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If it goes right, there is an awful lot to like about the new pit stop procedures NASCAR unveiled on Tuesday for select standalone Xfinity Series and Gander RV Truck Series events in 2020.
The operative phrase being goes right, of course.
Grassroots racing enthusiasts should immediately recognize these procedures for what they areâa variant of the controlled pit stop rules used across various pavement short track events throughout North America.
Consider for a second the prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race in Pensacola, Florida. The 300-lap race has traditionally featured live NASCAR-style pit stops, with teams spending upwards of $7,000 on hired national touring pit crews.
That changed in December with event officials choosing instead to freeze the field during cautions and preventing drivers from gaining or losing track position on pit road based on the speed of their over-the-wall squad.
This format has saved teams money but has often produced more compelling racing in its various forms.
NASCAR is hoping to see both outcomes when they implement the experiment during four NASCAR Xfinity Series and three Truck Series events this summer.
Hereâs the short version of whatâs going to happen during these races: Teams can only send crew members over the wall that are on its eight-person rosterâno Cup Series pit crews as is often the case during companion weekends.
For most cautions, a team will be allowed to change two tires and refuel. A four-tire stop will require a second trip down pit road.
The restart order will be based on pit strategy. Vehicles that did not pit will line up first, followed by vehicles that pitted once, those that pitted twice, lap-down vehicles that did not pit, lap-down vehicles that pitted once, lap-down vehicles that pitted twice, free-pass vehicles, wave-around vehicles and penalized vehicles.
I know that sounds confusing at first, but when used during grassroot short track events, the various strategy decisions offer an element of unpredictability and excitement.
Letâs assume Colin Garrett of Sam Hunt Racing is having a really good day in the Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway in June. Ordinarily, a team of that stature with Brian Keselowski as crew chief could conceivably contend on the track but would often get beat on pit road.
Now, if Garrett earned track position during the first green flag stint, heâs not inherently going to lose it on pit road. It gives Keselowski options to retain Garrettâs track position or utilize it to take tires and still have an advantage coming back through the field.
It levels the playing field and puts more into the hands of the drivers and the crew chiefsâ hands.
And even if itâs just a marginal saving in the grand scheme of things, itâs a tangible saving for a team like Huntâs or Jordan Andersonâs in the Truck Series, nevertheless.
The concept is not flawed, but NASCARâs execution of it will go a long way in determining whether or not this is a success.
There have been multiple times over the past decade where NASCAR race control has been unable to get teams lined up in their proper positions for a restart, taking the green flag with drivers out of placeâor worseâthree-wide before crossing the start-finish line.
Teams bear some responsibility, too, of course, but itâs vital for NASCAR to get these restart orders right or the fanbase will sink this format before it ever gets a chance to thrive.
If it works, it could open the door for increased standalone short track events on the Xfinity and Truck Series schedules. Donât forget that the Truck Series began with halftime breaks and competition cautions before adopting Cup Series-style pit stops.
Lastly, the negative effect this has on veteran over-the-wall specialists is not lost on me, but the sport of stock car racing is entering the greatest period of change it has ever witnessed. With the Cup Series moving to spec chassis and spec composite bodies next season, specialized jobs will be cut or relocated across the country.
Itâs going to challenge motorsport lifers who have worked as fabricators, body hangers or tire changers for their entire lives. A consolidation has become necessary, and it will require creative solutions like the one NASCAR implemented on an experimental basis on Tuesday.
Itâs an experiment thatâs worth trying, and if it doesnât work, NASCAR will pick up another dart and try again.