NextGen car

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.

Here’s what to know about today’s NextGen test at Auto Club Speedway

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The next generation of NASCAR’s NextGen car will hit the track today at Auto Club Speedway.

Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron will be driving what NASCAR is calling a “Phase 3 Prototype” over the next two days on the 2-mile oval. The brand new P3 will closely resemble the ballyhooed and dramatically overhauled NextGen car that will make its official debut on NASCAR’s premier circuit next season in what some are calling a “moon shot” for the Cup Series.

Erik Jones tested the NextGen car at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Michael Reaves/Getty Images).

The car will replace the Gen 6 in 2021, and its third iteration features many updates based off the feedback garnered from the three tests over the past five months with the P2 Prototype (the original NextGen prototype was tested only in the wind tunnel).

Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon (at Richmond Raceway last October), Team Penske’s Joey Logano (at Phoenix Raceway last December) and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Erik Jones (at Homestead-Miami-Speedway in January) logged a total of 1,011 miles on the P2.

Besides a common chassis, the car also will feature 18-inch aluminum wheels, a sequential gear shifter, rear diffusers and a smaller spoiler.

Here are answers to some pressing questions entering today’s test in Fontana, California:

What has been updated on the car? Teams and drivers said the P2 was difficult to work on, so NASCAR has made adjustments. The front clip has been opened up to allow easier access to valve covers. Some of the rear compartment structure has been altered for greater efficiency and speed in changing sway bars during a practice session. Installation and removal of shocks, springs and other tuning components also should be swifter. The new car also will offer better visibility for drivers.

–What else is new? With several vendors having been selected that will be the exclusive suppliers for the NextGen car, the P3 will feature some of the parts and pieces from the companies that will play a major role in the 2021 rollout. The car will be as close as possible to what NASCAR intends to race before vendors begin producing in bulk for teams.

–When will teams begin getting the new car? NASCAR still is on track for vendors to begin making parts and pieces so that teams will begin taking delivery on NextGen cars at the end of July. There have been signs that some vendors are beginning to set up shop in North Carolina.

When is the next test? It will take place after the March 15 race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. As NASCAR cycles through its manufacturers with each test (Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota, Chevy has been the rotation so far), a Ford driver will be behind the wheel. Though the team has yet to be confirmed, Stewart-Haas Racing or Roush Fenway Racing would seem likely candidates after a Team Penske driver (Logano) was at Phoenix.

NASCAR to test Next Gen car at Richmond this week

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NASCAR will test the Next Gen car Tuesday and Wednesday at Richmond Raceway, NBC Sports has learned. This will be the first test for the Cup car, which is scheduled to debut in 2021. The test is closed to the media and the public.

The Next Gen car that will take part in the test was built by Richard Childress Racing. Austin Dillon will drive the car in the base test.

The car will have a generic body as each manufacturer continues to work on its body.

“We are very excited with where things are with this Next Gen car,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said Monday on NASCAR America. “We are on time for a 2021 rollout. I think it’s going to be exciting to get it on track.

“We were in the wind tunnel last week, so having a test at Richmond (Tuesday) and Wednesday, kind of the culmination of a lot of work that has been done by the race teams, by our (manufacturer) partners and by the folks of NASCAR to put this on the race track. This particular car was built by Richard Childress and his folks and it won’t have the design of the Chevy, Ford and Toyota, but it will be kind of an opportunity for us to shake down the car and we’re really excited to get it on the race track.”

In July, Phelps said of the car: “The importance of this car can’t be overstated. It will allow teams to be profitable is what it comes down to. I think it’s as simple as that. The great news is that the fan will be the beneficiary as well, because I think the car will have better body styling that the fans I think will really enjoy, and if we’re going to do this thing the right way, which we are, is that the racing, which is already fantastic, should continue to get even better. So I think the entire industry wins.”