BROOKLYN, Mich. — After three scary wrecks because of brake failures during the past month, NASCAR decided to do nothing to require teams to run more durable packages.
And that appears to be just the way the teams want it.
Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray all have had brakes fail at high speed, Logano at Kansas triggering the May 13 accident where Aric Almirola broke his back, and Johnson and McMurray last week at Pocono.
The reduced downforce, low-drag package of 2017 has resulted in faster straightaway speeds, meaning drivers are often on the brake earlier going into the corner. The corner speeds are also lower with drivers often on the brake longer.
“The driver uses way more brake [now],” Logano said. “Over the years, every team tries to lighten the brake package as much as they can.
“We are dropping off on spoiler and drag and all that, and we are finding the edge. … It is something that every team is going through. It isn’t just us. It is not like there is an advantage to one or the other. Everyone has to figure out what is right.”
Because drivers don’t run around many cars in practice, they get enough air flow underneath and around the car, and the brakes don’t heat as much as in the race. And, of course, they never do a full fuel run without stopping in practice.
“We could have prevented it if we had known we had a situation arising,” Johnson crew chief Chad Knaus said. “We didn’t see any indications of any brake problems or failures or even a hint of it during practice on Saturday.
“If we had, we would have adjusted, clearly.”
Teams have a choice of several approved brake calipers and brake mounts (some teams have developed their own). Knaus said he expects teams will beef up their brake packages for the high-speed tracks. NASCAR said it is not planning any imminent changes to rules for brake packages but is monitoring the issues that teams have had.
When asked if this is something that teams can handle without NASCAR intervention, Knaus didn’t mince words.
“Absolutely,” Knaus said. “These are all team issues. It has nothing to do with NASCAR and what they’re doing [with rules].”
While a crew chief doesn’t want more rules, it seems drivers agree. Logano said he doesn’t think that NASCAR needs to step in.
“It is not something that I think needs to be mandated, just something everyone needs to learn the new limit,” Logano said. “We have crossed it a couple times now. We get in these situations where the cars are challenging to handle in traffic right now.
“Any time you put a bigger brake package on, you are giving up performance of your car. You have to have something you can race to the end, too. Do you want to go fast for 10 laps or go fast at the 400th mile? I want to go fast at the end.”
That some teams have not had problems shows that those who have had issues need to take another look.
“Sometimes teams have to learn lessons the hard way,” said Logano’s teammate Brad Keselowski. “And that’s kind of the growing pains of the sport. And I would suspect, over the next few months, especially the hot summer months, that we’ll see a lot of teams go to a more robust package.
“And to NASCAR’s credit, within the rules there are more robust packages available or allowed to be run that to my understanding have not been run by the teams that have had issues, and they will have to reconsider that, with failures of this sort.”
Roush Fenway Racing technical director Kevin Kidd said that he doesn’t think his team has given up speed in using more durable brake components. Kidd said if NASCAR makes any rules on brakes, it needs to do it from a cost containment standpoint.
“We’ve probably taken a reasonably conservative approach at RFR, and I think it’s paid off for us,” Kidd said. “I think we’ve hit it about right. I think teams are going to back up to us. The speed gains that you get from that little [bit] of brake that you take out of it is pretty negligible.”
Joe Gibbs Racing also hasn’t appeared to have had brake issues. Kyle Busch had the benefit of clean air much of the Pocono race, and he didn’t have any brake problems at all.
“Other guys were exploring with what they’ve run in the past, and you can’t necessarily do the same things with the lower drag package,” Busch said. “When you let off the gas with these cars, they keep going, where the other ones, you never wanted to get all the way out of the gas because you were pulling so much air.
“That’s just the difference. You’ve got to be on the brakes more to slow these cars down.”
Drivers will try to have confidence in their brakes. Kyle Larson, McMurray’s teammate, said he started feeling his brakes weakening a little bit at Pocono and had to change how he raced to use less brake.
Johnson said he might have to do the same to take care of the brakes.
“I just used the brakes too much,” Johnson said. “I’ve got to take some responsibility in that, and my driving style lends to aggressive braking, and we will make sure that we have a beefed-up braking system going back to Pocono here [in late July].
“You know the environment has changed. With the long straightaway into Turn 1 at Pocono like that and a low-downforce package, it just put more of a burden on the brake system than we anticipated.”
The wrecks because of brake failure rattle even the drivers who aren’t in the crashes.
“That is pretty much the most terrifying accident you can have as a driver, because you have a chance to think about it,” Keselowski said. “You know what’s coming. And you know it’s not going to be good. And there’s nothing you can do but kind of ride the roller coaster.
“And a lot of times those type of accidents are going to be the ones that really hurt. So it hasn’t been fun to watch, because I can relate to it.”