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How Do NASCAR Lug Nuts Work? (Full Explanation)

One tiny mishap with NASCAR lug nuts can cost teams both on and off the track. The lug nuts used in NASCAR are very unique, and they’ve changed quite a bit in recent years. This means many fans may be wondering how exactly NASCAR lug nuts work.

NASCAR lug nuts work to keep a wheel bolted in its proper place. This ensures the driver can safely operate the car at high speed, assuming the lug nut is properly bolted on. Historically, NASCAR wheels required 5 lug nuts. When NASCAR introduced the Next Gen car, they required just 1. 

Below, we will reveal how NASCAR lug nuts work to keep the cars operating efficiently. We will also discuss how the Next Gen car’s lug nuts are different, and why NASCAR changed the type of lug nut for 2022. We will also talk about cross threading, and what teams do to prevent it. 

What Are Lug Nuts In NASCAR?

NASCAR lug nuts keep the wheels firmly attached to the car, which allows the driver to operate the car at peak performance without issue. NASCAR lug nuts are built for high performance, and so they are both lightweight and durable, with 1 lug nut for each wheel – previously 5 were used.

NASCAR pit stops are one of the most entertaining aspects of a Cup Series race. 5 athletes (6 in the race’s second half) climb over the wall and provide service to the car. Often, they change tires, refill the fuel tank, and make other necessary adjustments in under 14 seconds. 

When you watch a pit stop, pay attention to the front and rear tire changers. You’re going to see them unscrew a bolt so the tire carrier or the jack man can take off the tire and place a fresh tire onto the car. That bolt they just unscrewed and will refasten once the new wheel is in place is the lug nut

How Are The Next Gen Lug Nuts Different To Past Generations?

NASCAR’s Next Gen car introduce in 2022 only uses 1 lug nut per wheel. For several generations, NASCAR used 15-inch steel wheels that needed 5 lug nuts in a pentagonal pattern. When the Next Gen car was rolled out, the wheels that NASCAR introduced were 18-inch aluminum wheels. 

NASCAR reasoned that they wanted their new wheels to better resemble those seen on street legal production cars. This also came with renovations to the bodies of the Toyota Camrys, Ford Mustangs, and Chevy Camaros, returning NASCAR closer to its older days when the cars looked like those you would find at a dealership. 

New cars, whether it was the Car of Tomorrow (CoT), Generation 6, or Next Gen, force NASCAR to spend years running multiple tests in order to bring the best performing and safest cars into fruition. When they tested the tires for the Next Gen car, they noticed that the 5 lug nut pattern was not the safest, discovering it decreased tire durability by 30 percent. 

To negate potential crashes because of poor tires or the need for more pit stops, NASCAR swapped out the 5 lug nut pattern and opted to use just 1 lug nut instead

Back To Pit Lane

When you watch a NASCAR pit stop before the Next Gen era, watch the tire changer and you will see them unscrew 5 lug nuts in a circular motion, quite different from a tire change on a production car. But when you watch the stops during the Next Gen era, you will notice the tire changers unscrewing just 1 lug nut. 

You must watch this closely, as it is barely noticeable unless you zero in on the tire changer. You can also hear them unscrewing the 5 nuts on the older cars if those old videos of pit stops provide a close-up. In the Next Gen era, you’ll just hear one lug nut per wheel.

KEY POINTS

• Lug nuts are the nuts used to keep the tires on every NASCAR vehicle

• Cars used to use 5 lug nuts per wheel

• NASCAR moved to a single lug nut system with the introduction of the Next Gen car in 2022

When Did NASCAR Move To Single Lug Nut Wheels?

NASCAR switched to single lug nut wheels in 2022 when they introduced the Next Gen car. In theory, the switch to 1 lug nut would give the cars better on-track performance and wheel durability than when they used 5 lug nuts per wheel. This move was met with varying reactions from teams and fans

This is because some fans felt that NASCAR contradicted itself. NASCAR claimed it wanted the new cars to better resemble their production line equivalents. Yet how many cars, trucks, or SUVs out there have just 1 lug nut? That would be tough to find. 

It was something NASCAR senior vice president John Probst acknowledged in May 2020. He admitted that while he could not name any production line cars with single lug nut tires, he did know most production vehicles had 18-inch aluminum wheels. And as mentioned earlier, it is something many fans and those with little knowledge of NASCAR would notice. 

They would, however, notice that the wheels were 3 inches shorter than those on the production line. Hence NASCAR’s move to 18-inch aluminum wheels

All About Performance And Safety

The reality is, NASCAR needs to strive to find happy mediums. They want the cars to look good. But they also need them to be safe and to perform as advertised. In the case of lug nuts, the traditional 5 lug nut combo wasn’t cutting it. This forced them to switch to 1 lug nut. 

But if fans were talking about the single lug nut not resembling a production car, they are also forgetting about a few other components. Most notably roof flaps, lack of doors, spoilers, no windshield wipers – we could make an entire list on the differences between the Next Gen car and their road counterparts

Some of the components listed above keep the cars safer, like no doors and roof flaps. As for lug nuts, the decision was to ensure the cars remained safe yet performed at peak capacity. And if you look at road Camrys, Camaros, and Mustangs, their NASCAR counterparts resemble them more now than ever before, despite some differences in aesthetics intended to improve performance and safety. 

