in the near future changing tires. You’re still going to have a massive premium on speed because that’s going to determine the length of your pit stop. They’re still going to be professional athletes.”

Other notable elements from the move to a single lug nut:

–There will be no more postrace lug nut checks or lug nut penalties.

Gluing on lug nuts will become a thing of the past in Cup next season. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

–Because the lug nut will be retained in the socket, the change from five lug nuts will end the practice of gluing lug nuts to the wheels, which will cut down on prerace preparation time (thousands of lug nuts are glued to wheels before races over the course of a season). It also should save time for practicing stops as teams could rotate a few sets of wheels instead of needing to glue lug nuts on a dozens of sets for a pit crew training session at their shops.

–Teams should be replacing wheels less often because five lug nuts deliver more of a pounding than a single lug nut – particularly when they aren’t tight and the wheel wobbles (which can cause the lug nut holes to deform). Aluminum also is less forgiving than the previously steel wheels, making a switch to a single lug nut more logical.

–The single lug nut will be used for the first time Monday and Tuesday during the NextGen test at Auto Club Speedway (with William Byron). But there will be no pit stops simulated under race conditions at the test.

–NASCAR has no plans to adjust pit crew or roster sizes. Though the tire and wheel assembly will be lighter, it won’t be in a significant measure that affects how the tires are delivered to the car.

Erik Jones shares thoughts on sequential shifter, aero differences in Next Gen car

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Over the last two days Joe Gibbs Racing’s Erik Jones took part in the latest test of the Next Gen Cup car at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Jones, the third Cup driver to pilot the prototype, shared his thoughts on the test while confirming the car has a sequential gear shift in place of the traditional H-pattern shifter.

“Obviously, it’s a lot different than what we’ve raced in the past, and a different way of getting to where you need to be,” Jones said in comments provided by NASCAR. “I was a bit unsure of how it was going to drive and how it was going to react.”

Jones described the test a “sort of a baseline systems check” for the car on an intermediate track after tests at Richmond Raceway (Austin Dillon in October) and Phoenix Raceway (Joey Logano in December.)

Of the vertical sequential shifter, Jones said: “The shifting has been fun, it’s been different. I’ve never done anything other than normal H-pattern shifting in my career. You can bang right through the gears. We did a restart at the end of the day (Wednesday) and it was fun learning about that and how you can push that gear box. That really gets you excited for the road courses and what it’s going to be capable of there.”

Jones said the Next Gen car, scheduled to debut next year, is a “big aero change” compared to what the Cup Series cars have now.

“We have a lot of sideforce in our cars now and there is a lot to lean on – when you get loose the car kind of corrects itself and straightens itself out,” Jones said. “This car doesn’t really have any of that. The quarter panels are so short and there’s no offset in the car – it’s very symmetrical – so there’s not a lot to lean on in this car.

“I think a lot of the aero changes they’ve done are going to help as far as racing goes, especially racing in a pack. Other than that, as we were working on things, some driving characteristics are similar. I think there is definitely more grip to be had as far as what the car is capable of. I think as far as development goes, there is going to be a lot more mechanical grip available than what we currently have.”

John Probst, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing innovation, discussed the car’s development after three tests.

“We continue to work in the wind tunnel, we’re developing rear diffusers to generate more rear downforce,” he said. “One of the big things we have here that we didn’t have at Phoenix is we added some of the lift-off devices that we’ve developed over the winter, including roof flaps. We also have a few other related items in development that aren’t on the car right now such as flap-down doors for the diffuser to get the liftoff speed even higher than what we run today.”

Of the reasoning behind going to Miami for the third test, Probst said the 1.5-mile track “has a lot of different lines you can take through the corner. The progressive banking here allows you to start at the bottom, and if the car is tight you can ride it up and complete the turn. This is a very forgiving track for us to come to and continue learning about the car as we develop it.”

During the two-day test, Probst said NASCAR learned that “some traditional ‘rules of thumb’ don’t apply to the new car.”

“We’ve got the parts to deal with that,” Probst continued. “But those are important lessons to learn as we go to new track types. Moving to a larger track, you really look at gearing to make sure we have the right RPMs, obviously safety is important when you come to a track like this and speeds get up in the 190-mph range. You really have to be prepared if something were to happen where a car gets sideways or backwards that it stays on the ground.”

The car’s next test is scheduled for March 2-3, the two days following the race weekend at Auto Club Speedway, the 2-mile track in Fontana, California, with wide, sweeping turns.

“There are some logistical reasons that make sense for us to stay and test,” Probst said. “But it’s also important to get some rubbered in conditions of what it’s like in a race. We want to replicate that as best as we can so when we go back to race, there are no new lessons to learn. We still look forward to taking this to superspeedways and road courses, we have a lot to learn there as well. We’ll go back and iterate on what we have now, but we feel like we’re in a good spot. We’re going to keep developing and working on what we’ve got, and we think we’re going to end up with a really good product.”

Probst said NASCAR has already begun production of a “Phase 3 prototype” that will include “all of the lessons learned” from the previous tests.

“Once that is built, we’ll probably start using (the cars used in the first three tests) as a ‘second car’ to start simulating cars in traffic to see what we can learn from that,” Probst said.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps said during championship weekend in Miami that the car is expected to be delivered to teams in July of this year.

Sources told NBC Sports’s Nate Ryan in December that at least three companies are being strongly considered to build the chassis for the Next Gen car, including Joe Gibbs Racing.