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Live, from Downtown Charlotte! NASCAR's All-Star pit crew championships


Over-the-wall NASCAR crewmen -- like Jake Seminara -- have to be not only fast and good but fearless -- there's always a driver coming in behind you at 100 mph, and you just hope he's got good brakes.  (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)



   By Mike Mulhern

   Quick: Who's the fastest right-front tire changer in NASCAR?
   Once upon a time, that was a very important question in this sport. The right-front man was key to pit stops. And some of the best became legends…for a while at least.
   But time marches on.
   Okay, let's try it this way.
   These are the 24 right-front tire men in Thursday night's annual NASCAR Sprint Cup pit crew challenge championships. Can you pick the teams and drivers they work for:
   Jay Hackney.
   Kyle Turner.
   John Royer.
   Mike Hicks.
   Kelly Kellis.
   Todd Zeigler.
   Justin Nottestad.
   Nick O'Dell.
   Clay Robinson.
   Ryan Pepe.
   Daniel Blizzard.
   Clint Pittman.
   Mike Trower.
   Mike Lingerfelt.
   Joe Slingerland.
   Kip Wolfmeier.
   Aaron Powell.
   Greg Donlin.
   Cory Quick.
  Dennis Terry.
  Jason Pulver.
   Trevor Lysne.
   Brian Jacobsen.
   D. J. Copp.
   Okay, you get the drift.


Pit road: not for the weak of heart. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


The guys who can make or break the game on any given pit stop, the guys who can turn a loss into a win on that last stop -- or a win into a loss – are virtually unknown outside their own small circle of friends.
   There is no tenure for over-the-wall men in this sport.
   Too slow? You're out.
   Too many mistakes? You're out.
   And there's always someone with a gun who thinks he's faster, and each week you get challenged.
   Specialty work, top guns flying in every Sunday morning.
   Maybe NASCAR needs to rethink its pit crew rules: Pick seven men at the start of the season, and that's your roster for the season, except for medical issues. And insist all seven must be at the track every day the track is open; no more Sunday morning fly-ins.
   If cutting costs is important…..

JJ Yeley gets a new lease on NASCAR life, after being picked by Jeremy Mayfield to take his ride (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Yes, while Jeremy Mayfield figures out his next moves, after being suspended indefinitely by NASCAR for testing positive for some unnamed banned drug at Richmond two weeks ago, the sport rolls on….and into the annual Charlotte All-Star weekend, which kicks off with Thursday night's Sprint Cup pit crew championships.
   While Mayfield defends himself, and tries to keep his newly formed Cup team (he's one of the few owner-drivers in this sport) going, with JJ Yeley at the wheel here this weekend, and while the media presses NASCAR officials hard to release the specific drug (sorry, that dog won't hunt) Mayfield is accused of using at Richmond, another debate rages in this sport – and it centers on TV ratings, which are still down.
   Even with Fox behind the cameras, NASCAR's TV punch is lagging.
   It may be the sport, it may be the broadcasts themselves, it may be the slow start at rainy Daytona, it may be the lack of action at many of the season's first races, it may be the broadcast crew itself, perhaps too tiring after eight years in the spotlight….or it may be the sluggish American economy, or a new lack of interest in all sports events…..but one thing is clear – right now NASCAR itself, as a sport-on-the-track, is hotter than ever.
  NASCAR caught fire – too literally perhaps – at Talladega, and it was again sizzling the following weekend at Richmond, and then again at Darlington – a full-moon 500 filled with recording crashing…and then a victory by ageless Mark Martin.
   Score a big, big one for Old School.

Party-time! (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)

Meanwhile, in the bigger automobile picture, Thursday was a big downer for Chrysler men across the country, with word coming that the automaker (running in NASCAR with legendary Roger Penske and Kurt Busch and Richard Petty) will be closing 800 dealerships.
   That's a blow to NASCAR, because dealers are frequently key supporters of its many events. In fact last weekend's 'Southern 500' at Darlington was for the past several years sponsored directly by Chrysler's Southeastern Dodge dealers.
   Not only are all those dealerships going down the tubes (and it appears that Chrysler in Detroit isn't taking any of those cars on the lot back, forcing those dealers to fence them somehow themselves), but many of those dealerships are minorities. That means all the efforts of over so many years that Detroit has spent wooing African-Americans, Hispanics and others into the biz may be flushed away.
   Not good PR.
   And General Motors is expected to follow suit, cutting even more – some 2600 GM dealers (out of the 6,000 or so) getting the axe.
  If General Motors follows Chrysler into bankruptcy, to reorganize, then GM's marketing and advertising operations could be hit. Chrysler, according to reports, had planned to spend some $130 million on advertising during the two months it plans to be running under bankruptcy protection, however the Obama administration has apparently vetoed that plan and will only allow Chrysler to spend about $65 million. How that might affect Chrysler's NASCAR programs is unclear.


NASCAR turns downtown Charlotte into a party for All-Star week (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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