Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Is the Single Lug Nut a Success or a Failure?

Now entering the third year of the single lug nut, is it a success or failure?

Josh Calloni: It’s been a success. There were obvious growing pains the first year, with the high frequency of loose wheels falling off creating cautions, but that has smoothed out a bit. While it still happens, the single lug nut better shows the importance of having a reliable pit crew, ensuring the lugnut is tight every time.

Austin Bass: NASCAR’s goal to correlate better with today’s production cars included a switch to an 18-inch aluminum wheel from a 15-inch steel wheel. NASCAR said this change necessitated a single lug to hold up under high-speed conditions that the five lugs would not be able to do as a result of switching to a softer metal, thus making it more susceptible to severe damage and structural failure if any of the five lugs are left loose. With those facts in mind, it has been a success; the cars look great with the 18” aluminum wheels and the consequences of loose lugs are now binary. That gray area is much clearer now, which is another win for the sport.

Mark Kristl: It’s a failure. It’s an all-or-nothing situation changing a tire with one lug nut. With the immense pressure on pit crews to perform the pit stop as fast as possible, their odds of making a mistake are higher with only one lug nut. Year three of the Next Gen car and we still have regular tire issues due to the single lug nut. Meanwhile, in the NASCAR Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series, tires falling off the racecars are a rare occurrence. It is time for NASCAR to design a tire with five lug nuts. Too many torn-up racecars and too many suspensions are piling up in the NASCAR Cup Series. The problem is not the teams, the problem is the single lug nut.

Luken Glover: Put me down on the “it’s been a failure” list. In 2022, there were 14 loose wheel penalties on the year. That increased by one in 2023 with 15. But the issue goes beyond the penalty numbers. This past week, Chris Buescher lost a wheel, causing him to slam the wall so hard that the race was red-flagged for wall repair. Later, Bubba Wallace lost several laps because his left-front wheel lug nut would not come off. NASCAR switched to one lug nut because they believed it was more durable for the expanded 18-inch wheel and it was more relevant to today’s production cars. I applaud NASCAR for trying to get the car to at least look like its street version, which the 18-inch does, but how many cars do you see on the road with one lug nut? The pit crews have done a tremendous job of adapting to the change, and it does require them to be on the money more often. However, with NASCAR racecars being heavier than other series that use one lug nut, the engineering of it still seems a bit faulty.

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Phoenix Raceway is the first Cup event with the new short track package. Do you think the changes will make a difference?

Bass: Hot take here, but the racing at Phoenix — which is not a short track — isn’t that bad, so this may not be the best test case for the new package. There are several tracks that the new car doesn’t perform well on, and those are mostly single-groove circuits. As long as the cars can fan out in the corners, they can put on a decent show, and Phoenix arguably gives drivers the most options of any track on the schedule. Has everyone already forgotten the great racing we saw for the win and for the championship in November? Guys were racing several car lengths below the apron and all the way up to the wall, making contact on occasion. Hopefully, this trial run doesn’t spoil a decent Phoenix product. Let’s revisit the short track package question in a month after they’ve raced on the three true short tracks.

Glover: It’s always hard to give a solid assumption without seeing it in action. The initial takeaways from offseason testing at Phoenix were that the cars could slide around more, and a simplified diffuser will reduce some front downforce with a slightly taller spoiler aiding rear downforce. A lot of it too will attach to the performance of the tires, which have been targeted at increasing tire fall-off during a run. Don’t be surprised if there’s still some significant work to be done after the race occurs, but things should head in the right direction.

Kristl: I won’t hold my breath. NASCAR has struggled mightily with the Cup short track package and it refuses to return horsepower to the cars. Phoenix has been the site of arguably the best Cup short track racing, so if the racing product does not noticeably improve, then the package clearly won’t be the solution.

Calloni: Hard to say for sure. The obvious fix is giving the cars more horsepower, and since we are not there yet, without seeing cars on track, there’s no telling if this is a positive fix. One thing is for sure, the sport is trying to fix the racing product on short tracks, and that’s commendable.

The bottom four Cup regulars in points are all Ford drivers. Is this a coincidence or is there more to it?

