NASCAR Cup drivers reacted with surprise over the new pit-road rules for 2018, and they have a range of thoughts from optimism to quizzical to concern over NASCAR cutting the over-the-wall crews from six to five.
While the cutting of a pit-crew member was discussed in 2016, the most buzz in 2017 was about the possibility of eliminating the jackman and using a hydraulic jack. That idea never came to fruition, but at Homestead, crews started to become aware about potential new limits to both over-the-wall crews and those who work on the car. NASCAR announced them Nov. 22.
“I was really surprised when I read the announcement,” said 2012 NASCAR Cup champion Brad Keselowski. “I didn’t know that it was coming. I don’t get it, but I wasn’t asked to get it. Nobody called and said, ‘Here is why we’re doing this and here’s why we want you on board with it.’
“It was a bit of a surprising move to me. I can’t say that it’s something I endorse, but I don’t know the reasons for why it was done.”
Teams have started practicing with one fewer over-the-wall crewman, and the common thought is they will use one tire carrier instead of two. But whatever teams work on, they likely will keep their strategy at least partially close to the vest.
“I’m really pumped about it,” Dillon said. “The athleticism I saw in the pit stop is so cool. It was poetry in motion. It was awesome to watch.
“There are going to be a lot of teams show up with different styles. … People are trying to be quiet in what they’re doing. We have two or three different ways that we’re trying to work right now, and they’re still finding speed.”
The key: Do a stop as quick as before — drivers did predict slower stops at least initially as well as the potential of more two-tire stops — but also not have more uncontrolled tires on pit road.
NASCAR said one of the reasons for the change is it makes pit road safer because it takes 40 people off pit road.
“I don’t see how it’s going to be safer,” said 2015 Cup champion Kyle Busch. “You’re taking 40 people of pit road, but you’re now going to have an opportunity for 20 tires being loose?
“The amount of talent you have going over the wall is only so great to be able to carry and do the things they’ve got to do already.”
Obviously having one fewer over-the-wall crew member should cut costs, although NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell cited an attempt to create more parity in addition to being safer as the main reasons for the change.
But Busch predicted that the best athletes who can adapt to the new rules will now be in even higher demand.
“Now you have to be even better than what you were before to do two jobs at once,” Busch said. “The amount of talent pool that you have to be able to do that is a lot smaller. The teams that are going to be able to afford those guys are the bigger teams over the smaller teams.”
Kevin Harvick does like the idea of mixing things up and doing something different.
“I didn’t really know about it until after the season ended like everybody else,” Harvick said. “As you look at the limits, it will obviously cause some different training and some different things to figure out as far as how you’re going to get the tires on and off and how long the pit stops are going to be and the sequences of the whole pit stop.”
Furniture Row Racing crew chief Cole Pearn said an additional rule limiting the fueler to just fueling the car (no chassis adjustments, no catching a tire) will have a big impact as well as the one fewer member over the wall.
Pearn said the change, “kind of caught us off-guard a bit.”
The other key, Pearn said, will be the new pit guns. O’Donnell said NASCAR expects to require teams to use a common pit gun next season. Teams had spent seven-figures in developing faster pit guns.
The teams have not had a chance to practice with the new guns, Pearn said.
The teams will lease the guns from the NASCAR-specified vendor, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. said his JR Motorsports Xfinity Series teams estimate the cost at approximately $30,000 a year per car.
“The gun thing is a little bit difficult for us because we weren’t using that trick-damn gun and we weren’t spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to develop one,” he said.
“But now … we’ve got to find that in our budget. We have every dollar accounted for to race all year [and that money] is hard to find.”
In addition to the over-the-wall rule changes, NASCAR also will limit the number of people who work on the car in the garage. NASCAR will limit Cup teams to 12 mechanics, Xfinity teams to seven and truck teams to six. Cup teams can have three or four technical directors who work on all of the organization’s cars, while Xfinity and truck teams will have one. There will be additional rosters for engine builders, and an additional roster spot at select races, such as road courses.
NASCAR will identify team members and their duties with numbers and armbands in hopes of creating more visibility for those who are anonymous to most fans.
Those limits on the mechanics could impact the biggest teams, especially ones who might bring additional people during the playoffs.
Earnhardt said the roster limits will not impact JR Motorsports because they already came to the track lean. Busch said his truck team shouldn’t be impacted by that, either, and Furniture Row Racing general manager Joe Garone didn’t think it would be a big deal for the defending Cup champions. Harvick concurred, expecting little to no impact on Stewart-Haas Racing.
It’s the pit stop that will be the focus of the changes and the one thing that will evolve throughout the 2018 season.
“Once the cycle gets through, and one team figures it out a little bit better, has a better process of it, it’s just going to be monkey-see, monkey-do and they’re all going to start training the same,” Busch said.