NASCAR hates having its safety record questioned. Kevin Harvick knows this. And it’s probably why he went the direction he did Tuesday night with his continuing criticism of the performance of NASCAR’s standard-issue air guns.
During his weekly SiriusXM show, Harvick said the air guns’ poor performance through the first seven races of the 2018 season was a safety issue and outlined why.
“We saw five loose wheels on the run that I had a loose wheel on on Sunday, Harvick said via NBC. “Five cars had loose wheels on that particular run. That is way outside the norm of what we do on a weekly basis. As a driver, I’m very uncomfortable in the car because I don’t know whether, is it a loose wheel, then you see some tire issues creep up during the race. Is it a loose wheel, is it a tire coming apart? In your mind you’re running through these things ‘What the hell do I do?’”
“If it was the first week where something has happened, it would be like, ‘Oh maybe we just made some mistakes, maybe it could be this or maybe it could be that.’ But there’s so much doubt about what you have as a gun … It’s kind of Russian Roulette at this particular point.’’
NASCAR started leasing pit guns to teams this season as a cost-cutting measure. While the teams agreed to the practice — albeit not unanimously — they were expecting to be leased reliable equipment. The equipment has been anything but reliable so far this season.
The problems with the pit guns in 2018 continue a theme surrounding the attachment of wheels during pit stops dating back to the 2016 season and the advent of NASCAR’s camera-based pit road officiating system.
The system replaced officials stationed on pit road to monitor every stop and its implementation meant that NASCAR stopped monitoring if teams fastened all five lug nuts to each wheel tightly. The lack of lug nut enforcement meant teams realized they could fasten three or four lug nuts to a wheel for faster pit stops. The tradeoff was, of course, the greater chance of a loose wheel.
As loose wheels became commonplace throughout the early stages of the 2016 season, Harvick’s team owner Tony Stewart took the opportunity to speak out against the lack of lug nut enforcement.
“It’s not even mandatory anymore,” Stewart said back then. “I mean, you don’t have to have but one on there if you don’t want. It’s however many you think you can get away with. So we’re putting the drivers in jeopardy to get track position. It’s not bit anybody yet, but I guarantee you that envelope is going to keep getting pushed until somebody gets hurt. You will not have heard a rant that’s going to be as bad as what’s going to come out of my mouth if a driver gets hurt because of a loose wheel that hurts one of them. With all the crap we’re going through with all the safety stuff, and for them to sit there and sit on their hands on this one …”
Those comments got Stewart a $35,000 fine from NASCAR, a fine that was stupid in its own right. The fine was even more stupid when the sanctioning body said days later that it would start to check cars after every race to make sure all lug nuts were fastened securely. While Stewart got hand-slapped by NASCAR, the hand-slap also came with an admission that he was right.
Harvick is well aware of NASCAR’s reaction to what Stewart said and Stewart’s comments were a likely inspiration for what Harvick said Tuesday night.
Will NASCAR now react in a similar fashion? It may have to. It’s hard to quibble with Harvick’s line of reasoning. For as awful a look as the unreliable pit guns have been, it’ll be an even worse look if a driver crashes because a pit gun malfunctioned and a wheel wasn’t tightly fastened to the car.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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