Pit crews face new challenges entering 2018 NASCAR season

How will the modern day NASCAR pit stop be orchestrated when the green flag falls on the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona on Sunday afternoon?

Pit crews face new challenges entering 2018 NASCAR season
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford, pit stop
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet pit stop
Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford pit stop
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet pits
Kurt Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, makes a pit stop
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet pit stop

Teams have had nearly three months to re-choreograph pit stops after NASCAR downsized the number of crewmen over the wall from six to five.

But don’t be surprised if the action on pit road is every bit as compelling as the racing on the track, as competitors study other teams' performances.

A work in progress

Stewart-Haas Racing pit crew coach Joe Piette will be among the curious. Over the last month, as practice has intensified, his teams have been able to keep stops in the 14-second range, but he knows the current methodology is still a work in progress.

“It’s coming along,” Piett said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It’s a process. Probably, the six-down-to-five-men over-the-wall change is the biggest change that I’ve seen in almost my 30 years of being part of pit road in some way, shape or form.

“Then we throw in the added new spec pit gun into the mix, too. So not only are we learning all new processes and procedures with one less person, then we also have new equipment we have to learn as well. Definitely, new changes for the pit crews but I’m kind of excited to see how everybody executes these pit stops come Daytona.”

Piette’s teams have tested between seven to nine different versions of a four-tire pit stop. Throughout the transition, crewmen have been challenged to find their comfort level after performing certain activities for such a long period of time. As a former tire changer and current coach, Piette feels it’s his responsibility to keep the teams upbeat during the process.

“We have an opportunity here to reinvent the wheel,” Piette said. “So let’s figure out the best way to do it and let’s do it better than anyone else.

“We have definitely learned more of which ways not to do it than of which ways how to do it--I will say that.”

In the crosshairs

In October, NASCAR announced the introduction of a standard pit gun supplied by Dino Paoli S.r.l. Piette says Paoli, which also supplies air guns for F1, DTM, V8-Supercar and IndyCar, hired a former tire carrier and tire changer to work on the implementation of the Red Devil 2.0 used in NASCAR.

“They’ve hired some pit people that actually understand pit stops and what goes on pit road and things like that,” Piette said. “That was a great move on their part. We’re in constant communication with them about equipment, settings and things like that.

“They’ve done a great job with getting the right materials to practice with. For a while, we didn’t have the right things to practice with. We had pit guns but it wasn’t the correct pit guns. In the last few weeks, we’ve had what we’ve been told is very similar to what we’re going to have at the race track. Yes, the pit gun itself is bigger, it’s heavier and it’s longer.

"It has a different configuration with the handle location versus the top housing part. It’s something that the tire changers are almost having to relearn what they do especially when it comes to how they hold the gun and things like that. It’s almost like starting all over again and looking at every situation to figure out the best way to do it.”

Teaching old dogs new tricks

Certainly, with fewer men over the wall additional activities and pressure have been absorbed by the five pit crew members Piette and his trainers have seen an increase in sore shoulders, elbows, knees and wrists. The injuries have been intensified due to the additional practice needed to perfect the new stops.

“We have beat these guys up more in the last four weeks than I can ever recall in the month of January,” Piette said. “We’ve been going four, even five days a week, some times twice a day with some groups. It’s brutal on their bodies.

“That’s why we’re really conscious of what we’re doing with these guys and how many reps we give them. But it’s a double-edge sword. You have to rep it out to overcome the muscle memory of these things because with the exception of the fueler, every position has changed.

Every position is doing something different than they’ve done in the past. Our therapy room has been working overtime the last couple of weeks, for sure. It’s not something we can’t overcome but we have to be aware that it’s happening.”

Although the strain on the pit crews would lend itself to recruiting younger athletes, Piette believes the veterans will still be solid candidates. Seasoned members will have to re-train themselves on many of the patterns, but solid fundamentals will still be key.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing
Author Lee Spencer
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