A show of hands out there...who has a strong opinion about the new pit crew rules in NASCAR? C'mon, put them higher, I can't really see. Anyone? Anyone?
Kind of what I figured. And the deafening silence from drivers is pretty telling. Ever since the new rules were announced in late November, I have yet to read a quote from a driver mad as hell or overjoyed at this new restriction. There was a collective yawn.
Now maybe they're just so busy trying to figure how to navigate this new rule in time for Daytona that they haven't had a chance to give an opinion. I kind of doubt it. In the end, it really is not going to make much difference except to folks now out of work. On the flip side of that, there will be some talented crew members looking for a job. That's an opportunity for some of the smaller teams to pick up better talent than what they currently have. Regardless, teams are going to get leaner in 2018.
NASCAR has dropped the number of pit crew members going over the wall from 6 to 5 and will restrict what they can do. Not a total shocker as this has been tossed around for a few years. NASCAR says it's in the interest of parity and safety, plus they want to promote the team image of racing, not just the driver. Let's take each of these one at a time.
Parity is another way to say level the field between the haves and have-nots. Much like other pro sports, there are small-market teams and large-market teams. The only way to keep the small-market teams competitive is to limit payroll and rosters. This move was all about cutting costs in a sport that has gotten prohibitively expensive for so many teams. You know what? The large teams will always be able to outspend and attract the best talent no matter what size team they're given.
Safety should always be a top priority when it's machines vs humans, but this seems a little ridiculous to even mention. I applaud NASCAR for eliminating many of their folks crowding pit road, something long overdue. There have always been too many people "hanging out" with no real need to be there. Yes, taking a crew member off pit road does reduce the chance of getting hit, but the majority of injuries to crew members comes from repetitive work functions or muscle strains or tendon tears. They're far likelier to throw their back out as being thrown by a car.
"I think it'll really help develop some of the other names that have been a part of this sport for a long time," said NASCAR vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O'Donnell. He's talking about the fact that all pit crew members will wear now uniforms with numbers or letters and an armband clearly defining what their role is and what they're allowed to do. O'Donnell says fans will have rosters to help them follow the team members. This is part of the "team image" I was talking about. Not since Ricky Bobby dropped the jack and jumped into the driver seat has there been much interest in who the pit crew members are. They're sort of like NFL offensive lineman...you don't really notice them unless they get a holding penalty or illegal motion. They're an indispensable part of the team, but operate in relative obscurity...and are apparently ok with that. To me, NASCAR has enough issues trying to figure out how to grow and promote the next faces of the sport, now they're worried about pit crew members getting noticed?
If you couldn't tell, I'm not one who believes these pit crew rule changes will have much of an impact. Teams will figure out how to work within the new rules and the bigger organizations will still come out on top more times than not. NASCAR needs to be putting their energies into things far more substantive, like figuring out why fans aren't coming to the track or watching on tv like they used to.