INSIGHT: NASCAR teams learning to live with lean Next Gen parts supply

The overwhelming concern coming into the NASCAR season concerning a parts shortage is still a relevant conversation but perhaps not as overwhelming, depending on whom you ask.

Paul Wolfe laughed when admitting he is not comfortable with his inventory after winning at World Wide Technology Raceway with driver Joey Logano. Wolfe said he isn’t sure when he’ll get to a place of not worrying about it but said the No. 22 Team Penske group is doing a great job with what they have.

“But we’re definitely not in a spot where we can feel comfortable about it,” Wolfe said. “Hopefully, we’ll eventually get to that, but I think right now it’s just everyone is on an equal playing field here, so it’s whoever can manage what they’ve got best.”

NASCAR hoped that by the summer the supply chain issues facing many industries would have righted themselves. But as the Cup Series hits the first and only off week of the season that doesn’t seem to be the case, although it seems to be slowly moving in the right direction.

“I’m a little more comfortable than in the beginning of the year, but it kind of goes in waves,” said Rudy Fugle, crew chief for William Byron’s No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports entry. “There are a lot more accidents this year, so caution rates are up, car damages are up from different things — flat tires in practice and accidents in the race. So you have a lot of teams going through a lot of cars.

It’s a bad time for an uptick in accident rates, notes Hendrick’s Fugle… John Harrelson/Motorsport Images

“If you get three or four weeks of not wrecking a car, you can get in pretty good shape, and then you go two or three races in a row of wrecking, you’re back just kind of scraping by. I don’t feel great. 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 seems to have a full fleet of cars yet, which is capped at seven. Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Rudy Fugle of William Byron’s team believes most are operating with five cars right now and the lucky ones with six.

Fugle echoed Wolfe’s sentiments about it’s all about how you manage what you have. And tough weeks at the racetrack needing parts from a spare car or a backup car — as Hendrick had to do with Chase Elliott at Darlington and Byron at Dover — doesn’t help.

“It’s not ideal, but it’s better than it was,” said Andy Petree of Richard Childress Racing. “There were early times on that it was like, man, a couple of bad weeks it could be real trouble. I think there are enough global parts out there that everyone is going to be able to keep racing, even if they have a bad run, they can borrow from people.

“I think it’s an OK place. But it’s not ideal and we’ll eventually get there.”

Team alliances have helped with parts sharing, while flexibility in permitted repairs has also aided teams to keep rolling. Matt Thacker/Motorsport Images

Being able to borrow parts if a team is short has helped. With Childress having a deep alliance pool, Petree said it helps them be able to pull from those closest to them if needed. Something else that’s helped is NASCAR allowing teams to repair parts and pieces. It is something Fugle said NASCAR officials adjusted a few weeks into the season because of having limited parts.

“I don’t know what race it was, but after race two or three, they allowed us to start doing a certain amount of repairs with certain pieces in certain ways,” Fugle said. “They added some underwing parts we got to repair. Splitters were getting damaged. It might have been very, very small damage, and we can fix it very quickly, but it’s hard if you’re sending them back to the same manufacturer to try to fix them for everybody. So, being able to do a quick repair on those and letting us run them is a pretty big deal.

“That was allowed through Talladega, and then we got to Talladega, and everybody agreed to let it go on until I think, this break. And (now) it’s been pushed a little more forward to keep letting us do what we need to do, which we really appreciate.”

Fugle praised the communication between NASCAR and its teams about having to make such adjustments or other decisions as the season has progressed. Once it became clear what the industry was up against, the teams and NASCAR came together on a stronger level to find compromises.

Despite the stress, no team has missed a race weekend or been in a position where it couldn’t race. While NASCAR officials acknowledge it might be a legitimate concern, they were confident it wouldn’t happen.

For Fugle, his team’s lack of cars has not played into how it has approached the season or made his driver more conservative than normal.

“We all know we have a lot on the line,” Fugle said. “Our sponsors pay a lot of money; Mr. Hendrick gives us everything we need to go race, and he expects us to win. When it goes race time, yeah, you may be conservative on how you start a race that’s 500 miles, but that’s nothing different from what we would have done before. There’s nothing different — we’re doing everything we can to win every week.

“This car is a challenge right now 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 puts you on edge is that it makes you worry about wrecking or blowing a tire. When you blow a tire, your diffuser is screwed up, or your rocker box gets messed up and those are parts we don’t have a lot 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.”

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