On Wednesday, NASCAR introduced a new policy regarding cars that are damaged during the course of an event and how repairs can be made to those vehicles. A major change from years past, Richard Childress Racing drivers, crew chiefs and car chiefs are already hard at work preparing for the latest rules adjustment from NASCAR.
Under the new rules, teams will no longer be able to replace damaged body parts that were the result of accidents or contact. Teams are permitted to make repairs to sheet metal on pit road, however they are now limited to five minutes.
Once a car enter pit road after an accident or contact, the team has five minutes to complete the repairs to sheet metal before returning to the race and maintaining NASCAR’s minimum speed requirement. If the damage forces a driver behind the wall or the team is unable to make repairs in the allotted five minutes, the car will not be allowed to return to the race.
“It’s definitely different and adds another twist to things,” said veteran RCR crew chief Shane Wilson. “One of the reasons NASCAR came up with this rule was to cut costs. This is one way for NASCAR to cut costs across the board for teams, but not hurt the racing at all. We spend a lot of money on crash carts and parts and often have to scavenge things together to finish a race if we have been involved in an incident just to get a couple points. This will cut that out moving forward.”
Scott Brewer, car chief on Paul Menard’s No. 27 Chevrolet, agrees with Wilson in that this decision is a great way to cut costs for all teams in the sport without having a major impact on the product on the track.
“With the crash carts going away, that saves the teams a ton of money,” he explained. “It costs teams a ton of money to transport those carts every weekend. You fill them with parts and body panels and items that ride around for an entire year, but may or may not get used.”
In the end, along with serving as a cost-cutting measure, the new policy is also focused on keeping all of the competitors and fans safe during a race – something that has been welcomed across the board.
“I feel like from a safety side – for the drivers and the fans in the grandstands – we’ve had some incidents where a car returned to the racetrack and it shouldn’t have,” said NASCAR XFINITY Series rookie Daniel Hemric. “All of us have done it. As drivers, we knew we probably shouldn’t have been back out there. I feel like as a whole, NASCAR is going in the right direction with this change.”
In addition to the fans and drivers, the crew members making repairs were often injured during the thrash to get back on the track.
“I never like working on torn up race cars,” said Wilson, crew chief on the No. 62 Chevrolet Camaro. “People can get hurt and I’ve had friends get burnt working on wrecked race cars just to try and get them out for a lot. Some of that I won’t miss at all.”
“I’ve been to the infield care center a couple times, along with a few other guys, because we were putting things back together that we had no business going back on the racetrack just because you had to gain one extra point or two,” said Brewer.
For Brewer, the biggest change is how teams can make repairs on pit road. In years past, if a driver came to pit road with damage, a host of team members were able to go over the wall to make the necessary repairs, accepting the penalty. However, under this new rule, if too many men go over the wall to make repairs, the car will be removed from the race.
At Talladega Superspeedway in May 2016, Austin Dillon was involved in an accident just past the halfway mark of the race. He brought the No. 3 Chevrolet to the attention of his crew, pitting 17 times to repair the damage. Dillon was able to continue on in the race and rallied to a third-place finish as a result. With this new policy, Dillon would not have been able to earn the third-place finish but would have been parked for the day.
As a result, the RCR crews are already formulating strategies of how best to approach repairs if needed and which team members to send over the wall in each case.
“We’re going to have different plays where if it’s just a little bit of damage, we’ll keep the tire carriers back and the tire changers will take their own tire over the wall while two mechanics work on the car,” said Brewer. “If it is really severe damage, it will be the mechanics that will go over the wall, assess the damage and start working on stuff first. Then we’ll put tires on it and send the car back out. In order to meet minimum speed, you’re going to have to leave with fresh tires. That means you are always going to have to leave 15 seconds in the back of your mind to do a pit stop before heading out to try and beat the five-minute clock.”
With a new title sponsor, new race format, new point system and now a new policy for wrecked race cars, the 2017 NASCAR season is certainly going to be one of change.
“NASCAR has been around forever and this is probably the biggest year for significant rule changes that we’ve had,” said Brewer. “I think it’s a good idea, though, and we welcome the change.”