Denny Hamlin blasts pit guns, calls for NASCAR to make changes now

11 Comments

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Denny Hamlin says that if NASCAR continues to require teams to use standardized pit guns, “it’s going to cost somebody a race or the championship by the end of the year.’’

Hamlin is the latest driver to express his frustration with the pit guns all teams are required to use after he suffered a loose wheel and had to pit from the lead on Lap 266 of Monday’s Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway. He finished 14th, one lap down.

Hamlin was upset with the inconsistency of the pit gun, an issue others have expressed this season. Hamlin told NBC Sports that the team’s pit guns were at 12,000 RPMs on previous stops but at 8,000 RPMs on the stop where he had a loose wheel. Less RPMs can make it more likely that not all the lug nuts are tight and result in a loose wheel.

“It’s just inconsistencies,’’ Hamlin told NBC Sports after the race. “My frustration is that in absolutely no other professional sport does the league give you faulty equipment to play with and that’s what we have here.’’

A NASCAR spokesperson said the sanctioning body had no comment.

“The solution is to let the teams do what they are good at and that is providing reliable equipment,’’ Hamlin told NBC Sports. “It’s going to cost somebody a race or the championship by the end of the year. There’s no question, no doubt it’s going to cost somebody from making another round or something. NASCAR doesn’t have to answer to that. It’s the teams that have to answer to the sponsors when they don’t make the next round.’’

Hamlin said changes could be made.

“Teams have all the equipment ready to go,’’ he told NBC Sports. “JGR has said if you think our stuff is better we’ll supply it for everybody. I can assure it’s better than the junk we’re running.’’

Car owner Joe Gibbs wasn’t quite ready to offer to build pit guns for every team Monday but shared Hamlin’s concerns for what is taking place on pit road.

“We had two loose wheels today that put us down multiple laps,’’ Gibbs said, referring to Hamlin and Erik Jones. “For our sponsors and everybody, I’m calling trying to explain it and it’s hard to explain.

“We all work together. Our teams. NASCAR has been very good about working with us, and when we come up with a problem, we’ve been good at working hard to solve it.

“I think we have a number of meetings this week with NASCAR, and I think we’ll be working on this and hopefully work toward a solution. I think it would be hard for us to build the guns for everybody, that would be tough, but I think we need to come up with a solution for sure.’’

Asked if he agreed with Hamlin that pit guns could cost someone a race or even the championship, Gibbs said:

“I think when you get something like this going on and it’s happened to multiple teams each week, I think you’ve got to find a way to fix it, to address it. I think that’s what we’ll be talking about this week. I feel good that NASCAR is on board. Obviously, they don’t want issues. I think we’ll all work together and come up with a solution.’’

Last week, Kevin Harvick said the inconsistent pit guns were “creating “a safety issue,” blaming the number of loose wheels on that.

Last week, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, responded to Harvick’s comments, telling NBC Sports:

“I think you’ve got to take a step back and look at safety as part of the narrative in NASCAR. I would say if you put us up against any motorsport, we feel pretty good there. When you start looking at pit stops in general, are pit guns part of that? Absolutely, but it’s the entire pit stop. To put something all on a gun, I think, is a bit premature without the facts.

“So our job is to look at each stop and look at each race, what happens with those races and put all those facts together and then make changes if necessary. I’m confident in the partner that we have and the work that we’re doing in the industry that directionally we’re in the right spot. Certainly some improvements we can make … but we feel like we’re in a good spot in continuing to work through this to get to the best place.’’

Complaints about the pit gun have been made public since early in the season. Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn were both upset with the pit guns at Atlanta in the season’s second race.

Truex forewarned in February what could happen if problems with the pit guns persisted.

“We have no control over it, so if it costs you a race win or it costs you a spot in the playoffs or a spot in the championship four or something like that, somebody’s going to be really, really, really upset, and there’s nothing you can do about it because you can’t go home and say, ‘Well, it’s your fault,’ Truex said. “We need to tighten it up here and figure it out and make sure it doesn’t happen again.’’

 and on Facebook

Long: NASCAR-related tweets did not reflect positively on sport after Texas race

2 Comments

As if DeLana Harvick had enough to do. The wife to Kevin Harvick and mother of two children, including a daughter born in December, had to be the voice of reason Sunday night for a sport filled with snipes, swipes and other barbs toward one another after the Texas race.

