Did You Notice? How the Next Gen car’s change to single lug nuts for its wheels is just the latest example of how stock car racing is deviating further and further away from being a “team” sport?
Let’s just ignore for a second that going to a single lug nut removes one of the very few stock elements left on today’s stock cars. It’s just the latest step in a trend watering down the art and spectacle of live pit stops now permeating all levels of NASCAR racing. A year ago, the Cup Series was flooded with questionable “uncontrolled tire” penalties after cutting down the size of over the wall crews, further limiting the involvement of the fuel men to do anything on a stop other than kicking a tire towards the wall. Denny Hamlin rightly observed that there was no rationale for this other than reducing team sizes to cut costs, quality of the on-track product be damned.
That’s true. However a tire sitting in place right next to a changer is not uncontrolled. If it’s a real safety issue then let’s get back the 40 guys we laid off who used to carry these tires in a “controlled” manner https://t.co/iBVt1yeg3W
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) July 1, 2019
Live pit stops in the ARCA Menards Series are now a thing of the past, unless they’re racing on intermediate ovals and superspeedways during companion weekends where Cup and other NASCAR crews are already on site. The Xfinity and Truck Series are also getting a taste of this later this season, with live pit stops being eliminated for standalone races where, again, hired gun crews from the Cup garage are nowhere to be found. The East and West Series have been contesting races with scheduled cautions for multiple seasons now. Short of the Cup Series, a full-time pit crew (read: a team) has become a rare bird.
Now, let’s look at the Next Gen car. Already going down the road of IndyCars with a third-party contractor building chassis for the cars, the change to a single lug nut wheel lays the groundwork for further reductions to over-the-wall crews. After all, it’s not going to take long for the Rob Kauffmans of NASCAR to realize that tire changers with a far less complicated job to do are easily suited to carrying their own tires over the wall. There’s a reason NASCAR went out of their way with the announcement of the single-lug wheels to say there would no changes to pit crew composition next year… namely, as evidenced by Hamlin’s earlier tweet, the reduction in crew sizes was not universally well-received, even if it did save money.
There’s plenty more. In the offseason, NASCAR reportedly tabled the idea of adding a fourth stage to races, not for good, but until they can determine whether the racing with the Next Gen car warrants such a change. Translation; look for a fourth stage around 2022 or so. Four stages, four quarters, we’ll become the NFL yet! The way scheduled cautions are proliferating, green flag pit stops are going to disappear, and with them, the role of the crew chief in calling race strategy.
And then, let’s look at some of the intangibles. The decision of NBC and now FOX to interview race-winning drivers on the track after their burnouts has completely neutered what used to be the pinnacle of racing… victory lane. It’s also removed the crews from the festivities. These days, by the time fans see a driver emerge from their car to celebrate with their crews (what’s left of them anyway), the top five or so drivers have spoken, another commercial break has come and gone, and chances are the standings have been updated. I will go out of my way to buy a full-size diecast car of the first driver that finally has the balls to tell Regan Smith or Rutledge Wood “you can find me in victory lane, I’m going to celebrate with my guys” instead of giving a full-length interview at start/finish.
It’s not like the concept of “team” in racing hasn’t been bastardized long before cost-savings and stage breaks took their toll. Watching Chad Knaus poach a pit crew from another race team at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2010 because the No. 48 crew that got Jimmie Johnson to the championship final was choking in the clutch long ago dispatched of any romantic notion that big-time NASCAR racing was the “team sport” it long purported to be. But we’ll leave it to Hamlin again to illustrate the growing disconnect between stock car racing as a team sport, and as a borderline WWE clash of personality cults. Within hours of the two drivers getting tangled up in a wreck that ended Kyle Larson’s day long before the first stage ended, the camaraderie of the driver motorcoach lot overcame the competitive fire on the track.
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) March 2, 2020
Now let’s take a look at that same exact tweet through the context of team owner Chip Ganassi, whose charges include not just driver Larson, but the crew and shop guys that get to put back together what Hamlin tore apart.
— Chip Ganassi (@GanassiChip) March 3, 2020
Did You Notice? The ARCA Menards Series debut race at Phoenix this weekend has 24 cars on the entry list, including a number of entries that are full-time competitors on the West Series circuit. Despite being the furthest removed race from ARCA’s midwest footprint, that’s the largest field of cars for an ARCA race outside of Daytona since Charlotte last May. It’s encouraging to see the West Series cars taking advantage of the new found synergy with the ARCA ranks. Of course, that’s glossing over the fact that nearly 50% of the field is coming from only three owners’ stables…
Did You Notice? The TV ratings for Sunday’s race at Fontana were a seeming contradiction. They were improved over last year’s race at Fontana, but they declined in comparison to the same weekend of the season. It begs the question, what’s going on here? Either Auto Club Speedway’s reputation continues to improve from parade to racey, or the 2020 season is losing momentum despite a strong showing for the Cup Series at Las Vegas. It’s kind of like the Democratic primaries… believe whatever campaign you want at this point, the story remains wide open. Besides, Atlanta will be an interesting bellwether in a few weeks, with a return to the East Coast meaning a (slightly) earlier start time and hype building over the “bounty” at the Truck Series race. Speaking of that…
Did You Notice? That defenders of Kyle Busch certainly have had their case strengthened that a lot of fan outrage towards Cup dominance of the minor leagues is truly dislike for Rowdy? I’ll leave this one for Joey Meier to finish off.
"Kyle Busch is ruining the Truck series. I ain't watching ever again!!"
"HECK YA, did you hear Larson, Elliot and Jones are gonna run some Truck races to beat Kyle Busch? Thats AWESOME. I cant wait to watch !!".
— Joey Meier (@JoeyMeier) March 3, 2020