(Photo: Randy Lanning)

Did You Notice? There’s No I in Team, But There Is in Driver

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.

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.

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.

Enough said.

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.

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15 comments

  1. Avatar

    The front stretch interviews I think are more for the grandstand fans than anything I think. Gives the winning driver a moment to celebrate with his fans. I still enjoy watching them climb out in victory lane but while the teams build the cars, the fans fund the teams so its a double edged sword if you ask me.

    Boy I hope they don’t add a 4th stage, 3 stages (2 planned cautions) is already 3 too many. Breaking up these stages has nearly neutered driver and crew strategy. I would like to understand why they think we need stages? What are they trying to achieve? I am largely missing the point here, is it the restarts that makes the stage racing so important? The finishes are rarely anymore entertaining than any other lap on the track, so I fail to understand NASCAR’s goal….again. 🙁

    That last tweet is so true its comical, many will deny it, however if you listen to Sirius XM on a Monday after a cup driver not named Kyle Busch won a Truck or Xfinity race you will hear tons of support pour in congratulating that said cup driver for their win. It was so bad sometime ago that Austin Dillon won a race and after the 10th call or so of people congratulating him for his win one of the hosts turned around and said, you know what it really is a Kyle Busch thing, fans dont care about cup drivers racing in lower series otherwise they would be complaining that Austin Dillon won an Xfinity race, he is a cup driver, fans only seem to care and complain when Kyle wins the race. Why I believe once Kyle retires all that complaining about Cup guys taking candy from a baby will die down to the level it was before Kyle entered the sport.

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      Sorry to poke a hole in your hypothesis regarding KYLE as the only one who gets beat up on racing in the kiddie series. He does with more frequency because he is the only one doing it with regularity like a freaking laxative. His ego demands it! And they don’t stop him, so it is what it is. But I know the KYLE NUTS won’t concede that point. Whatever.

      I ONLY watch a KIDDIE SERIES race if I am home and NO CUPPER IS IN IT. FOR a couple of years now. I get to enjoy it more. My feelings have changed for a host of reasons from the Castle Daytona down to the lowest of owners in the series (no offense). If a Cupper is any of the lower series, I don’t watch.

      • Avatar

        I only watch the lower series races if I am home and happened to see if on the TV schedule. Most Friday and Saturdays I am too busy doing other things and the TV never gets touched. If they all raced on Sundays I would have a marathon 🙂 I should start recording it…since I can do that now…but it never comes to thought when the TV is on.

        I get that Kyle dominates in the lower series, especially compared to the other cup guys that go down there and with his personality that clashes with more fans (especially when he was younger) I get that people have been frustrated. Remember, this is the guy that NASCAR decided to change the starting age in NASCAR from 16 to 18, they have also changed the rules because of him winning too often in the lower series. All I am saying is when Mark Martin raced in a lot of the lower series races I didn’t hear the noise we hear now…may be cause social media didn’t exist or I was too young to really remember. I am relying on you guys to answer that.

        The lower series just dont have competitive full time drivers, imo, that people can latch on to. If you are competitive you are moved up. There are a couple names like Sauter and Crafton in trucks that come to mind but outside of that. You are moved up fast to the cup series and if you fail you are out of NASCAR…I hope this changes soon but sponsors pay the bills. Someone like Saurez comes to mind. He could make a good living in the Xfinity series rather than trying to get a top 20 in the cup.

  2. Avatar

    Everybody needs to take a wait-and-see approach on this new Gen 7 car. It feels like people like to complain for the sake of complaining before giving anything a chance these days.

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      I am the opposite, I love everything they have been doing with this car from what I have seen. Looks like they have reduced the sideforce issue. From driver feedback it sounds like there is more mechanical grip in the cars compared the current aero dependent car. I am looking forward to seeing how they handle in a pack. Bring all the manufacturers together to use their engineering expertise I think should bode success of this new car. I couldn’t be more excited for 2021.

      I agree, people like to complain just to complain. Also, people hate change. That is a fact.

      • Avatar

        No one has mentioned that the odd and sudden switch from Team supplied pit guns to the spec Paoli IndyCar style single nut guns two years ago has perfectly positioned the industry to be ready to switch to single nut. Either someone is a genius in guessing the future or someone has been planning the single nut scheme for several years. Any doubts that the arrival of carbon body parts, common chassis sources and the digital dash were just convenient accidents as the technology developed ignores the fact that the traditional NASCAR parts builders and Distributors are being legislated out of existence in favor of whoever controls the new sources…hmmmm, I wonder who they really are behind the scenes and spec deals…

  3. Avatar

    Denise Ham since forever (IMO) is not the brightest tool in the shed. Chip is correct. And I am sick of the NASCAR media always indicating that it takes two to tango (especially when initiated by NASCARS beloved Gibbs Girls). AH NO!!! That was Denise all the way!!! So do tell what the hell LARSON did? Waiting………..

  4. Avatar

    Reading this article just makes me sad. I can see a day when I just won’t care about NASCAR anymore. A fourth stage just makes me want to puke. I hate a race with no green flag pit stops.

    Why don’t they just get it over with. Make all the races 100 laps. Throw the caution flag every 10 laps. Show their commercials in between and call it a day. I won’t be watching but the reality TV crowd just might like it. With the pre and post race BS they would have a lean 2 hour TV show. Or better yet, just CGI the whole thing in a studio and hire actors to play the drivers. That would save money.

  5. Avatar

    It’s time to change the name from racing Stock cars to, oh, I don’t know, maybe ‘Special built’ race cars? I guess I should have seen this coming when they did away with the REAL pit stop competition at a real track and put it in a gym with guys pushing the cars. Pretty soon it will be 2/3 second stops like F1. Hydraulic jacks next? As far as adding yet another ‘TV time out’, just take any strategy out of the race entirely. No longer recognizable as stock car racing.

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    Agree with you Bill B – as I was reading I thought to myself, wow this is depressing. I’d be more willing to adapt to the changes they’ve made if they were proven right – however the real fans have voted with their eyes and $. I’m not unbiased as a Chevy/HMS fan – but I liked watching a long green flag run last weekend. Green flag pit stops are absolutely crucial. Also agree with Ice on the car front – so far I like the direction they are going. Tough spot to be in to design a ‘stock’ race car when cars themselves are almost extinct.

  7. Avatar

    Well I can tell u I’ve been around racing for over 60 yrs. and I certainly didn’t like it when Martin and others raced in Busch series. All this does is take money away from young drivers and owners of these series. They have a hard enough time trying to keep shops open without someone taking the winnings somewhere else.

    I have attempted to bend with all the changes in nascar over the years but just getting too much. One thing stage racing has done is to decrease the number of ghost debris yellows.

    I used to watch sportscar racing on wide world of sports and speed channel but now that I live in Sebring FL I spend a lot of time there since the track is hot 300 days a year.

    Used to b don’t call me on Sunday afternoon because I’m watching nascar. Now it doesn’t matter. I turn it on and mute it with closed caption on. Even radio announcers don’t follow what is happening on the track.

    In another few years I’ll most likely not even turn nascar on.

    Hoping we will see changes for the good. Gotta wait and see.

    • Avatar

      I am hoping the changes they make in 2021 are for the better. If things dont get better and sponsorship continues to decline you may not have to worry about turning on your TV. NASCAR is in a critical moment and the next TV contract will likely dictate which fork in the road they take.

  8. Avatar

    Any driver at any level wants the opportunity to race against better competition. It’s how you get better.
    Elliott, Larson and Jones will try!