As the world continues its slow recovery from a global pandemic, many industries are still suffering from supply chain issues ranging from raw materials to computer chips. These issues appeared to plague the sport of NASCAR ahead of the season and, according to some industry insiders, could still be a problem.
In addition to the normal preseason hype ahead of the 2022 NASCAR season, there was anxiety beyond normal preseason jitters among the teams. After a year of delay, the new Next Gen car was set to make its debut in February and it was feared that teams would not have enough cars to compete in the first races, let alone the entire season due to chain issues. supply.
The new car not only has significant mechanical changes, but features many common elements such as body panels and suspension parts from single manufacturers, a move designed to bring more parity to the sport.
But in mid-January, there were reports that some teams had only two or three of the five race-ready cars needed by the time the season-opening Daytona 500 took the green flag. It was said that drivers should be careful with new cars being raced at the Clash, a no-points exhibition race at the LA Coliseum two weeks before Daytona, because those cars might be needed for Daytona.
Then at Speedweeks, the traditional week before the Daytona 500, NASCAR and the speedway announced that the winning car would not be kept and displayed at the track museum for a year as had been the tradition since 1997 due to concerns over the inventory of new cars for the teams. Instead, a show car would be packaged to match the winning car and displayed.
A few weeks after the race however, and despite initially saying they would have to keep the car, winner Austin Cindric and team owner Roger Penske rolled the winning car through his display.
At the time, Penske acknowledged supply chain issues forced the team to keep the car, but said “NASCAR sat down with us, we worked out our inventory details at the time. future, and here we are.”
There didn’t seem to be any supply chain issues over the next five races of the season and the Next Gen car seemed to be going perfectly on track.
Then, ahead of the Richmond race in early April, Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin, as well as co-owner of 23XI Racing, seemed to hint that perhaps supply chain issues were still plaguing the teams. According to Hamlin, employees were forced to spend long hours trying to get the cars ready for the race.
“I don’t know what we can do about it,” he said. “We have to work extreme hours. We have to wait for the parts, as my team leader told me on the plane this morning – don’t tear the separator. We are rightly concerned that we do not have a dispatcher for Martinsville.
“Just be gentle, but how do you do that and race too? The shortage leads to extended hours and eventually people – I think I saw some stuff on Twitter yesterday – teams lose a lot of people just because of the workload and eventually it becomes a problem. You can’t afford to just pay them more – we’re trying to do our best to tread water right now. It’s just a difficult position we’re in.
“The supply chain just doesn’t get to us as well as it should, but we’ve appointed a supplier to do all the work and when that supplier doesn’t get what we need, we’re stuck because we told everyone to pound sand. It’s just a tough situation to be in right now and the teams don’t know what else to do. It’s hard to retain your workforce right now and all teams lose people.
Weeks before Hamlin’s comments, new team co-owner Brad Keselowski clashed with NASCAR when his #6 Ford failed an inspection after being brought back to NASCAR’s R&D center in Concord. in North Carolina after the race in Atlanta. The team received 100 driver points and 100 owner points and crew chief Matt McCall was fined $100,000 and suspended from the next four NASCAR Cup Series points races.
Additionally, if Brad Keselowski’s No. 6 team qualifies for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, it will be penalized by losing 10 NASCAR Playoff points.
The penalty fell under sections 14.1 and 14.5 of the NASCAR rulebook, both of which relate to altering a part provided by a single source.
However, which part NASCAR was referring to was a mystery. Over the years many times the sanctioning body or the team would let everyone in the garage know what the game and the infraction was. Yet after Atlanta, everyone involved fell silent.
At Martinsville Speedway, however, Keselowski finally revealed what the “single source” part was and what was wrong.
“We had repaired a tail board and it had a key feature that NASCAR felt was insufficiently repaired,” Keselowski said. “We didn’t want to use the back panel. We didn’t have new rear panels to put on the car. We had a rear panel with three races on it and we did some repairs to it.
His comments came days after the team’s appeal against the sanctions was rejected by an appeal committee.
“Our intention to appeal the penalty was to show everyone that we didn’t want to run that backboard,” Keselowski said. “If we had a new one, we would have made it work to start with, so it’s a difficult position. Ultimately, it’s NASCAR’s position that parts and pieces must be correct.
And he seemed to blame supply chain issues.
“I think we did our repairs in good faith, but we probably didn’t do a great job,” he said. “Did I think there was a competitive advantage? Probably not, but we put NASCAR in a difficult position of having to make judgments and it’s not fair to them, so it’s one of those situations where I don’t think anybody’s really wrong and nobody’s really is right and it’s probably one of those situations that if we could repeat, we would have begged and borrowed and stolen a new tail and put it on the car, but that’s not the world we lived in.
As for supply chain issues putting teams in a difficult position.
“That’s probably a better question for the guys in operations and manufacturing,” he said. “I know it’s better than two or three months ago, but as to whether it’s perfect or not, it’s probably not the right time for me to answer.”
One of those operations guys is Brian Murphy, associate shop foreman at Stewart-Haas Racing, a team that will field four Next Gen cars in the Cup Series. On the Door, Bumper, Clear podcast, Murphy said it was tough at the start of the season, but teams are adapting.
“Honestly, I think we hit rock bottom,” he said. “I think from now on things will get better, we’re getting more parts, we’ve got more cars and we’ve gotten used to dealing with these parts shortages. At first it was very uncomfortable for us because we’ve always had an unlimited supply of parts and parts and hours and really nothing to hold us back.
“Now we’re kind of going back to our short track roots. The cars are not electrically washed every week; we wipe them by hand and you start turning them over very quickly; the parts are coming out of the cars instantly to be fitted to the cars next week. So we’ve become much more efficient in that regard. It’s part of this Next Gen process, it’s what NASCAR wants, it’s what we need; we need to be more efficient; we have to be more stable with what we are doing and that is what is happening.
These “short track roots” include long hours for those working behind the scenes in stores getting cars ready to race. It’s something that has always been a part of NASCAR life. Beyond that, teams seem to be doing what they’ve always done, adapting to whatever situation they’ve been put in.
Although there was some apprehension before the start of the season regarding supply chain issues, the further the season goes, the more teams seem to adapt and the more fluid the supply chain becomes. For teams that don’t adapt, they’ll have to answer to sponsors and their fans as their cars drop each week in the race order.
As the old saying goes, teams can either lead, follow or get out of the way.