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Jeff Burton and crew chief Scott Miller get a leg up on the Charlotte All-star week competition by winning pit crew challenge


One thing Jeff Burton doesn't have to worry about is his pit crew -- now officially the best in NASCAR (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Jeff Burton is on a roll this spring, coming into the two weeks of Charlotte, with the All-star race Saturday night leading up to next weekend's 600. And Burton's pit crew is a big reason for Burton's surge – as the crew showed here Thursday night in rolling through NASCAR's annual Sprint Cup pit crew championship.
   Burton's crew, headed by crew chief Scott Miller, beat the Richard Petty-Reed Sorenson crew in the finals of the two-hour event at Time Warner Arena, and in record time.
   "We take it very seriously, and these guys truly are athletes," Burton said. "These guys work on it so hard….
   "Ninety-nine percent of the people in the country couldn't do the fitness program they do. They put a lot of heart into it, and it's a lot of work. It's not just a bunch of mechanics who pick up an air wrench or a jack. They train NFL-caliber training.
   "We had a tough night on pit road at Darlington…and the cool thing about this is – it's like what makes Tiger Wood great: he can forget about the last shot and just concentrate on the next shot. These guys did a great job.
   "Now we've got the first pit stall for the All-star race. And as badly as I usually qualify, we don't usually see that end of pit road."
   None of the Burton crewmen won any of the seven individual championships at stake. Those honors went to Jeff Kerr, jackman for Martin Truex Jr.; Preston Cordell and Eric Hoyle, gas man and catch can man for Truex; Dennis Terry and Shannon Keys, front tire changer and front tire carrier, also for the Truex team; and Jake Seminara and Kenny Barber, rear tire changer and rear tire carrier, for the Kyle Busch team.
   Matt Clark, the pit crew coach for the Burton-Miller team, said "It was important that we went through without penalties.
   "Our number one goal is to be penalty-free.
   "Number two, these guys are all in terrific shape, and that's a tribute to our strength trainer and our athletic trainer. And that gave us some horsepower."
   The 'horsepower' Clark referred to is human-horsepower – the seven-man crew has to push the car from one of the arena to the other (no fumes indoors). And putting 110-pound Kim Burton at the wheel, instead of husband and regular driver Jeff, was a bit of a weight break too.
   While many teams have 'contract' pit crews, Sunday specialists, car owner Richard Childress insists his crew must be full-time with the team. Newcomer Terry Spalding, the new rear tire changer, only two days on the job, is the only 'contract' man at the moment.
   The key to winning races on pit road isn't speed, of course, it's not making mistakes. And it's about chemistry…and sometimes it's about heart – and to a man Burton's crew pointed to Curt Bowman, the 44-year-old gas man, as the key to the team, and the heart of the pit crew.
   "Curt is an inspiration to every one of us…for everything," front tire changer Daniel Blizzard said.
   The rest of the Burton-Miller crew: Adam North, jackman; Andrew Childers,  catch can man; Jon Wallace, front tire carrier; and Chris Martin, rear tire carrier.
    Kim Burton had a slight scare in the early rounds, when she misjudged the braking point and nearly plowed into the wall. She was able to laugh about it afterwards: "I wanted to make sure I went all the way into the 'cones' (at the end of the run) before I even touched the brakes," she said. "And it wasn't stopping. I was thinking 'Oh, Lord, we're going to crash.'
   "But the next two runs I was on."
   Jeff Burton: "Coming over here, my wife told me that if anyone was in her way, they'd better move, because she wasn't stopping short.
   "That's how competitive she is."
   The Thursday night competition had barely gotten underway before controversy blew up – some crewmen, after the opening round of eliminations, discovered that wheel spacers on some eight Sprint "show cars" being used for the individual one-on-ones were larger than others. That, of course, affected the speed at which tire changers could tighten the lug nuts without errors. Competition officials then changed the errant wheel spacers for later rounds. The early standings, however, were not changed, thus some individual competitors said they were taken out of the running for individual titles.

Jeff Burton: a leg up on the All-star competition (Photo: Getty Images by NASCAR)



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