Ryan Pemberton

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Strategy is goal of pit road experiment in Xfinity, Trucks

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While Xfinity and Truck Series teams will save some money with the newly announced pit crew and strategy rules for seven standalone races, two NASCAR team officials cited a desire to increase “strategy” and “wit” with the move.

The financial angle is a “small aspect” of the format according to Ryan Pemberton, competition director for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series, where the rules will be used in four races — at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (May 30), Iowa Speedway (June 13 and Aug. 1) and Road America (Aug. 8).

“I really think it’s about leveling the playing field a little bit and mixing it up, giving people opportunities to do something different on pit road that don’t normally have that opportunity,” Pemberton said after the announcement. “You take a 15th-place car and you can pick one of those guys back there that are having a good day, and it’s hard to have a real successful day due to the fact that maybe (it’s) their pit crew versus somebody else’s (more experienced) pit crew.

“I think from a strategic point, from a crew chief’s point of view, it puts more people in play, and it should be broadened ‑‑ the competition, how many guys could be in the top 10 on a regular basis and have more opportunities. And then from a logistics standpoint, it helps out, too, as far as the people and moving people across the country.

“But for the most part, it’s really about competition.”

Pemberton emphasized that teams that take two tires on a pit stop will start ahead of teams that took four.

“That mixes things up, makes for different opportunities for different people,” Pemberton said. “And then maybe one guy does it, maybe two guys do it, and the third guy wants to do it, next thing you know it really flips the field.”

David Pepper, the general manager of ThorSport Racing in the Truck Series, made small team owner Jordan Anderson the poster child for those who could benefit from these rules in his series, which will use them at Iowa Speedway (June 12) and the playoff races at World Wide Technology Raceway (Aug. 21) and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Sept. 6).

Anderson, a driver-owner on an underfunded team, has only two top-10 finishes in 101 Truck Series starts. Those top 10s came at Daytona and Talladega.

“Jordan Anderson, who has had many good runs, and then we come down pit road and he can’t compete on pit road with the pit crew,” Pepper said. “This will allow that to go away and a team like that to compete at a high level and have an opportunity to showcase their crew chief and driver talent and their team’s talent in building a fast race truck.

“So we’ve leveled the playing field, and I think you’re going to see a lot of really good stories from a lot of really good race car drivers that are out there that are going to have an opportunity to go run in the top five and go run in the top 10.”

Among the rules is when teams can take two or four tires.

  • On an oval track, teams may add fuel and change two tires per stop. A second stop must be made to change the other two tires.
  • On a road course, teams may add fuel or change four tires per stop.

Pemberton raised the risk/reward that a team that is leading a race will have to consider when the caution comes out.

“How many people are going to take two behind me versus taking four?” Pemberton said. “That’s going to make even the guys up front rethink what they’re doing. Maybe they get cold feet and they go like, ‘Man, I’m only going to get two because I don’t want to give up the lead, and next thing you know maybe the guys right behind them get four.

“So it’s going to really change how you go about these pit stops. And that’s where the strategy comes in play, and I think that’s where the excitement level comes in.”

Eric Peterson, the Xfinity Series technical manager, addressed how the rules impact the relationship between the haves and have nots in the NASCAR garage.

“One of the things we looked at was kind of the data of our current pit stops and all the teams that consistently run in the top 10,” Peterson said “Our current pit stop strategy really did not mix the field up very well.  The average position change was right around one position.

 “That’s the reason we kind of took this other approach, is that kind of the purpose of coming down pit road and doing pit stops is to hopefully mix the field up a little bit where you don’t have a ‘follow the leader’ race the entire race.”

The first Xfinity race at Iowa last year saw Christopher Bell lead 186 of 250 laps to win. There were two lead changes in the last 190 laps of that race. Last year’s Truck race at Iowa saw Ross Chastain lead the final 141 laps to take the checkered flag before his victory was taken away when his truck failed post-race inspection.

The perspective of one Truck Series crew chief was provided by Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Rudy Fugle Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

Fugle said he’d be “open-minded” about the rules change, but said he’s “not 100% for” them.

