It seems that in recent weeks the Sprint Cup Series has been dominated by news about the tires, or to be more specific, about the alterations that at least one team did in attempt to manipulate the tire pressure. Richard Childress Racing’s team of Ryan Newman was caught and heavily fined for altering the tires, but any official news of how it was doing it has yet to be released by NASCAR.
The size of the fines and the length of the suspensions that were handed down by the sanctioning body have all but assured that no other teams will attempt to circumvent the rules concerning the tires. Crew chiefs in the series are so smart that even if NASCAR has closed one door for them to try and gain an advantage, there is always another area where the possibility of gaining an advantage on race day may exist.
Crew chiefs have now turned their attention to — of all things — the lug nut for their next area where an advantage may be found. Until this year NASCAR used officials standing on pit road during pit stops to make sure that each pit stop went by the rulebook and that included that every lug nut had to be tightened before the car left the pit stall. The enforcement of the tightened lug nut rule was for the safety of the drivers, but any time a car was held up to tighten a lug nut an argument usually resulted between the crew chief and the official.
All of that has now changed beginning this season when NASCAR announced that it was going to monitor all pit stops by a network of cameras and that officials would no longer be used in the pit stops. The use of the cameras provides up close pictures of each pit stop that are immediately observed on a computer screen where an individual looks for a rule violation. The new system has caught crewmembers leaving the pit wall too quickly and has been especially hard on crews that have lost control of a tire before it got back over the wall.
The switch to the use of cameras did require one change in the rules that govern a pit stop and that is that teams are no longer penalized over loose lug nuts. NASCASR no longer mandates that all five lug nuts have to be tight; it now doesn’t even require that a team tightens five lug nuts.
NASCAR’s relaxing of the lug nut tightening rule has now become the newest area where crew chiefs are taking a gamble on how many lug nuts to put on during a pit stop. It only makes sense that it takes less time to tighten four lug nuts than the usual five, but such a gamble does come with the chance that the wheel becomes loose and when that happens the driver has no choice but to come back down pit road and get another tire.
While there is no official count on how many crew chiefs have rolled the dice and sent their drivers back out on the track with less than five tightened lug nuts, the number of drivers that have reported a vibration from a loose wheel and had to come back on to pit road has increased over last season. Several drivers at Bristol had to come back down pit road to get another tire, but crew chiefs know that the time saved by putting only four, or in some cases three lug nuts on, as compared to five can be the difference in three or four spots on the race track. It’s a gamble for sure to call for less than five lug nuts, but making the Chase by winning a race puts that kind of pressure on a crew chief.
PIT NOTES: Food City’s sponsorship of Bristol’s spring race cost the grocery store chain millions of dollars, but what it did for Steve Byrnes and his family was priceless. Byrnes is a longtime broadcaster for FOX’s coverage of NASCAR and is fighting cancer and Sunday the sport showed its support for Byrnes as the race was not only titled the Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes, everywhere you looked was a sign supporting Byrnes and his fight with cancer. It was a touching tribute and one that Food City should be proud of making.
. Race Preview Toyota 400 Track: Richmond International Raceway (.75-mile oval, 14o of banking in the turns) Date: April 25, 7 p.m. TV: FOX Radio: MRN Defending Champion: Joey Logano