The overwhelming concern coming into the NASCAR season over a parts shortage is still a relevant conversation but perhaps not as overwhelming, depending on who you ask.
Paul Wolfe laughed as he admitted he was uncomfortable with his inventory after winning World Wide Technology Raceway with driver Joey Logano. Wolfe said he doesn’t know when he’ll get to not care, but said Team Penske’s No. 22 group is doing a great job with what they have.
“But we’re definitely not in a place where we can feel comfortable,” Wolfe said. “Hopefully we will get there eventually, but I think at the moment everyone is on a level playing field here, so whoever can handle what they have best is.”
NASCAR hoped that by summer, the supply chain issues that many industries would have resolved themselves. But as the Cup Series hits the first and only week of the season, that doesn’t seem to be the case, even though it seems to be moving slowly in the right direction.
“I’m a little more comfortable than at the start of the year, but it’s going a bit in waves,” said Rudy Fugle, team manager for the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team of William Byron. “There are a lot more crashes this year, so caution rates are up, damage to cars is up because of different things – flat tires in practice and crashes in the race. So you have a lot of teams going through a lot of cars.
“If you get three or four weeks without destroying a car, you can be in pretty good shape, then you do two or three consecutive destruction runs, you’re back just sort of. I don’t feel good. This n It’s not what we’re used to, but I think we’re still adjusting to what the new normal is going to be with cars.”
No team appears to have a full fleet of cars yet, which is capped at seven. Hendrick Motorsports team boss Rudy Fugle of William Byron’s team believes most are currently running with five cars and most lucky with six.
Fugle echoed Wolfe’s sentiments about how you deal with what you have. And tough weeks at the racetrack needing parts from a spare car or back-up car – like Hendrick had to with Chase Elliott at Darlington and Byron at Dover – don’t help.
“It’s not ideal, but it’s better than it was,” said Andy Petree of Richard Childress Racing. “There were times in the beginning where it was like, man, a few bad weeks, that could be a real problem. I think there are enough world coins for everyone to keep running, even if they have a bad run, they can borrow from people.
“I think it’s a decent place. But it’s not ideal and we’ll get there eventually.
Being able to borrow parts if a team is short has helped. With Childress having a deep alliance pool, Petree said it helps them to be able to leverage their loved ones if needed. Something else that has helped is NASCAR allowing teams to fix parts and parts. It’s something Fugle said NASCAR officials adjusted a few weeks into the season due to limited parts.
“I don’t know what race it was, but after race two or three they allowed us to start doing a number of repairs with certain parts in certain ways,” Fugle said. “They added parts under the wings that we had to fix. The separators were damaged. It can be very, very small damage, and we can fix it very quickly, but it’s difficult if you send it back to the same manufacturer to try to fix it for everyone. So being able to do a quick fix on those and have them work for us is a big deal.
“It was cleared through Talladega, and then we got to Talladega, and everyone agreed to let it continue until, I think, that break. And (now) he’s been pushed a little further to keep letting us do what we need to do, what we really appreciate.
Fugle praised the communication between NASCAR and its teams about the need to make such adjustments or other decisions as the season progresses. Once it became clear what the industry was facing, the teams and NASCAR came together at a stronger level to find compromises.
Despite the stress, no team missed a race weekend or was in a position where they couldn’t race. While NASCAR officials acknowledge this could be a legitimate concern, they were confident it wouldn’t happen.
For Fugle, his team’s lack of cars hasn’t played into the way he’s approached the season or made his driver more conservative than normal.
“We all know we have a lot at stake,” Fugle said. “Our sponsors pay a lot of money; Mr. Hendrick gives us everything we need to race and he expects us to win. When it comes to race time, yes you can be conservative about how you start a 500 mile race, but it’s nothing different than what we would have done before. There is nothing different – we do our best to win every week.
“This car is a challenge at the moment because we don’t have the notes. So there are always more questions with a brand new car. … What’s difficult about this car that pisses you off is that it makes you worry about breaking or exploding a tire. When you blow out a tire, your diffuser is screwed or your rocker arm is messed up and those are parts we don’t have much of. So it’s definitely on our mind, but we have to race and we have to win, so we have to push those limits but not be reckless.