Kristl: It’s a coincidence. Noah Gragson and Ryan Preece both were penalized points for a rules infraction, and Gragson then delivered his second-best Cup finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The other two are Kaz Grala and Todd Gilliland. Gilliland ran well at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Grala is a rookie. The Cup season has consisted of two drafting-style racetracks and one intermediate. Let’s see who the bottom four series regulars are on April 1 after four short tracks and one road course. To boot, the ninth race of the season is at an intermediate. So in a little over a month, we’ll have a better indication of who is in massive trouble this Cup season.

Glover: We’re only three races into the season, and there’s more to the story than what’s on the surface. Gragson and Preece are overcoming penalties issued from the previous weekend at Atlanta, yet Gragson just scored a sixth-place finish at Las Vegas. Grala is part-time with Rick Ware Racing, which is still one of the more underfunded teams in the garage. Gilliland had two rocket ships at Daytona International Speedway and Atlanta, but he was caught up in wrecks to push him down the leaderboard. More needs to be seen to assess where Ford is at, but if you look at the top of the standings as well, you will find the reigning champion, Ryan Blaney, sitting in second.

Calloni: No, this is merely a coincidence. Both Gragson and Preece are among the bottom four, and they both just got stuck with a hefty points penalty, which is largely out of their doing behind the wheel. Gilliland has shown very good speed in two of the three races thus far but crashed out of both of them, reflecting his current 32nd-place standing. Ford has had a good start to the season, and bad luck is the primary reason why it takes each of the bottom four positions early on.

Bass: It is a coincidence that those four Fords bring up the rear of the field because two of the three events have been crapshoots filled with carnage, and two of those four teams have received L1 penalties. Otherwise, Preece and Gragson would be in the top 25 in points without their 35-point deductions. Fords have won all of the poles and a third of the stages so far this season, and have led a lot of laps too, but its drivers own 11 of the 18 DNFs that Lady Luck has dished out in the opening trio of races. That trend should level itself out over the next handful of weeks.

Who else should drive the No. 1 TRICON Garage Toyota in the Truck Series?

Glover: With Brent Crews just a couple of weeks away from turning 16, he would lead my short list of developing drivers to get a shot on a short track. Trevor Bayne is also someone I’d like to see get a shot in the No. 1. He recently signed with Toyota’s newest Cup team, Legacy Motor Club, as the driver optimization leader, and he competed in 12 Xfinity Series races with Joe Gibbs Racing the past two years. Lastly, seeing someone like Kasey Kahne return to Trucks would be intriguing. He won five of six Truck races he competed in during his career, and he told reporters last year that he would be open to a return to NASCAR.

Bass: Ten Truck races on the schedule don’t have a driver slated in the No. 1 machine. Toyota has several drivers in its development pipeline, ranging from the Xfinity Series to the grassroots late models level, many worthy of an opportunity at TRICON. Toni Breidinger should continue getting exposure in those two remaining companion races with the ARCA Menards Series at Kansas Speedway at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and it would be fitting to put an Earnhardt (Jeffery) in the truck at Talladega Superspeedway. As soon as Gio Ruggiero turns 18, he would be eligible for the seat at Kansas in the fall. Another youngster, Crews, should be behind the wheel at North Wilkesboro Speedway, where 16-year-olds are eligible to race. Fort Mill, S.C.’s Isabella Robusto could be tested at her home track of Darlington Raceway and Taylor Reimer should get a chance to impress at World Wide Technology Raceway. Last, but not least, Ryan Truex should get a shot at Texas Motor Speedway and another audition at Nashville Superspeedway for a full-time ride.

Calloni: Crews. The soon-to-be 16-year-old took ARCA by storm last season, finishing inside of the top three in all but one of his four starts, which is even more impressive when you consider his young age. Getting him a start at a short track could show what he’s got behind the wheel, and help further his development along.

Kristl: Aric Almirola joined Toyota with a part-time NXS slate for JGR. He has not started a Truck race since 2012. He’s done well in his 78 career Truck starts, accruing two wins and 38 top 10s. With his Cup experience, he would be an instant contender in any Truck event at a Cup racetrack.