The back-and-forth carried over to social media and included everyone from a senior NASCAR executive to a team co-owner, crew chiefs and more.

Just as a mother does when she tells a child to stop misbehaving, DeLana Harvick put her foot down on social media with a tweet at 10:38 p.m. ET. It was not addressed to anybody in particular but to anyone watching Twitter after the race — which proved to be as drama-filled as the 500-mile event — it was a good reminder for many on social media.

Until that point, Twitter had been quite interesting for a NASCAR fan if you knew where to look.

NASCAR President Brent Dewar engaged with fans as he often does, but his tone was a bit more aggressive than the other times he’s conversed with fans.

Admittedly, some fans were upset that NASCAR didn’t penalize Harvick’s team for an uncontrolled tire late in the race. NASCAR admitted after the race it made a mistake. Then Monday morning, Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, called the non-call a “close call.’’

Dewar engaged with a fan who was upset about the non-call Sunday night.

Obviously, race control is a secure area and where NASCAR’s officials call the race. To suggest a fan could visit race control seems over the top. While Dewar sought to maintain a sense of levity in the response with the emojis, some could view his comments more harshly than intended.

But it wasn’t just Dewar on social media that stirred debate and discussion on matters. Pit guns were another key point after Sunday’s race, triggered by Harvick’s comments after the race. He expressed his frustration after pit gun issues potentially cost him a chance to win Saturday’s Xfinity and Sunday’s Cup races at Texas.

Harvick said the pit guns “have been absolutely horrible all year, and our guys do a great job on pit road, and the pathetic part about it is the fact you get handed something that doesn’t work correctly, and those guys are just doing everything that they can to try to make it right.”

He isn’t the only one to be upset about the pit guns this year. Cole Pearn, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr., expressed his displeasure with the pit guns at Atlanta. Pearn let his voice be heard again Sunday after the race, commenting on an article that noted Harvick’s frustration with the pit guns.

Pearn referenced the Race Team Alliance, which features most of the Cup teams. Pearn’s team, Furniture Row Racing, is not a member. Pearn’s tweet earned a response from Rob Kauffman, chairman of the Race Team Alliance and a co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing.

Car owner Joe Gibbs said after Kyle Busch‘s win that he’s not a fan of the NASCAR-mandated pit guns.

“I don’t like things not in our hands,” Gibbs said. “So, you know, be quite truthful, I’ve taken a stand on that. That’s something that I hope we continue to really evaluate, continue to evaluate that.”

There was more Sunday.

Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers responded to a tweet from Ty Gibbs that has since been deleted. Gibbs, the 15-year-old grandson of Joe Gibbs and a part of the JGR driver development program, referenced Ford in his tweet after Kyle Busch’s JGR Toyota car won at Texas.

Regardless of whom DeLana Harvick targeted in her tweet Sunday night, NASCAR Twitterverse calmed down. How long remains to be seen.

The stretch of short tracks continues this weekend with Bristol and next weekend with Richmond.

One can only imagine what will be on social media after those races.

 and on Facebook

 

NASCAR official says it is ‘unfortunate’ pit guns have caused problems for some

Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images
4 Comments

Saying “a few problems is a problem,’’ a NASCAR executive said series officials will continue to look into issues with pit guns.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that officials needed to gather more information on what happened with pit guns this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

“Everybody is always quick to blame the gun, not saying that it may not have been a gun problem, but we have to look at everything before we can flat out say we had a gun problem,’’ Miller said. “That’s what we do.

“The program has had a few more hitches in it than, obviously, we wished it would, but we’re making progress with it. We’ll continue to do that and continue to evaluate and continue to try to get better every week and make sure that we dig into whatever problems happen up and down pit road and get them rectified.

“Everything in motorsports is a development process and this is no different. It’s unfortunate that it’s caused some people some problems but development is what it is. We’ll continue to keep it ramped up and get it right.’’

