Swap pit crew members? A formalized free agency period for tire changers, tire haulers, jackmen and refuellers? Sponsorship deals for pit crew members similar to what college athletes receive with NIL deals?
These are ideas — some radical for NASCAR — that Brian Haaland, pit crew coach for Joe Gibbs Racing, champions.
“I think there’s so much we can do to change the game,” Haaland told NBC Sports. “Everyone has contracts, and you have option years on them. I think there should be free agency. Really. How cool would that be?
“I think there should be trade-offs. Why not? …Why not allow me to negotiate with any organization if they have someone I want, and I’m willing to give them one of our guys – or at least talk about a trade. How fun would that be? It would be another fun game in sports.
While other professional team sports have trades, NASCAR does not. What if it was? Haaland said he offered a trade to another team but nothing happened.
“Absolutely, I tried to do it, but it’s between pit coach to pit coach,” he said. “We could work it out. It just obviously needs people who are above me and above the other pit coaches to approve it, but it could absolutely happen.
“It could happen tomorrow. If we agreed to release someone and (another team) agreed to release someone, and we just took their guy. It could happen.”
Imagine a trade deadline during the Cup season similar to what happens in the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and NHL.
Put NASCAR’s trade deadline in June, maybe around a weekend off. By then, teams would have had more than half of the regular season to evaluate their crew members. A trade at this point in the season would also give crew members who are moved a chance to acclimate to their new surroundings ahead of the playoffs.
With track position critical, what happens on pit road can mean the difference between a good or bad race for either team.
Lose positions on pit road and a driver will restart deeper into the field. This makes it more difficult to reach the front and increases the likelihood of being picked up during an incident.
This is why pit road has become so important. However, the means to save time are limited. Mine guns are standardized. Joe Gibbs Racing ditched their pit stop choreography, which was faster than the traditional method but slower on missteps. That only leaves pit crews as a way to have faster stops.
Teams are therefore looking for varsity athletes to join their pit crews. They want people with the athletic skills to maintain a car and the mindset to handle the pressure.
With the focus on pit crews, perhaps a trade could prove beneficial for everyone involved. Haaland said he thinks the pit crew swap could be possible because “everyone knows and kind of understands each other’s needs.
“Especially when injured. We’ll contact (other pit crew coaches) and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this guy who could help you… and we could loan them to you.’ (Or) it could be a guy who just doesn’t work for us, and we could release him, things like that have happened.
“There were other times where I was like, ‘I could really use one of their best guys’ and offer three guys, half-jokingly, but just to throw him out there to see if anyone a bite on it.”
They did not do it. Again.
As for free agency, it takes place after the season ends in November, when contracts end and pit crew members are free to switch teams. If NASCAR’s season ended earlier — perhaps in October — that would mean more time without cars on the track. A free agency period for pit crew members could do something for fans.
Any other financial benefits for pit crew members could be equally essential. The NIL offers that some college athletes receive are changing the way they view their athletic options.
Haaland saw it when he spoke to members of the Ohio State hockey team about a career as a member of the NASCAR pit crew.
“I started talking about ‘Hey, there might be an opportunity after you’ve finished playing here’ and…I threw some numbers at what they might do and they all looked at me. “, did he declare. “Then I realized that (with) the NIL (agreements) they’re probably doing more than that now.”
The pit crew deals are probably a few years away. Teams is focusing on a new business model so that teams aren’t so reliant on sponsorship to survive. The new media rights deal, which kicks off in 2025 and is expected to provide teams with more money, will also be key.
As for the idea of swapping pit crew, it’s an intriguing idea for some teams, but many questions remain before it happens. Maybe one day Haaland can make a trade or see the concept of a formalized period of free agency take hold in the sport.
2. Can Fords turn the tide?
The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway marks the third race at a 1.5-mile track this season without the speedway package used in Atlanta – site of Ford’s only victory this year with Joey Logano.
In the previous two races at 1.5-mile tracks (Las Vegas and Kansas), neither Ford finished better than sixth. Austin Cindric finished sixth in Las Vegas. Logano finished sixth at Kansas.
