At least three teams experienced problems with the NASCAR-mandated pit guns during Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Kevin Harvick dominated and won the 325-lap race, but under the competition caution at Lap 30 he had to make two pit stops to ensure the lug nuts were tight. The No.4 team had the air hose coming off and Harvick dropped from the lead to 19th. He easily worked his way back to the front and picked up his first win of the season.
That wasn’t a big problem in winning crew chief Rodney Childers’ mind.
“I have to be honest, the people that took that on have really done an outstanding job,” Childers said of the move to the spec pit gun. “There’s no way I could sit up here and complain about anything they’ve done because I can’t imagine taking that on during the winter, and what they did over a two-month span or a three-month span trying to get all that stuff ready for the teams.
“My opinion is we’re going to go through ups and downs and we need to go through them together and learn together, and [having problems is] part of it.”
Over the offseason, NASCAR made the move to a spec version of the pit gun in hopes of saving teams money, in addition to moving to a five-man pit crew. NASCAR handles the distribution of the pit guns through a lottery system each weekend and teams are limited when it comes to trying to modify them. The guns are manufactured by Paoli.
Martin Truex Jr., who finished fifth, had two slow pit stops because of the pit gun. According to crew chief Cole Pearn, the first air gun had an issue and the second was too slow. The team finally landed on a gun that was serviceable for the rest of the race.
“I think everybody is a little concerned,” said Truex. “Somebody else is supplying you the parts and the guns, and the quality control, you really don’t have control in all that. Last year I don’t think we had one single issue with a pit gun or any equipment in the pit stall. That says a lot. Thirty-eight races last year and no issues and two races this year and already an issue.
“So, I’m a little nervous about that, but at the same time, it’s the same for everyone. Hopefully, what comes around goes around, I guess.”
Alex Bowman’s team also hit trouble. He finished three laps down in 20th.
Brad Keselowski was another driver who felt there hadn’t been pit gun issues over the past few seasons. On the topic in general, Keselowski said he wasn’t asked about it before the decision was made to go to a spec air gun.
“It was a decision made by RTA [Race Team Alliance] and NASCAR,” Keselowski said. “I don’t think I’m allowed to have an opinion.”
Air guns had become a popular topic in recent seasons as teams poured money into developing air guns that would help them gain time on pit road. Organizations like Joe Gibbs Racing were often pointed at as having a slight advantage with customized pit guns that were lighter and faster.
“I think the reason teams built them on their own is because they were more reliable that way,” said fourth-place finisher Denny Hamlin. “They could control everything. That’s probably why – amongst the competition side of things, they don’t want to fail because it’s a bad luck thing. They want it to fail because they did a bad job. It’s your own fault then.”