CONCORD, N.C. -- Forget changes to the points system and adjusting the qualifying order to be based on practice speeds. The change that will have the biggest impact on who wins the 2011 Sprint Cup championship will be introduction of the new gas can.
In a sport in which two or three seconds on pit road can mean six or seven spots on the track, the new gas can is creating headaches that have teams scrambling.
It has made the gas man the left tackle of the pit crew. One mistake and the driver is sacked.
Or as Ryan Newman's crew chief, Tony Gibson, said during Monday's media tour stop at Stewart-Haas Racing, "You're screwed."
Let me explain. NASCAR is introducing the new fuel can already implemented in the Camping World Truck Series because it is environmentally safer -- supposedly allowing fewer gas fumes to escape -- and because it eliminates the seventh over-the-wall crewman, who caught fuel that escaped from the back vent of the car.
Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR/Getty ImagesThe times they are a-changing in NASCAR, and so are the gas cans. These new ones are apparently already causing headaches.
Sounds great, right? But did you know these new cans and the venting system it takes to get fuel into the car costs a two-car organization such as SHR around $45,000? And that it really doesn't eliminate a position on the team because now you need a man behind the wall to catch the can once it is emptied and another to hand the second can to the gas man?
It also creates so many scenarios for pit stop strategy that Gibson and Darian Grubb, Tony Stewart's crew chief, have playbooks as thick as those in the NFL.
And the days of a 12-second pit stop are done unless teams figure out a faster way to get fuel out of the can. According to Gibson, it takes 6.5 seconds to empty a can, not counting the second it takes for the gas man to get from the wall to the car. On a two-can stop, that's already 13 seconds.
When you add a second getting to the car and a second getting the can back to the wall and another can to the car, that's already more than 14 seconds.
Then what if the driver pits with the right end outside the pit box? He's moved the gas tank opening another two steps from the wall, adding more time to the stop.
Gibson and others I talked to during testing at Daytona International Speedway last week agree pit stops typically will be two seconds longer.
That's where the thicker playbook comes in. Crew chiefs have scenarios now in which they'll have the tire changer carry the tire and use the tire carrier as the second gas man. They also have scenarios where they short pit for two tires and one can of fuel hoping a caution will come out soon.
The new can also has created the need for taller and stronger gas men to get the angle of the can just right. Gibson, who at 5-foot-11 was a gas man for 12 years, says he's too short to do it now. He actually tried and got hung up twice.
Gibson said SHR engineers have been working since last year to discover angles that will help speed up the flow of gas into the tank.
"We're spending twice as much time at it as we have in the past," Gibson said.
They're doing it because it could decide the championship, particularly with a new 43-1 point system NASCAR is expected to introduce on Wednesday.
"Absolutely," Gibson said.