CONCORD, N.C. — Pit-crew members‘ muscle memory can remain intact for the Next Gen, mostly.
Instead of removing and fastening five lug nuts, tire changers will only have to worry about one per round. That will be the biggest difference with live stops in 2022. It changes the flow a little bit but helps with the overall speed.
“Most of us, we‘re used to like a pop five times,” Josh Thomas, a front-tire changer for the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, told NASCAR.com. “Other than that right now, it‘s all the same — pulling tires, getting to the car quick, hitting that one lug nut. It‘s not really retraining much because everything‘s like tenths of seconds. Kind of like the same time as last year, might be a second faster.”
Teams had their first chance at Next Gen pit practice Thursday during the second day of testing at Charlotte Motor Speedway. NASCAR granted them an hour at the end of the eight-hour open-track session.
Of the 22 cars on site, 11 asked for a stall. Only four actually took advantage of the opportunity — the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Austin Dillon, the No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet of Corey LaJoie, the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Chase Elliott and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of William Byron. Internal team personnel did rotate.
“It seems like the guys are enjoying working with it,” Elliott said. “You‘re not having five lug nuts to take off and put on in the garage area constantly and things of that nature. So, overall, I think it‘s been a plus.”
Thomas did note because of the single lug nut, the new air guns weigh more.
What doesn‘t, though, are the tires. They are now 18 inches rather than 15. The wheel is also aluminum rather than steel.
“It helps our bodies,” Thomas said. “The tires aren‘t as heavy. It helps us to get it off quicker. It‘s an upgrade, we think, in our score.”
That’s one opinion. Odds are, there will be multiple and different viewpoints. That’s inevitable with change.
But Justin Alexander, crew chief of the No. 3 team, doesn‘t expect his job to change all that much atop the pit box, either. Just learning and adapting what calls to make.
“Any adjustment you do to the car slows the stops down typically, and the more you adjust, the more the stops are slowed down,” he said. “It makes those things more critical. You’re obviously not gonna want to tune on the car, adjust on the car as much, but sometimes you have to.
“And it’ll make fuel flow — fueling the car will probably be the holdup at some point — critical if you’re trying to put two cans of fuel in.”
NASCAR has two more organizational tests scheduled for the offseason. Phoenix Raceway is up next (Dec. 14-15) and then there‘s Daytona International Speedway (Jan. 11-12). Additional tracks and dates are being discussed but not confirmed.
Teams are allowed to practice pit stops at their shops, though. Next Gen cars will make their competitive debut Feb. 6 in the 2022 Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“It‘s faster,” Thomas said. “Everything‘s got to be quicker. Everyone‘s got to be quicker on pit road. Whoever can figure out how to shave off two tenths, even one tenth of a second, that‘s going to be tremendous.”