Tony Stewart: Pit stop issues have kept Kevin Harvick from winning ‘half the races’

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If Tony Stewart had his way, Kevin Harvick wouldn’t need a pit crew.

“I think we could have won half the races this year if we didn’t have to pit,” Stewart said Wednesday at his Smoke Show charity event at Texas Motor Speedway.

The No. 4 team’s most recent mishap on pit road occurred Sunday at Dover. A valve stem was knocked off a tire during a Lap 321 pit stop and forced Harvick to pit a second time. That kept Harvick from sweeping both stages and winning after he led a race-high 286 laps. Harvick finished sixth.

“I mean, we got a good group of guys, and I think the change in the pit guns this year has really been hard on our guys,” Stewart said.

The Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner referenced the move by NASCAR to go to a spec pit gun this year over guns built by teams. The guns have garnered criticism from crew chiefs and drivers throughout the season, including Harvick.

“It’s much harder than people think,” Stewart said. “I mean people don’t understand that by slowing the guns down, you would think it would make it easier on these guys because they don’t have to go as fast.

“But the problem is they’re so used to being in time and being at a certain pace that now you’ve got to slow these guys down, and that’s why you see loose wheels because they’re used to moving their hands a lot faster and that pattern being faster. Now the guns can’t keep up with what we’re doing, so we have to slow our guys down to make sure that we don’t have those mistakes. That’s the hardest part.”

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But Stewart has no interest in going back to the old way of things.

“Trust me, the amount of money that the teams were spending developing their own guns was through the roof and it was stupid,” he said. “That was a very smart move by NASCAR to knock that part down. You know, they want the racing to be on the race track and that’s what we want too, so their goal with that was the right goal. Now we just got to slow our guys down enough to make sure they get each one of them tight.”

Dover’s mishap – which kept Harvick from winning for the first time in seven races – was the latest occurrence of a pit miscue undercutting Harvick’s race-winning speed.

In April at Texas, Harvick led 87 laps but endured a jack issue on pit road (Lap 129) and a penalty for too many crew members over the wall (Lap 237) before finishing second.

Harvick led at the final pit stop at Chicagoland but was beat off pit road by Kyle Busch, who went on to win. A few weeks later, SHR made pit crew changes to all four of its teams after Clint Bowyer expressed frustration with his group at Kentucky.

In the Brickyard 400 last month, Harvick was penalized for an uncontrolled tire penalty on Lap 10. On Lap 30, he had to pit a second time after a pit gun failed. On Lap 90, he had to pit from the lead for four tires to deal with a vibration. He placed fourth.

 

NASCAR America: Cup teams take different routes to faster pit stops

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Withing with one fewer team member because of a new limit reducing pit crews from six to five, teams are experimenting with various ways to change four tires.

While crews figure out how to execute pit stops as quickly as possible, they’re also having to deal with new pit guns, not all of which worked Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

On NASCAR America, analysts Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte took a look at the different pit crew strategies teams are trying and compared them with last year. There were three distinct strategies examined:

–The front-tire changer also carrying a tire (employed by the teams of Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch).

–A tire carrier lugging both tires to the right side of the car (used by Brad Keselowski‘s crew).

–A dual jack man approach (Ryan Newman‘s team).

At Atlanta, Harvick’s race-winning team used two tire changers, a jack man, the fuel man and one tire carrier on the rear. The front-tire changer also carried a tire and got help from the jack man.

“I think probably the thought process in that is, ‘Let’s speed up the rear up so it’s as close to the front as possible,'” Burton said.

Letarte highlighted the unique strategy of Keselowski’s team having one carrier with both tires.

“This tire carrier has about 150 pounds of tires in his hands, 75 pounds each,” Letarte said. “You have to have a strong, agile crew member.”

No matter the strategy, pit stops already have improved in two races.

“These pit stops have picked up almost 2 seconds, just from Daytona to Atlanta,” Letarte said.