The Fords led 14 of 271 laps (5.1%) at Las Vegas and nine of 267 laps (3.4%) at Kansas.
Add Fontana, Calif., (2 mile highway) and Darlington Raceway (1.366 mile highway) and Ford’s struggles remain evident.
Ford’s best car at Fontana was Kevin Harvick, who finished fifth. The Fords lead 48 of the 200 laps there (24%).
Harvick led Ford with a second-place finish at Darlington, but that came after incidents knocked out some of the leaders in the final laps. Ford placed three cars in the top six at Darlington: Harvick in second, Brad Keselowski in fourth and Harrison Burton in sixth. The Fords, however, led nine of the 295 laps (3.1%) in this race.
Harvick enters Sunday’s race at Charlotte third in the standings, 29 points behind series leader Ross Chastain. Harvick has four consecutive top 10 finishes in the Coca-Cola 600, including a third-place finish in last year’s race.
Asked last weekend in North Wilkesboro about his chances of winning the regular season, Harvick said:
“I think for us, our cars, I’m talking about Team 4, our cars have raced competitively and we’ve been in position and just haven’t kicked that door down yet,” he said. . “But it’s like I keep telling them, ‘You keep knocking on that door and eventually somebody’s going to answer it.
“We just have to keep dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s because that’s exactly where we are from an aerodynamic point of view and everything that goes with our car right now.
“We just have to be able to do everything right. The cars have to be closer to perfection than the other two models right now, so we have to keep doing the things that we’re doing.
3. Goodyear modifies tires
Goodyear plans to use a new tire destined for more wear in New Hampshire in July. The tire was tested at the end of April with Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Christopher Bell.
Goodyear is moving in that direction after gaining experience with the Next Gen car, which hosts its 50th Cup points race on Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“Our goal has been to provide as much grip as possible for the individual circuits and then let the teams and drivers manage that,” said Goodyear racing director Greg Stucker. “Sometimes we are more conservative, sometimes not.
“Now that we have a year and a half under our belt with this vehicle, with the Next Gen car, I think we have realized that we can probably go further than what we were able to do with the previous generation parts. “
That lines up with what Denny Hamlin said after rolling the wet weather tires during a heat race last weekend at North Wilkesboro Speedway and noting how they were wearing.
“I’m just more encouraged that Goodyear can build a tire that’s really quick to start and drop,” he said. “We have the plan. We really should spend some time working on that for other short tracks.
Said Stucker of Hamlin’s comments: “I think Denny is spot on.”
Stucker said the goal of the New Hampshire tire test was to make the tires wear more.
“We’re going a lot softer on both ends,” Stucker said of the tires that will be used in New Hampshire. “All the riders in the test felt like it was a big win, it was definitely in the right direction. So that’s what we’re going to race. Is that enough? We’ll see. I think that’s a good step, and then we’ll continue to build on that.
The New Hampshire tire is also typically used in Richmond and Phoenix, the site of the championship race, but Stucker said that may not be the case this year.
“We just felt like (New Hampshire) could demand something softer,” he said.
4. Gain ground
Chase Elliott ranks fourth in the Cup in points earned in the last five races — since returning from a snowboarding leg injury.
Here’s a look at the top Cup points scorers in the last five points races:
William Byron—194 points
Martin Truex Jr. — 153
When Elliott made his return, he was 33rd in the season standings, 134 points on what would be the final playoff transfer spot. He climbed to 28th in the standings and is 63 points behind the final transfer spot for the playoffs with 13 races to go in the regular season.
5. In a year
Kyle Larson will be gearing up to race the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 around this time next year.
“It’s still so far away that it really doesn’t seem real, I think, until I get in the car, on the ground and fire up an engine, and then I think I’m going to be scared,” said he said with a smile. “At the moment it doesn’t seem super real, but I tried to pay as much attention to it as possible.”
Larson spent a day earlier this month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the Arrow McLaren team he will drive next year. He has yet to test an IndyCar but was fitted for a seat this month.
Next year will mark 10 years since the last driver raced in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. Kurt Busch finished sixth at Indy to win Rookie of the Year. A burned out engine in Charlotte that night earned him a 40th place finish.