Pit road change impacts winning formula
There’s no doubt that races are won or lost in the pits.
However, when NASCAR switched to E15 fuel at the end of last year and eliminated the catch-can man, no one predicted how dramatically the carefully choreographed pit stop would change.
Simply put, the days of the 12-second, four-tire stop are over.
With the sanctioning body eliminating the catch-can position, only six men will be allowed over the pit wall. However, with the closed-loop gas cans (which eliminates the need of a catch can) weighing more than 90 lbs. when filled, it will take an extremely strong athlete to fill the car.
And depending on the strategy during the stop, different crewmen will be multitasking for the most efficient performance.
“We’ve been doing different scenarios in our pit practices trying to figure out what’s going to be competitive during the gas stop,” Stewart-Haas Racing general manager Bobby Hutchens said. “If you’re just gassing, before those guys were also helping make adjustments through the back window. That used to be the catch-can guy.
“It will take someone who is more athletic; a tall, strong person to be able to do the things that are required to make a successful pit stop in today’s world.”
Stewart-Haas crew chief Darian Grubb alluded that the No. 14 likely would take two gasmen “with two different body styles” on the road depending what situation is needed over the wall. Earnhardt Ganassi Racing crew chief Brian Pattie recruited an entirely new gasman, Ed Whitaker from Richard Petty Motorsports, for the job. Pattie acknowledged that what was once the No. 6 position on the team in terms of importance has moved to No. 1.
Former-gasman-turned-crew-chief Tony Gibson of Stewart-Haas shares Pattie’s sentiments. While tire changers and carriers received most of the accolades in the past, the fuel man’s responsibility will be vital to a team‘s success.
“We’re focused on this fueling deal and trying to get (the car) full of fuel,” Gibson said. “It’s quite a bit slower putting the fuel in the cars. Just standing there plugging it in, you’re talking at least two seconds slower. Now that you have one fuel guy, he’s got to run back and get the other can so now it’s like your stop is going to go from 12 seconds to 14 or 15 seconds. Trying to figure out how do we maneuver our guys around so we lose the least amount of time is going to be crucial.”
Fueling will be more critical at some tracks than others. At Daytona, where tire specialists expect more two- than four-tire stops because of the new smoother surface, the 500 easily could come down to a fuel-mileage race.
“I just guarantee you that it’s going to come down to a fueling deal at Daytona, it’s going to because somebody’s not going to get it full, somebody’s going to gamble on short pitting all throughout the year,” Gibson said. “We short pit now three or four laps. Well, three or four laps is not much fuel. When it comes to these new fueling cans, you may have to stop it two seconds quicker, well that’s going to be probably two gallons of gas. Are you going to go to Michigan and give up the fuel mileage over getting back on the racetrack and making the time up on the racetrack? Or, what if a guy spends the extra two seconds on pit road and gets his stuff full?
“You run out of gas and you have to pit under green and he doesn’t, he’s going to win the race. That part of it is going to be really, really complicated for the first few races. Going to the Daytona 500 with this new fueling deal is really going to be something to watch. That’s what I’m most worried about.”
Gibson practiced with his team just to get a feel for the can and what possible moves could be made to streamline the process. Gibson studied the number of steps needed to exchange fuel cans and the precision of where, when and how to pivot. But the loss of the catch-can man forced Gibson to reevaluate the entire process.
“It’s going to be tougher now with this fuel deal because now you’re going to have less of an opportunity to make an adjustment because you’re moving guys around,” Gibson said. “Lots of times last year, we had enough time to where we could make — our catch-can guy, he would come over and make a left-side adjustment, then go around and catch the can while that guy left and then the tire carrier would do the right side. Now you don’t have that extra guy, so does that guy try to do two adjustments or do you just do one adjustment? What if one adjustment’s not enough? It’s going to put you in a box.”
— Lee Spencer
Call for more change
Felix Sabates generally has ideas on NASCAR changes that could benefit teams. Now, he’s come up with what he thinks would save owners money — and it doesn’t involve cutting driver salaries.
Sabates, a co-owner of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, says he never complains about driver salaries, primarily because of the nature of their work and also because of how those salaries fall short in comparison with those of other athletes in major sports.
He thinks, though, that some changes to pit stops really could turn into savings for a team. First off, slow down pit stops to avoid creating high salaries for pit-crew members. That way, teams can even the playing field in terms of what they are paying those over-the-wall members on Sundays.
“They should do something to put the pit stops at 20 seconds; every team would save a quarter (of) a million dollars per team,” he said Monday during the annual NASCAR Media Tour. “Some of these guys are making $5,000 a week to change tires; they work one day a week. I mean, come on.”
He has another pit-stop change, too — limit teams to six sets of tires in a race.
The way Sabates explains it, because everyone would be playing with the same numbers, then the competition would not be negatively impacted.
To go the distance
Brian Pattie says the key to improving the performance of the No. 42 Chevrolet this season will involve better communications and faster race cars.
Pattie’s driver Juan Pablo Montoya is doing his part as well. In November, Montoya incorporated a new workout routine into his schedule. When he was home in Colombia, Montoya said he biked two to three hours a day. He’s added a trainer to his days away from the racetrack and has added weightlifting to his regime.
When Montoya was asked how much weight he had lost, he replied, “Not enough.”
Talk of the garage
While Ryan Newman disputes any notion that being a parent is impacting his driving, the NASCAR Sprint Cup driver does say that it has altered the nature of conversations he’s having with other drivers.
Before the November birth of daughter Brooklyn Sage, Newman says he got lots of advice on pending parenthood. He found that to be relatively vague, though, in most cases — and that the experience has been different than anyone could have predicted.
“People said, before we ever had the birth of our child, they said it’s going to change you,” he said. “Everybody that told me that, I asked them how it changed you and some of them could come up with an answer and some of them couldn’t, and in the end I think it changes everybody in different ways, and I think it’s all in your ideas or personality when it comes to your dedication to your family.”
For him, it’s all about a shift in responsibility.
“I really thought, after the baby’s born it’s going to be a piece of cake because all of the worry is gone. Well that’s not really the case. . . . It’s just a lot of different things, responsibilities of — I got really sick last year, I guess in September — because I drank water out of a creek and got some bacteria in me, . . . but I would never think about doing that to my baby,” he said. “Everything has to be spick-and-span clean, all the bottles sanitized, things like that.
“The things I wouldn’t have cared for myself, I put a lot more care into for my child and for my wife, now.”
He looks around the garage and sees a lot of others in his position. Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray all have added to their families in recent months.
Newman seems to find those fellow fathers both sources of advice and comfort. He talked with Johnson and McMurray about it at Daytona.
“He’s a little bit farther ahead, so I can learn from him,” Newman said of Johnson. “Jamie McMurray and myself are about the same time going through the same things, so we compare what’s right and wrong and women and kids and everything else. . . . Just adapting to it, it’s a big change for us.”
A big change in his life, yes. But has it changed him as a driver?
“Has it changed me as a driver, no, I don’t think so,” he said. “I tested good down at Daytona, we had a top-10 finish at Homestead. I don’t think it’s changed me as a driver. I think it has the potential to if you worry about it. . . . I’m not thinking that baby’s going to change the way I drive a race car.”
- 21 — Years that Target has sponsored Chip Ganassi’s racing teams.
- 5 — Years that Red Bull Racing has been in existence.
- 6 — Different drivers who won driving Chip Ganassi cars in 2010.
- 22 — Number of races, out of 26, that Felix Sabates suggests NASCAR should count to qualify for the Chase.