About the author

Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.

Austin Bass joined Frontstretch in 2024 as a contributor to combine his passion for racing and writing. Born in Wilson, NC, he developed a passion for racing at an early age while attending local short tracks on Saturday nights with his dad and watching the stars of the sport from their living room on Sunday afternoons.

Bass is a graduate of UNC-Wilmington with a degree in Communication Studies where he developed a deep understanding, appreciation, and love for the Oxford comma. He is an industrial degreaser salesman for Cox Industries whenever he is not writing or talking about racing.

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

Josh joined Frontstretch in 2023 and currently covers the ARCA Menards Series. Born and raised in Missouri, Josh has been watching motorsports since 2005. He currently is studying for a Mass Communication degree at Lindenwood University

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Joshua

Single lug is a fail. In fact, I’ve NEVER seen one on a street vehicle. Give the cars more horsepower and stop messing with aero so much..on that note…expand the charters to 40 so people like Dale Jr can start a race team.

Bill B

So do you expand the number of charters again when someone wants to start a team and 40 isn’t enough?

Personally, I hate the charters but I see them as a necessary evil to create transferable value for existing teams.

But there is a way for Jr to start a team. Do what anyone else (cough… Trackhouse- cough) does and buy one. S

Agree, single lug nut is a fail and was unnecessary to begin with.

gbvette

You’ve “NEVER seen one on a street vehicle”? The racing center lock wheel is basically the same thing as a “knock off” wheel which have been in use for over 100 years. 50’s and 60’s Jags, and MG’s, midyear Corvettes, and other street cars have used knock off wheels. The automakers only lost interest in them when the government outlawed the 2 and 3 bar spinners that held the wheel on, because some government clown decided they were dangerous to pedestrians. The problem isn’t the wheel, it’s the teams, no other race series in the world has the wheel issues NASCAR teams do.

JT

I agree with this take. Virtually all other racing series run single-lug wheels and have little, to no issues with them. They are used on Aussie Super Cars which are very similar in size and weight to the current Cup car. The issue is that in Cup pit crews have to do more pit stops and do them faster during a race than other series. The pit stops, especially under cautions, are a race unto themselves. The crews’ pit performances are critical to gaining all-important track positions. Sometimes coming out first on the race’s final caution pit stop determines the race winner. Sometimes attempting to beat other cars off pit road leads to mistakes, such as improperly seating the wheel on the hub. I think that making minor changes to the wheel, hub and lug might help minimize the loose lug problem.

DoninAjax

A “short track” is less than one mile in length, NOT a mile or less!

Marshall

I think not only is the single lug a failure so far, the 18″ wheel is also a failure. How many times in the past did undamaged cars get stuck on the track requiring a tow before the 18″ wheel? It’s ridiculous that cars spinning out and blowing a tire have so much trouble moving. Plus the 18″ wheels have allowed for larger brakes which is bad for oval racing, and the rims look pretty stupid.

Glen H

Is a single lug nut a failure or are NASCAR Cup Series pit crews not up to the task? Every major racing series that doesn’t have NASCAR as part of its name uses a single lug and they don’t have tires falling off because the lug wasn’t tightened correctly.

sb

The other forms of racing that use a single lug also don’t have to do spit stops with only 2 tire changers…or in the case of sports cars, make much longer stops. BIG difference.

DoninAjax

How many steel wheels came off a car with five lug nuts when it hasn’t been a broken wheel? How many have come off since the brilliant idea to go to one nut holding an IMSA-inspired aluminum wheel? Isn’t NA$CAR deciding on the IMSA penalties now?

Echo

I think the rims need LED lights to add excitement.

sdelfin

I consider it a success. Of course there are more loose wheels because if there is a mistake, the wheel is definitely coming off. However, there are no more cases of a wheel that’s on the car, but loose with the potential to work itself completely free or make the car undriveable. There are other benefits too. Overall, the single lugnut is a lateral move in my eyes, no better, but no worse as far as the racing goes. Each has pros and cons. And Xfinity still uses the old wheels so we can compare directly. I do prefer the smaller wheel and brakes from the old car though.

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