Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Best NASCAR pit crew? Denny Hamlin's crew wins overall title, but Clint Bowyer's guys make their case

  Always a spectacle....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   The fastest pit crew in NASCAR?
   Rather, maybe the question should be 'the best pit crew in NASCAR?'
   Because faster isn't always better, if consistency is lacking.

   Still the question makes for good conversation.
   For years Matt Kenseth appeared to have the most reliably fast pit crew.
   Lately though that honor appears to belong to Clint Bowyer's crew, which, in something of a twist, is made up entire of Monday-Thursday in-house shop workers. 
   And Bowyer's front tire men – tire changer Jason Pulver and carrier Austin Craven – and his rear tire men – changer Dustin Necaise and carrier Matt Kreuter – backed that up here in the early rounds of NASCAR's annual pit crew competition, winning Thursday night's individual competition.
   But then Denny Hamlin's crew finished off the evening with a narrow victory over Jimmie Johnson's crew in the championship showdown to the tight two-hour show. Hamlin's crew won this event last year too, so he and crew chief Mike Ford can certainly make a case themselves.
   The real battleground of course is the track itself.
   But for this type of show, well, this whole debate begs to be settled at a track itself…maybe, since this is Charlotte Motor Speedway month, at Charlotte Motor Speedway…or across the street at Bruton Smith's Z-max dragstrip, rather than by crewmen pushing cars toward a 'finish line.'
   But again this particular competition – probably because it's more a made-for-tv production -- was again in downtown Charlotte Thursday night, at the Time Warner Arena, a rather unlikely place to set something like this, a competition that may seem a bit lacking without screaming engines and smoking tires. Still, there was a good crowd, and a lot of loud, loud music.



  Denny Hamlin's pit crew in action.... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Pit road has been a hot item in this sport the past few weeks, highlighted perhaps by the post-race altercation at Darlington Raceway two weeks ago between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, and several pit road incidents that injured crewmen.
    Glenn Wheeler, who works for Harvick, was hit by a flying spring at Dover, Del., Saturday and suffered a chipped leg bone. He's expected to be back in the shop later this week, albeit on crutches, though not back at the track for a couple more weeks.
    Such incidents have some wondering if drivers should perhaps be penalized by NASCAR if they hit a pit crewman. Jeff Gordon says yes, and Kurt Busch agrees, though Busch adds a caveat.
    "When you're doing hot pits, should we be penalized if we hit somebody? Yes, you could say that," Busch said. "But is that guy just standing there trying to block me in?
   "That could turn into a game. And we don't need that on pit road."  
    But pit road safety wasn't the chief issue here Thursday night in the sport's annual pit crew championship competition.
    It was speed. Individual speed. As each crewman completed his particular deal – changing tires, gassing, jacking – he'd hit a buzzer, jump over a two-foot 'wall,' and sprint to push his team's car 100 feet or so to the finish line.
    While the format may be more than a bit gimmicky, and unrealistic, with bells and buzzers and crews pushing cars to the finish line rather than drivers smoking tires up off pit road, at least it's one way of determining bragging rights among the crews.

Star, star, who's the star? Crew chief Shane Wilson signing autographs while Clint Bowyer watches (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Over the years there have been a number of programs designed to pick the best stock car racing pit crew.
    One program tried to clock total time on pit road each week, which at the time was a very labor intensive project, and eventually abandoned.
    Of course now, with the sophisticated timing system used in this sport, a program like that could be easily run, with the driver logging the least time on pit road probably the man having the fastest pit stops.
   Union 76 for years ran the sport's annual pit crew competition at North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, with real drivers in their real race cars and crews out on pit road. When 76 pulled out of the sport, there was a void….finally filled with this "official" NASCAR package – the sport's reaction to crew chiefs Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond's 'unauthorized' pit crew championships at their Five-On/Five-Off shop near CMS.
    Actually the McReynolds-Hammond production was a much truer competition. But that's another story….
    Here, in lavish spectacle, Sprint and NASCAR put on their seventh annual competition, with fireworks and loud, loud, loud music.

   While many teams bring in Sunday morning pit crew specialists, trying to get an edge, Matt Clark, pit crew coach for Richard Childress' four teams, says only one of the over-the-wall men isn't a full-time shopman.  "Everyone else works full-time in the shop," Clark says.
   For several years now there has been a question of whether or not NASCAR should allow such special teams, whether officials should perhaps require Sunday crew men to have to work at the track Fridays and Saturdays too. If so, Childress could have a leg up.
   Clark says he senses that's the way the sport is going: "I think at some point you're going to have to have guys who (also) work on the car. Mechanics that pit the car. You're going to have that balance of athleticism and mechanical ability -- guys who can work on the car and who can also pit the car.
   "You're going to have to 'travel light.' You're going to have to keep your work force lean.
   "Me, I look for guys who can do both.
    "I'm a coach by trade, and athletes are easy to work with. However I really that in the future, to be successful, you're going to have to have guys who can do both – track position is so important, and when you have to pull a fender out, or fix a broken shock mount, the guys who don't work on the cars just don't know how."
   And Clark insists he doesn't feel he's losing any ground on pit road to rivals with special pit crews.
   "I feel that Clint Bowyer's pit crew is one of the top-three pit crews out here….and every single one of those guys is a racer," Clark says. "And I would take that group over any group here."
   Shane Wilson, Bowyer's crew chief, and a former over-the-wall crewman, says "I've never seen a group of guys like this who can pull their weight in the shop this well, and also be that good on pit road."

 But wouldn't Bruton Smith's Z-max dragstrip, across from Charlotte Motor Speedway, be a better venue to determine the best pit crew in stock car racing? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)





Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com