Goodbye, five lug nuts per wheel: NASCAR moving to a single wheel hub on 2021 Cup car

You have just the rest of the 2020 season to savor five lug nuts on each wheel of a Cup Series car. (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
You have just the rest of the 2020 season to savor five lug nuts on each wheel of a Cup Series car. (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Tire changes are getting a lot quicker in the NASCAR Cup Series.

NASCAR said Monday that the 2021 Cup Series car will have a single lug nut hub on each wheel instead of the five studs for lug nuts on each wheel that are on the current cars. That means tire changes will be much more efficient next season.

“For us we felt like from a standpoint of the wheel is that we wanted to get to an 18-inch wheel, an aluminum wheel,” NASCAR vice president John Probst told the NASCAR website. “Once you get to an 18-inch aluminum wheel, the next step for us is to make sure that from a durability standpoint under racing conditions is that it will accept the durability that we need to finish races and then also finish multiple races. To do that, the single nut was our only option.”

With just one main lug nut to attach on each wheel instead of five, pit crews will immediately know if a wheel isn’t tight. Currently, teams and drivers can be penalized if a post-race lug nut check finds that all five lug nuts on each of the four wheels aren’t tight.

There’s no indication that pit stops are going to get all that much faster, however. While tire changes will definitely be quicker with the new standard barring a further reduction in pit crews, NASCAR can keep pit stops at around 13-15 seconds by simply keeping the refueling process at the same rate. A quick tire change does no good if a car doesn’t have gas to use those tires.

The eventual switch to a single lug on each wheel was foreshadowed in 2017 when NASCAR said it was cutting the size of pit crews going forward.

It’s a smart move

Let’s start with the obvious downside of this move, along with other ones NASCAR is making in 2021 and beyond. The switch to a single lug on each wheel minimizes the importance of tire changers. Great tire changers had become a hot commodity for NASCAR teams as fractions of a second on pit road can lead to positions on the race track.

Their importance is greatly diminished going forward. And the minimization of pit stops could also help lead to further staffing reductions for NASCAR teams. With NASCAR moving a lot of the processes for the 2021 car to centralized locations, larger teams especially are looking at job cuts. Job cuts aren’t good at all. It’s never fun to see people have to look for a job because their position has been eliminated.

But that seems to be the unfortunate reality of NASCAR going forward. Costs have only grown even as sponsor revenue and viewership has fallen. And NASCAR and its teams appear to be in significant cost-savings mode.

The move is also one that could only end up enhancing the racing in the Cup Series. Cup racing has become far too reliant on pit stop speed and efficiency, and pushing that balance more toward speed on the track is a great move. Hardly anyone comes to a track to see pit stops. Reducing their importance — while keeping them a necessary part of the event — is a smart idea.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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