Thursday, February 26, 2009

Saving Money, But At What Cost?

It may be time to revisit NASCAR’s new Camping World Truck Series pit stop policy.

The procedure was implemented in an attempt to save teams money by reducing the number of over-the-wall crewmembers from seven to five, and prohibiting refueling and tire changes during a single pit stop. Unfortunately, the rule appears to have made no difference in the total number of over-the-wall crewmen utilized by most teams, while having an adverse effect on the competitiveness of the series.

Last weekend’s race at Auto Club Speedway was one of the dullest in recent memory. Not all the blame can be placed on the new pit rules, since the Fontana oval has never ranked high on NASCAR’s list of most competitive venues. However, when the final 53 laps ran caution-free Saturday, teams were forced to run the final quarter of the race on worn out tires, negating any real possibility for side-by-side racing.

Ron Hornaday apologized to fans afterward, saying, “I don't think (they) got their money out of that race.”

Fellow series champion Todd Bodine said he was unable to run flat-out at the finish, due to his team’s inability to change badly worn tires. “The tires got hot, and I started pushing. I had a little vibration and wasn't going to take the chance."

Series veteran Rick Crawford told Sirius Speedway Wednesday that the new pit procedure has not saved his team any money, since NASCAR had already mandated a reduction in the total number of traveling crewmembers; from 14 to 12.

“We’re sending five tire changers over the wall, just like always,” he said. “Then, a lap later, we’re coming back to pit road and sending a fuel and catch-can man over the wall. We’re still using seven guys to get the truck serviced. But now, it takes us two stops to do it, instead of one.”

Crawford questioned the wisdom of doubling the number of pit stops, calling it a potential safety hazard for drivers, crewmen and corner workers.

“When we come off pit road after changing tires, we’re hauling butt to get caught up to the pace car and come back in for fuel,” he explained. “I’m worried about the corner workers and safety people. There’s no reason for us to have to do that.”

“NASCAR’s goal was to cut the total number of crew people we have to travel,” said Crawford. “They accomplished that by cutting the number of hard cards from 14 to 12. The new pit stop rules haven’t accomplished anything, and I’m afraid that they’re ruining our races.”

The next two stops on the Camping World Truck Series schedule are at Atlanta and Martinsville; two tracks that are notoriously tough on tires. Atlanta is generally marked by long periods of uninterrupted green-flag racing, while Martinsville features one of the tightest pit roads in all of NASCAR. With an off-week to examine the early results, here's hoping that NASCAR will reconsider its new pitstop procedure and put the spark back into what is arguably the sanctioning body's most competitive division.

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