How Do Next Gen NASCAR Lug Nuts Work?

Next Gen NASCAR lug nuts work like the Gen 6 ones. If you compare the Next Gen lug nuts to the old ones, you will notice that the new lug nuts are much larger than the old ones, and they also have thicker threads. The new lug nuts are better suited to the softer aluminum wheels of the Next Gen car.

It wasn’t uncommon to see tire changers just throw the old lug nuts off the car while they changed the tires, they were so small. That’s not the case with the new, substantially larger NASCAR lug nut. The thicker threads on the new lug nuts did raise concerns about potential cross threading. 

Cross threading occurs when lug nuts cut new threads in a wheel, and an imperfect fit occurs. This causes the wheel to hold the wrong amount of torque – not an ideal situation if you are driving a car at high speeds down a superspeedway. Early in the Next Gen’s life span, drivers like Kaz Grala and Ty Dillon were having tire issues from cross threading

NOTE: Another concern for the Next Gen lug nuts was cost. The old lug nuts cost about $4 per nut, while the new ones can range between $200 and $300 per nut.

Upside Of The Next Gen Lug Nuts

Anything innovative will take a learning curve, and even a component as simple yet important as different lug nuts are no exception. Financially, it was the better option. While the new lug nuts cost more money per unit, they were also better equipped to preserve the new aluminum wheels. 

Aluminum is a soft metal, meaning it is more prone to damage. Since NASCAR found that the 5 lug nut combo was not feasible for its cars because it only took 1 faulty nut to render an aluminum wheel useless, the single lug nut won out. 

This is especially true when you watch pit stops before the advent of the Next Gen car. Since tire changers unscrewed and reapplied lug nuts so quickly, there was no way they would properly tighten every single lug nut without at least a little bit of cross threading. Despite the older lug nuts’ threads being thinner than the Next Gen’s lug nut. 

With the soft metal that aluminum is, even a slight cross thread would put the wheel at risk for heavy damage. The single lug nut, while it caused issues early on in its usage, significantly decreases this risk

Adjustments To The Pit Stop

While NASCAR tire changers could theoretically unscrew and reapply just 1 lug nut faster, things are not so clearly cut. Although the tire changers have unscrewed lug nuts within 0.8 seconds, the truth is the pit stops would not be significantly faster, as Probst pointed out in May 2020

This is because the new lug nuts carry more torque than the old lug nuts, forcing tire changes to keep the air gun on a tad longer to ensure the tires were properly fastened onto the car. In early testing, NASCAR discovered that tightening the nuts to proper torque took a half-second longer. 

KEY POINTS

• NASCAR moved to single lug nuts largely as a result of moving to new aluminum wheels

• The single lug nuts are much larger and thicker than previous iterations

• Even though there are 4 fewer lug nuts per tire, pit stops haven’t gotten much shorter

How Do NASCAR Lug Nuts Not Cross?

NASCAR lug nuts don’t cross as teams take car when putting them on and removing them from wheels. They also clean them regularly. After cleaning, the lug nuts are air dried. This method keeps them from rusting and prevents debris build-up, keeping them performing at max capacity. 

NASCAR tire changers are among the best in the world at what they do. And in the past, they were tasked with unbolting and rebolting 20 lug nuts on a typical pit stop. That’s 20 chances to cross thread a lug nut. And while they only need to deal with 4 on a typical pit stop in the Next Gen era, the lug nuts take longer to fasten and unfasten. So the challenge to prevent cross threading remains. 

Lug Nuts Will Wear Down

Yet although NASCAR teams can keep the lug nuts operating well long-term, eventually they are going to wear out. Teams must know when to replace their lug nuts, which will spare their wheels from damage during practice or an event. 

All About Torque

NASCAR pit crews can apply too much or too little torque to the lug nuts, and if this occurs, a wheel can be either under or over-compressed. To prevent this, mechanics will set a fastener’s tightness into a range. This helps to prevent both over and under torquing, as both can be equally detrimental to a car. 

While over-torquing can permanently damage a wheel, you may see tire changers opt to slightly over torque tires to prevent under torquing them. While this sounds counterintuitive since over-torquing can be detrimental, the idea is to keep the car from suffering severe maintenance issues. 

Under torquing can cause cars to lose a tire, which in turn puts the car at risk for severe damage. Too much over torquing may cause the wheel to bend, and this can also knock a car out of a race, but it carries far less risk of completely totaling the car as under torquing can. 

Therefore, a NASCAR tire changer must know how much over torque the wheel can handle. If they over torque too much, they are further putting the cars at risk of permanently damaging the nuts and bolts, which defeats the purpose of preventing under torquing. 

Final Thoughts

NASCAR lug nuts work by keeping the wheels secure on the car. With the switch to the softer aluminum wheels in the Next Gen car from 2022 compared to the steel wheels used in the past, only 1 larger lug nut per wheel is now required instead of 5, although they are now more expensive.