Watch the video above for more on the different pit stop styles.

Below, Burton and Letarte discuss the various cost saving initiatives NASCAR has introduced this season.

 

JR Motorsports without main pit crews today after plane makes emergency landing

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JR Motorsports, which has three of its cars contending for a spot in the championship round, will be without “a little more than half” of its pit crew after a charter plane carrying them made an emergency landing Saturday in Arkansas.

The plane was flying from Memphis, Tennessee, to Amarillo, Texas on its way to Phoenix when it experienced an electrical issue, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The crew declared an emergency and landed without incident at 7:43 a.m. CT at Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, Arkansas, Ryan DiVita, director of marketing and sales for AeroDynamics, Inc., the plane carrier, told NBC Sports.

“The crew did exactly what they should,” DiVita said.

He said that pilots followed a checklist that the plane should land at the nearest suitable airport.

There were 51 people on the Embraer 145, according to a spokesperson at Clinton National Airport.

The plane was grounded because of the electrical issue and no other plane was available to send the passengers to Phoenix in time for Saturday’s race.

The issue comes as three of JRM’s driver – Elliott Sadler, William Byron and Justin Allgaier – are trying to advance to next week’s championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. All three of JRM’s playoff drivers enter today’s race above the cutline. Allgiaer told NBCSN he has “no concern” about the team’s pit crew situation.

“At the end of the day we have the best pit crew on pit road normally,” Allgaier said. “That’s a little disappointing that those guys aren’t here, because I do feel really confident with those guys. One thing I know is, everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, that we use their pit crews and everybody here at JR Motorsports, they rally behind adversity. I know the guys we’re going to assemble are going to be just as good. I’m looking forward to that challenge.”

JRM will have to cobble together pit crews to service the cars. NBCSN’s Marty Snider reported that JRM only had two of their regular 24 pit crew members at the track.

“We have some guys that we normally use, we have some guys that are training with HMS that are pitting other vehicles that will participate with us and we have a little bit of help from our partners in Chevrolet groups and a few other teams that have a few guys here that are willing to assist us,” said Ryan Pemberton, Jr. Motorsports’ director of competition. “We’re still working through who’s on first and what’s on second, it’s kind of like that routine right now. As far as enough people to do it, we have … enough people to put the show on.”

A Hendrick plane took off from Phoenix for Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, Arkansas, at 12:45 p.m. ET to pick up the crews. There were members of other Cup teams that were on the flight that landed in Arkansas.

Following the race, team co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. was asked why the team didn’t bring its pit crews to the track on Friday.

“It’s probably an expense issue as far as hotel room and so forth,” Earnhardt said. “There’s planes that fly up here that are on a schedule that don’t abide by our schedule. We have to abide by theirs. We take the opportunity to get here or they take the opportunity to get here when they can. We can’t control … those people. We sort of take the opportunity when we can to get there.”

JD Motorsports crew members were also on the flight. After Brennan Poole was eliminated from the race in a crash, members of Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 48 team helped pit one of JDM’s cars.

Dustin Long contributed to this report in Arizona.

Ato Boldon goes behind the scenes of Joe Gibbs Racing’s pit crew training (video)

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NBC Sports’ Ato Boldon, a former Olympic runner, recently embedded himself at Joe Gibbs Racing to look at the team’s strength and conditioning practices for its many pit crews.

Boldon talked with JGR’s strength coach Adam Mosher and Jena Gatses, a doctor of physical therapy.

Watch the above video to see what Boldon found.

Martin Truex Jr.’s pit crew gets new tire changer

(Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
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Beginning with this weekend’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway, the team of Martin Truex Jr. will have a new front tire changer.

After opening the season with Brian Eastland, the No. 78 team has placed Chris Taylor in the position, according to PitTalks.com.

Taylor was most recently with Joe Gibbs Racing on the No. 20 of Matt Kenseth, serving as the rear tire changer.

Furniture Row Racing is in a technical alliance with JGR.