Will Pit Lane Be the Deciding Factor in the Chase?

Sal Sigala Jr.Senior Analyst IAugust 27, 2009

KANSAS CITY, KS - SEPTEMBER 30:  Crew members work on the car of Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Freight Chevrolet, in the pits during the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series LifeLock 400 at Kansas Speedway on September 30, 2007 in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

It’s a very lonely strip of concrete that lies between the garage area and the front straightaway, unless of course it’s a short track and then it wraps itself around the entire track like some mighty python waiting for its next victim.

However you choose to view this small piece of real estate, it has just as much significance as the asphalt that surrounds its outer edges where the drivers race at high speeds.

At any given moment, this concrete area becomes a race within the race, which can have just as much and at times even more action then what is going on outside of its perimeters.

This is the only strip of land on the entire track, where the drivers can get the attention that their cars need during a race, without having to go beyond the wall into the garage area.

The crew members or as they are called “The over the wall gang,” are a highly-trained group of men that take exceptional pride in the 14 or so seconds that it takes them to gas up, and get four fresh tires installed while working in a stall that is no bigger than the car itself.

These are the men who the drivers really take pride in when a stop goes as planned, and in the matter of a few seconds they can also be a driver's worst nightmare when the stop is interrupted by some unforeseen incident.

Pit road is one of the few places on the track that tempers can get hot at times, and it’s usually because of the very short time that a driver is expected to spend there while getting work done on their car.

Mistakes on pit road can be very costly, and many races throughout the years have been won and lost on pit road.

And so far this season there seems to be a plague of pit road incidents that have not only been the fault of the teams but the drivers as well.

One the most common problems that the pit crews are having are either missing or loose lug nuts.

NASCAR changed the ruling to begin the season, stating that the teams had to use longer wheel studs out of concern for driver safety.

The tire changers rhythm was thrown out of sync because of the longer studs, which is now becoming the crews’ biggest concern especially when the drivers have to re-pit to replace the lug nuts that are missing.

The teams go through extensive training, to make sure that each pit stop is like watching a finely-tuned dance team.

You begin to think about the countless hours of practice that these soldiers put in week after week.

They are prone to make a mistake or two, especially with the amount of pressure that each of these seven men are put through during the course of the three to four hours it takes to run an average race.

Pit stops have always been one the most important aspects of a race, and it’s beginning to show as the drivers themselves are making just as many mistakes as the crews.

Speeding in and out of the pits, missing their pit stalls, and not pitting within the white line that marks each respective pit stall are just a few of the mistakes that can be counted as driver error.

You sit back and begin to realize just how dangerous the job is.

It's no wonder that even the best and most experienced crew workers can take their focus off the job at hand, and maybe cost their driver a spot or two once they exit back into the race.

Pit road is definitely not a job for the weak at heart, or for those men that don’t have nerves of steel.

Especially when they not only have to worry about servicing their own driver's car, but also the drivers that race by just inches from where they are working.

Pit road speeds were put into affect to make their jobs a little safer, but even with the slower speeds they still have to contend with a car that weighs 3800 pounds, and can still cause major injury if they're hit.

Now that we are only two races away from the chase for Sprint Cup Championship, pit stops will become even more crucial because of the drivers who are still trying to get within the top 12 in points.

And a costly pit stop can mean the difference between getting into the chase, or having to race the remainder of the season outside the top 12 looking in.

No matter the size or how big the team is, they are all within the boundaries of making crucial mistakes at any given time when they need and should be perfect.

Pit lane can be a lonely place while the drivers are out doing what they get paid to do, but don’t forget who the unsung heroes of the sport really are.

These are the men that can make the difference between a driver making it to victory lane, or they can be the demise along with the drivers who are far from perfect themselves.

If we lived in a perfect world, imagine how boring these stops would be every time a driver came in and was able to escape the unthinkable. 


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