Kevin Harvick was vocal about pit guns, saying issues with the guns impacted his team in both the Xfinity and Cup race there. This is the first year teams have been required to use NASCAR-mandated pit guns instead of their own. Not every team has been happy. Crew chief Cole Pearn was upset about the pit guns at Atlanta

Said Harvick on Sunday:

“The pathetic part about the whole thing is the pit guns. The pit guns have been absolutely horrible all year, and our guys do a great job on pit road, and the pathetic part about it is the fact you get handed something that doesn’t work correctly, and those guys are just doing everything that they can to try to make it right.

“It’s embarrassing for the sport.”

Harvick’s team also was in the center of another issue Sunday. NASCAR admitted after the race it should have penalized Harvick’s team for an uncontrolled tire late in the event.

Miller explained the process on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio of calling a pit road penalty.

“We will certainly dig into everything that led to those calls being made,’’ Miller said. “I’ve heard some other things speculating that every pit stop gets reviewed or things like that. That’s actually not how it works. When there isn’t a call made from the Pro Trailer (where officials monitor each pit stop) there is no review that gets triggered by anyone. There’s enough penalties on pit road where not every single one can be reviewed, so we have to rely on our staff in the Pro Trailer to make those calls.

We certainly look at them. One of the things that is great about our sport is our game, quote-unquote, doesn’t stop like it does in other sports when they stand there and look at the review. We have a race continuing to run as we’re looking at these penalties and reviewing them.

“Most of that is to learn because five or 10 minutes after the penalty happens is not the time to be calling the penalty. We use the review process not only to check on calls but to get better and have things to talk about in our meeting of ‘hey, this could have gone this way or this could have gone that way’ with our people so we can have constant improvement in our process.’’

As to what happened that led to no penalty to Harvick’s team for an uncontrolled tire, Miller said:

“There’s a lot of things on pit road that are absolutely 100 percent indisputable,’’ Miller said. “Pitting out of the box. We have a system that we use that sets up electronic lines that’s very easy to see if the car is in or out of the box, driving through too many pit boxes, same thing. The system flags all of those things. One of a few things that is left for the human to make the call on is the uncontrolled tire because there’s so many moving parts to a pit stop that we can’t automate that process.

“There’s judgment in those calls with the uncontrolled tire. In our guys’ judgment the other tires that were called got away further than these did. In retrospect looking at it, I think that certainly the penalty could have been called. (The tire) has to be within an arm’s reach of a guy as he’s trying to control that tire. It’s debatable whether or not this one got more than arm’s reach away. Close call.’’

Section 10.9.10.4.1.b of the Cup Rule Book on uncontrolled tires states:

“NASCAR considers a tire/wheel controlled when all of the following are met:

  • A crew member  must remain within arm’s reach and moving in the same direction as the tire/wheel when removing the tire/wheel from the outside half of the pit box.
  • The tire/wheel must never cross the center of pit road
  • The removed tire/wheel must not be allowed to roll free into an adjacent Competitor’s pit box.

 and on Facebook

Kevin Harvick says new pit guns ‘pathetic’ and ’embarrassing for the sport’ after loose wheels in Texas

3 Comments

FORT WORTH, Texas – After a spate of loose wheels this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, Kevin Harvick trashed the new NASCAR-mandated pit guns after finishing second in the O’Reilly 500.

“The pathetic part about the whole thing is the pit guns,” said Harvick, who also had problems in Saturday’s Xfinity race. “The pit guns have been absolutely horrible all year, and our guys do a great job on pit road, and the pathetic part about it is the fact you get handed something that doesn’t work correctly, and those guys are just doing everything that they can to try to make it right.

“It’s embarrassing for the sport.”

Asked by NBC Sports if he planned to address it with NASCAR, Harvick said, “They know they have problems. They just don’t want to talk about them.”

It was a rough day in the pits for Harvick, who had at least two loose wheels and was forced to make an unscheduled stop for one of them on Lap 136 that dropped him two laps down. His team had another mediocre pit stop because of a lug nut getting stuck in a jack and also was penalized for having a crew member over the wall too early.

Despite all that, Harvick rebounded to finish second by 0.300 seconds behind Kyle Busch after winning the first stage and leading 87 laps.

