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Last Saturday afternoon, during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a late-race caution sent the field down pit road. When Kyle Busch’s crew struggled on the right front, crew chief Marcus Richmond called an audible and changed the planned four-tire stop, to two tires, and told his driver to go. The problem is that rear tire changer Coleman Dollarhide had already removed the lug nuts from the left rear. You can guess what happened next if you haven’t seen it already.
Per the 2018 NASCAR Rule Book, the wheel coming off means a three-race suspension for Richmond, Dollarhide and jackman Ernie Pierce. The problem is that Dollarhide and Pierce are both employed by SHR and have roles in the XFINITY and Cup series too, which means NASCAR faced the potential for ramifications in other series based on a Truck Series violation.
Come Monday morning, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, discussed the upcoming penalties on The Morning Drive on the SiriusXM NASCAR channel.
“The rule is clear in terms of the suspension that occurs,” he explained. That is one of our major safety violations that we have in the rulebook and it’s really understood by the competitors.
“Where we took a look at that is around the rosters and the roster limitations we have on all three series. In the past, that’s been something that we’ve had that if you were suspended for that violation it carried across all three of our national series.”
My initial thought after hearing O’Donnell’s comments was that it was a crazy idea. In the past, suspensions typically implied, whether intentionally or not, that all three of the national touring series were affected, just like he said. So it would be reasonable to believe the sanctioning body would be changing the rules yet again to suit a situation that could be considered a judgment call.
But that’s not actually the case. A little digging revealed that there’s actually a section in the Membership chapter of the 2018 NASCAR Rule Book that indicates the circumstances under which the sanctioning body can issue a suspension, and one of those is by limiting it to a specific series.
Regardless of what the rule book states, I still walked away believing that the suspension should apply across the board. It’s nothing against any of the Cup teams that share their crews across the Truck or XFINITY series, but rather a situation where each Cup team needs to weigh the risks of potentially losing a crew member and decide if it was worth the effect it might have on Sunday.
Fast forward to Tuesday when Chris Rice, crew chief and general manager for Kaulig Racing in the XFINITY Series, joined Tradin’ Paint on SiriusXM.
“It’s so expensive to hire a pit crew, to have that many guys. It just didn’t fit in our budget.”
He elaborated a little more, explaining that Kaulig uses Richard Petty Motorsports crew members and that it helps both teams reduce their costs because RPM hires them and Kaulig gets them to the race track.
It was after I heard that explanation that I reconsidered how I felt about the sharing of crew members. I’ve never had an issue either way about Cup crews dropping down to assist XFINITY or Truck series teams, but I’ve always considered it a risk their Cup employers were willing to take if something happened in those lower series to result in a suspension. However, know just how beneficial it is for a team like Kaulig Racing, I can only imagine the benefits to an organization with an even smaller budget.
NASCAR issued the penalties on Wednesday, and much like O’Donnell speculated on Monday, the consequences were limited to the Truck Series. As expected, Richmond, Dollarhide and Pierce were all handed three-race suspensions, but both Dollarhide and Pierce will participate in their usual duties for SHR this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. For his part, Richmond owned the two-tire decision.
I definitely made a mistake last week at Atlanta. I called for RS tires while focusing on the RF. I am glad that the pit crew did not get suspended from cup races! With the support of @KBMteam and all the guys on this 4 team will pull through and not miss a beat!
— marcus richmond (@MarcusRichmond_) February 28, 2018
In the end, it’s really the right call to make. Sharing pit crews can help teams cut costs, and I’m sure from the crew member side it, the extra over-the-wall practice can’t hurt, no matter the series. And had those suspensions applied across the board, it truly would have been a game-changer to those teams who utilize Cup crew members to minimize their costs. It’s likely many of the top teams would have barred its people from working with other organizations, and the trickle-down effect would likely have cost both the XFINITY and Truck series dearly.
- As of press time, the updated entry list for Friday night’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway sits at 32 trucks. While that means all who qualify will make the race, it’s a step in the right direction for the series since it looks like this race will mark just the second since 2010 that LVMS drew a full field.
- Over the weekend, Jeff Gordon participated in an online Q&A where he was asked if he would ever consider returning to racing on a part-time basis in the XFINITY or Truck series, according to a report from USA Today. While he excluded mile-and-a-half tracks and superspeedways, he did say, “I always thought about maybe looking at an opportunity to drive a truck at Martinsville or a track like that.” Of course, these tweets followed on Wednesday. Take from them what you will. If it does end up happening at some point down the road, it would mark Gordon’s Truck Series debut.
— MDM Motorsports (@MdmMotorsports) February 28, 2018
— TJ Fleming (@TJFleming83) February 28, 2018