DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A new season dawned in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing last Sunday, and it was new in more ways than one.
Changes over the winter included a new nose for all four makes that compete in the series, new pavement was laid down at Daytona and a new style of racing, featuring two-car drafts, made its debut at Speedweeks.
The pit crews also did pit stops without a catch-can man, for the first time in many years.
One less crewman over the walls means that the six who do still go over have more stuff to do, and in a 14-second time span. The catch-can man did several things: held the gas can for the fueler on a two-can stop, made chassis adjustments and helped signal the driver and crew chief as to how much fuel got in the car.
“It’s a lot harder for me, especially when it’s a two-can stop,” said Scott Wood, gas man for Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Toyota. “Instead of the catch-can man holding the can while I switch, I have to hustle and get the other can before the stop is over.”
Wood is a former jack man turned fueler, and that’s not the only thing he had to adapt to with the change. The fueling rig itself changed.
“It’s a bigger probe on the end, and you still have to hit the four-inch hole on a moving target when you’re fueling,” Wood said. “The old probe, when you hit the opening, would go in three or four inches. This one, it only goes in about three-quarters of an inch, and if it’s not exactly right and hooked up, you don’t get any fuel in the car.”
The added equipment for the rig is also heavier, Wood said.
“With the new probe and its apparatus for venting back into the system, the can went from about 88 pounds to about 94 pounds,” he said. “That’s not a big difference on one stop, but when you make eight or so a race, it adds up.”
Now, fuel men are anything but petite. They are usually tall and broad and train to handle the weight of the can and the gas, which weighs around eight pounds per gallon. Having to slue that can and its bulkier probe around through three dimensions is not easy.
As for adjustments, which the catch-can man used to handle, in most cases the rear tire carriers have been given that responsibility, Wood said.
“I can make adjustments, if it’s a stop where we don’t have a lot of fuel, but in general the rear catchers do it now,” he said. “We have trained it up to where it works pretty well.”
The fact that the announcement was made late last season gave the pit crew coaches enough time to plan out the duties among the six crewmen who are left over the wall, Wood said.
“We did a lot of practice and tuning on the process, early enough so that we were ready for it when it got here,” Wood said.
One problem that made itself known at Daytona was the propensity for the dry-break system to come unstuck while the car was jacked up on the right side.
For such a system to work, the seal has to be constant; otherwise, it shuts off to prevent air from getting in the fuel tank and fuel from sloshing out onto the ground. Air, like liquid, has mass, and if there’s air in the tank, that means less go-go juice for the engine.
While the car is jacked up on the right side, it changes the angle of the probe. With the decreased amount of penetration by the probe, it means the fueler still has to keep the seal tight. And it’s not like the car is motionless while all this is going on; the tire changers tug on the wheels to get them off, and the carriers slam the new wheels on.
All of that rocks the boat, so to speak. If the seal breaks, the fueler has to reconnect, and that takes time.
“It’s a new ball game,” said Wood with a rueful smile.
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