Asked if his No. 4 Ford would have won if it had been leading on the final restart with 30 laps remaining, Harvick responded, “What do you think? Probably would have been a straightaway ahead.”

Joe Gibbs, team owner for Busch’s winning No. 18 Toyota, also expressed discontent with the guns.

“I don’t like things not in our hands,” Gibbs said. “To be quite truthful, I’ve taken a stand on that. That’s something I hope we continue to really evaluate that.”

In a statement, NASCAR vice president of competition Scott Miller said, “We’ll continue gathering information on the pit gun’s performance like we do after every race. It is too early to make assumptions without all the facts. It’s also important to remember that this is a collaborative initiative with the race teams.”

Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers, told FS1 during the race that the pit guns needed to be addressed, and he was “tired of biting my lip about it.”

But Stewart-Haas Racing vice president of competition Greg Zipadelli wasn’t as quick to cite the pit guns as the primary reason for the No. 4’s struggles.

“We were just off on pit road today,” Zipadelli said. “We had been the last couple of weeks. Seems like we started the year off pretty strong. Other teams obviously caught up. We’re pushing the pressure to do a better job. When you go fast, it just seems we’re making some mistakes.

“I honestly don’t know I’d even blame the pit gun. I know exactly what the situation is. Yes, we had a loose wheel today, but we let the jack down early. So that’s not necessarily the guns’ fault. These guns seem to be just a little temperamental in (colder) temperature and things, but everyone’s got the same stuff, you know what I mean? I think it’s too early to draw conclusions there’s an issue. I do know it’s a lot different than what we’re using last year.”

NASCAR began using the Paoli-manufactured pit guns this season after consultation with the NASCAR Team Owners Council. In recent seasons, teams made seven-figure investments in building and developing their own pit guns, so the move was considered partly a cost-savings measure but also was hailed for its competitive benefits.

But there have been problems after multiple races this season, with defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn particularly irate after problems at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

However, NASCAR’s decision to move to a common pit gun wasn’t supported unanimously by teams, as Chip Ganassi Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing apparently were among those that resisted the decision.

“That’s the frustrating part when you felt you had a really good product last year,” Zipadelli said. “We were probably ahead of the curve and probably second or so on pit road as far as that part of it goes, but it is what it is. They changed the way they inspected them this year and we all got to figure it out and adjust to it. That’s just how our sport has always been. That part is nothing new. We started good and just making mistakes now.

But Zipadelli did confirm SHR’s teams have had problem with the pit guns (as did Adam Stevens, crew chief for Busch).

“We’ve changed a lot of regulators,” Zipadelli said. “We’ve changed the guns. We’ve had them leaking. But so have other people on pit road. When you run well and are up front, everything’s magnified.

“Do I wish we could go back to what we had? Yes. But I’m not bashing them or blaming them on the situation we’re in. Some people and teams felt this was the direction we needed to go. We weren’t in favor of it. But you win some, you lose some.

“We’ve got to figure it out as a group and not make mistakes as a group. Then if the gun is a limiting factor, then it’s the gun. But we as a group have made mistakes in the past couple of weeks also. There’s fault on many sides.”

Harvick said “everybody on pit road has talked to” NASCAR about problems with the pit guns.

“This is four out of seven weeks that we’ve had trouble with the pit guns,” he said. “Yesterday the rear pit gun wouldn’t even … we had two lug nuts that were tight in the last two pit stops.  You had two lug nuts that had 30 pounds of torque on them.  Today you have another one. The wheel doesn’t even get tight. It’s just a mess.”

 

Friday 5: Is it time for tracks to adopt rain ticket policy like Texas, Pocono?

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Few things can be worse to fans than a postponed race.

While many fans return the next day despite the inconvenience, others are not as fortunate. Some are unable to go back because they must work, travel home or cannot afford to stay an extra day.

Admittedly, it’s a risk associated with attending an outdoor sporting event. But should tracks do more for fans, who can spend hundreds of dollars on tickets and then never see the race?

Most NASCAR tracks do not offer refunds or exchanges.

