<
>

Harvick wins Atlanta, but 'garbage' pit guns emerge as big talking point

Kevin Harvick overcame early pit-road issues to capture his second win at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

HAMPTON, Ga. -- NASCAR wants the athletes on pit road to help determine race outcomes.

What NASCAR doesn't want is its equipment to impact a race.

Kevin Harvick, clearly the class of the field Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, overcame an early bad pit stop because of an apparent pit-gun malfunction, forcing him to come back down pit road to tighten lug nuts. He restarted 19th on Lap 94 and he had regained the lead by Lap 126. The Stewart-Haas Racing crew got a new pit gun for the remainder of the race and didn't have any additional issues.

Harvick ended up leading 181 laps -- he would have led more if Denny Hamlin didn't opt for a different pit strategy -- and cruised to the win, followed by Brad Kesleowski, Clint Bowyer, Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr.

But he also might have had other drivers looking to capitalize on any late mistakes (if he made them) if it weren't for pit equipment issues. Truex (fifth) and Kyle Busch (seventh) were among those who also had problems Sunday.

NASCAR is issuing pit-gun equipment -- the air wrench (pit gun), the air pressure regulator and the air hose -- to teams this year as a way to save teams costs. Some teams reportedly had spent more than a million dollars in development of pit guns to create fast sockets.

Now teams pay approximately $1,200 a race to rent equipment made by Paoli and issued by NASCAR to the teams prior to every race.

"I honestly don't know 100 percent what happened, so that's way out of my category of things that I need to be commenting on," Harvick said.

NASCAR wouldn't comment beyond a spokesman saying that it will begin trying to diagnose the issues and improve.

NASCAR can't afford to have this continue to be an issue. Throughout the offseason, there were rumblings of teams breaking sockets. But the wear-and-tear of practice -- and improvements in the guns after feedback from teams using them in practice -- had the industry hopeful the guns wouldn't be an issue.

"I think everybody's a little concerned," Truex said. "Somebody else is supplying you with the parts and the guns. The quality control, you really have no control in all that and obviously I don't think we had one single issue [last season] with a pit gun or any equipment in the pit stall.

"That says a lot. ... I'm a little nervous about that. At the same time, it's the same for everyone. What comes around goes around, I guess."

Truex crew chief Cole Pearn was livid, calling the air guns "garbage" and "pieces of s---."

The issue for Truex's tire changer came when he hit the switch to change directions of the spin of the socket to go from loosening lug nuts to tightening them. Truex lost several spots.

"He switched directions, hit [the lug nut] the first time and it didn't do anything and then hit it three more times and finally it reengaged and switched directions," Pearn said. "They gave us a backup gun, but the backup guns are the old spec guns and it was a hunk of garbage. It was basically unusable.

"Then we got a newer gun, I guess, that was fine."

Busch's issue wasn't as devastating for him, as it was a pressure drop in the line. The tire changer was able to complete the stop (albeit slower than it should have been) and the team got a new gun and didn't have any additional issues.

"Of course it's a concern but without knowing exactly what went wrong, you have to tear it apart and [we] don't know if it was a broken part or if it was a regulator issue," Busch crew chief Adam Stevens said.

Stevens said he wouldn't expect to be told of what went wrong and hopes that Paoli will diagnose the issue.

But a team having an issue with a piece it manufactured itself versus an issue with something handed to them to use is a big difference in the eyes of competitors.

"I think the reason teams built them on their own is because they were more reliable that way," said Hamlin, who had no issues. "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."

So will this be fixed?

"Ask the RTA," Pearn quipped.

The RTA is the Race Team Alliance, the coalition of owners (Pearn's Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser is not part of the RTA) who work with NASCAR on rule changes and policies to control costs.

"Nobody asked me when they changed them, and it was a decision made by RTA and NASCAR," Keselowski said. "I don't think I'm allowed to have an opinion."

The race-winning crew chief's opinion was that the scramble to get the air wrenches ready for the season was a huge undertaking.

"The people that have took that on really have done an outstanding job," Harvick crew chief Rodney Childers said. "Like there's no way I could sit up here and complain about anything they've done because I can't imagine taking that on over the winter and what they did over a two‑month span or a three‑month span of trying to get all this stuff ready for the teams.

"But my opinion is we're going to go through ups and downs, and we need to go through them together and learn together. That's part of it."