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OUTLOOK: NASCAR Teams Learning To Live With Lean Next Gen Parts Supply

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The overwhelming concern looming in the NASCAR season regarding parts shortages is still a relevant conversation, but maybe not that overwhelming, depending on who you ask.

Paul Wolfe laughed as he admitted he isn’t comfortable with his inventory after winning at World Wide Technology Raceway with driver Joey Logano. Wolfe said he’s not sure when he’ll get to a place where he doesn’t worry about it, but said the No. 22 Team Penske group is doing a great job with what he’s got.

“But we’re definitely not in a place where we can feel comfortable about it,” Wolfe said. “Hopefully we’ll get to that eventually, but I think right now everyone is on a level playing field here, so he’s the one who can best manage what he has.”

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NASCAR hoped that by the summer the supply chain problems facing many industries would have taken care of themselves. But as the Cup Series heads into the first and only bye week of the season, that doesn’t appear to be the case, though it appears to be slowly moving in the right direction.

“I’m a little more comfortable than I was at the beginning of the year, but it kind of comes in waves,” said Rudy Fugle, crew chief for William Byron’s 24th entry at Hendrick Motorsports. “There are a lot more accidents this year, so caution rates went up, car damage went up for 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 increase in crash rates, says Hendrick’s Fugle… John Harrelson/Motorsport Images

“If you go three or four weeks without wrecking a car, you can get in really good shape, and then you go two or three straight wrecking races, you’re back just surviving. I don’t feel great. It’s not what we’re used to, but I think we’re still adjusting to what’s going to be the new normal with cars.”

Neither team appears to have a full fleet of cars yet, which is capped at seven. Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Rudy Fugle of the William Byron team believes most are running five cars right now and the lucky ones are running six.

Fugle echoed Wolfe’s sentiments about how you manage what you have. And tough weeks on the racetrack needing parts from a spare car or backup car, like 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 Richard Childress Racing’s Andy Petree. “There were times early on where I was like, man, a couple of bad weeks could be a real problem. I think there are enough global parts out there that everyone can keep racing, even if they hit a rough patch, they can borrow from people.

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

The alliances between teams have helped share parts, while the flexibility in repairs allowed has also helped teams move forward. Images Matt Thacker/Motorsport

Being able to borrow parts if a team is short has helped. Since Childress has a deep alliance pool, Petree said she helps them tap into those closest to them if need be. Another thing he has helped is that NASCAR allows teams to repair bits and pieces. It’s something Fugle said NASCAR officials adjusted a few weeks into the season because they had 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 parts in certain ways,” Fugle said. “They added some parts under the wings that we have to repair. The dividers were breaking. It may have been very, very minor damage, and we can fix it very quickly, but it’s hard if you send them back to the same manufacturer to try to fix them for everyone. So being able to quickly repair them and allow us to run them is a big deal.

“That was allowed through Talladega, and then we got to Talladega, and everybody agreed to let it continue until, I think, this offseason. And (now) it’s pushed a little bit harder to continue to allow us to 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 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 ever missed a race weekend or been in a position where it couldn’t compete. While NASCAR officials acknowledge that it could be a legitimate concern, they were confident it wouldn’t happen.

For Fugle, the lack of cars from his team has not influenced how he has approached the season or made his driver more conservative than usual.

“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 to the race and hopes we win. When it comes to race time, yes, you might be conservative about starting a 500-mile race, but that’s no different than what we’d have done before. There is nothing different, we are doing 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 new car. … What’s hard about this car that makes you nervous is that it makes you worry about crashing or blowing a tire. When you blow a tire, your diffuser goes bad or your rocker box goes bad and those are parts that we don’t have many 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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