While a few track officials told NBC Sports that if fans called the ticket office, the track would seek to work with them on a solution, no such formal policy is listed on track websites as of today. Some track officials said they’ve allowed fans to attend both an Xfinity or Camping World Truck race and the Cup race when they’ve been scheduled for the same day instead of emptying the stands before the Cup event.

Two weeks after Martinsville Speedway’s Cup race was postponed a day by snow, the series returns to action at Texas Motor Speedway.

Those tracks offer contrasts in what they offer fans who can’t return for a rescheduled race.

Martinsville Speedway, like tracks owned by International Speedway Corp., offers no refunds and no exchanges.

All ISC-owned tracks have a partnership with TicketGuardian that, for a cost, insures a fan’s tickets, along with any other enhancements they purchase — scanner rental, prerace pit passes, premium parking, etc. A TicketGuardian spokesperson told NBC Sports that the company is extending coverage until the newly scheduled date should the event be postponed.

Texas Motor Speedway has a policy that does not cost the fan extra. If a ticket holder is unable to attend a rained-out race on its rescheduled date, they will have the ability to redeem that ticket for a future event at equal or lesser value for up to one calendar year. That policy has been in place since 2013.

The wunderground.com forecast for Sunday shows a 0 percent chance of rain in Texas, so there’s no worry of that race being rescheduled.

But the Texas policy was used in 2014 when the April Cup race was postponed a day by rain.

That is one of 11 Cup races to have been rescheduled since 2013 (a span of 186 races). That equates to a rescheduled race 5.9 percent of the time.

Eight of the 23 tracks that host a Cup race have had at least one rescheduled race since 2013. Charlotte, Bristol and Pocono have each had two Cup races rescheduled since then.

Pocono Raceway saw both its Cup races and its IndyCar race in 2016 postponed a day by rain. The track responded with what it calls the Worry-Free Weather Guarantee. It debuted in 2017 and is in place again this year.

The guarantee provides a money-back option for fans if they cannot make the rescheduled race provided they purchased an advance ticket directly from Pocono Raceway.

The only other Cup track with something comparable is Atlanta Motor Speedway with its Perfect Race Weather Guarantee.

That policy states that if the maximum high temperature for either its Saturday races or Sunday Cup race fails to reach at least 50 degrees, or if the event is postponed and a fan cannot attend on the makeup date (and has not had their ticket scanned), they can request credit for their tickets.

It is easy to suggest that every track should have a policy to provide credit or a ticket exchange for those who can’t attend a rescheduled race. The reality is each track is a business — and many are owned by publicly traded companies that must answer to shareholders.

The impact of 10,000 fans or more wanting a refund or to exchange tickets to a future race could create some financial challenges for tracks.

Yet, for a sport that espouses the benefits of going to a race — the sights, sounds and smells — having fans unable to attend a rescheduled race or recoup what they paid could cost a track a future customer.

Is there a better way to do business?

2. Future Cup schedule

The announcement of the 2019 Cup schedule this week drew little notice except for those complaining about not seeing any changes with it.

NASCAR entered five-year agreements with tracks before the 2016 season. That goes through the 2020 season. It is the 2021 season that could see a significant shake-up in tracks and be the time for NASCAR to possibly make significant changes.

3. Playoff Preview

This weekend starts a stretch where five of the next six Cup races will be held on tracks hosting playoff races. Those tracks are Texas, Richmond, Talladega, Dover and Kansas

After Kansas, which is May 12, the only other track the series will visit that hosts a playoff race is Charlotte Motor Speedway. But Charlotte’s playoff race will be on the roval, the combination road course/oval track. That will be the first time the NASCAR has run on that course.

4. NASCAR on NBC Podcast

If you’re not a subscriber to the NASCAR on NBC podcast with Nate Ryan, take the time to do so and check out many of the episodes. This week featured an informative two-part podcast with Brad Keselowski.

Previous guests have included Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, Cole Pearn, Rodney Childers and others.

5. FantasyLand

There’s still time to sign up in the NASCAR America Fantasy League and compete against NBC’s broadcasters and writers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Steve Letarte, Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett, Kyle Petty, Rick Allen and others.

You can join the league by going here.