“As the son of a mechanic, my first job as a young kid was working with someone disassembling cars at a salvage yard,” Fugle said. “I kind of grew up wanting to be a guy that changes tires on pit road. Taking that element out, or maybe leading to taking that element out is kind of … it’s not exciting to me. But I’ll be open-minded and we’ll attack and figure out how to make the system the best for KBM and figure out how to beat everybody, no matter what the rules are.”

Fugle also addressed how the new rules at the standalone races will impact the role of a spotter in pit strategy.

“Normally … the crew chief gets a lot of help on some of the ways the rules are and the way the pit road rules are from the spotter,” Fugle said. “Because the spotter can see what’s happening. So you want your spotter to know 100% what the rule is. … But now we go to the standalone races, you’re not going to have a normal spotter. You’re going to have a guy that only does three or four NASCAR races, so he’s not going to know those rules, let alone the new rules. We’re going to have to spread those delegations out a little bit through the team to make sure that we’re thinking of everything and not messing something up so we don’t make a mistake. I think that’s the biggest fear.”

While the financial savings of this limited pit format might be a “small aspect” for a team like JR Motorsports, it’s a different conversation for Tommy Joe Martins, who will race for his family-owned team in the Xfinity Series this year.

 

JR Motorsports makes crew chief change for Michael Annett’s team

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JR Motorsports announced Monday that Travis Mack will take over as crew chief for Michael Annett‘s team immediately.

Annett enters this weekend’s Xfinity race at Watkins Glen International 40 points out of the last playoff spot. He is coming off a 14th-place finish last weekend at Iowa Speedway. Annett has not had a top-10 finish this season.

Mack started the season as Kasey Kahne‘s crew chief in the Cup Series for Leavine Family Racing but was relieved of his duties in June. Mack had been with Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports since 2004 before moving to Leavine Family Racing. During 2014-15, Mack was the car chief on JR Motorsports’ No. 9 entry.

Mack replaces Jason Stockert, who will move to another role in the organization.

“We are constantly building toward the team’s future,” said Ryan Pemberton, JRM’s director of competition, in a statement. “At this point in the season it was time for us to evaluate where the No. 5 team was and where we wanted it to be moving forward. It became clear a change was necessary.

“I want to thank Jason for all he’s done for the organization in building the No. 5 team from the ground up. But we’re also looking forward to a new chapter with Travis. He’s a familiar face to many within the company and we’re excited to put his talents to use with Michael and the Pilot Flying J team.”

Said Mack in a statement: “I’m very grateful to be able to return to JR Motorsports. To have been here previously as car chief and now to come back as a crew chief is a tremendous opportunity. I can’t thank Dale Jr. and Kelley enough for that. I’m looking forward to getting started with the No. 5 team this weekend.”

 

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.

Elliott Sadler will race for Xfinity championship minus crew chief

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – NASCAR will suspend Kevin Meendering, crew chief for Elliott Sadler, for next weekend’s championship race because Sadler’s car had two loose lug nuts after Saturday night’s race at Phoenix International Raceway.

The penalty for two loose lug nuts (out of 20 on the car)  is that the crew chief is suspended for one race and is fined $10,000.

This is the second consecutive weekend the team has had at least one loose lug nut after the race. Meendering was fined $5,000 last weekend for having one lug nut loose after the Texas race.

Scott Miller, NASCAR vice president of competition, told NBC Sports that inspectors found two lug nuts not secure against the wheel Saturday night. The rule states that the lug nuts must be safe and secure against the wheel.

Sadler said he’s unsure who will be his crew chief at this point. Former crew chief Ryan Pemberton is JR Motorsports’ director of competition and would be a likely choice. He was last a crew chief in 2014 for the team with Regan Smith.

“It’s going to be tough,” Sadler said of losing Meendering for the title race. “No driver wants to go to Homestead with a chance of legitimately winning a championship and not have your right-hand man sidekick there with you, but we still have a chance to win it so we can’t count ourselves out of it.”