In a sport where their performance has to be 12 seconds or less, every 10th of a second can make the difference between victory or defeat. That’s why NASCAR pit crews are so important to auto racing and why teams like Hendrick Motorsports are using athletes from college programs to make their pit crews the best they can be. CBS News correspondent on assignment, Jeff Glor, profiles Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 pit crew for the next edition of "60 Minutes Sports", that aired Wednesday night on Showtime.
The six-time Sprint Cup Series champion Johnson says he couldn’t do it if not for his "Team 48," the pit crew members who change his tires, fill his tank and perform any number of other critical adjustments to his car. "Without a doubt, each and every week, they set their driver up to succeed or not," he told Glor.
Hendrick pioneered the practice of bringing in athletes to man their pit crews and with the 48 team, the results have been tremendous. Johnson and co. have won six of the last eight title. Tune in to see 60 Minutes Sports' cameras capture them in action, including R.J. Barnette, a former defensive back who played for Alabama’s Samford University; Ryan Patton from the strength and conditioning staff of Ohio State University and Calvin Teague, a former pitcher for Appalachian State.
Hendrick crews also have a trainer, Gene Monahan, who, for 49 years, trained the New York Yankees. He says he trains his crews like world-class athletes. There are first teams and bench players who must compete for slots just like pros.
"They’re only seconds apart, but it’s the team that practices together that orchestrates,” said Monahan. "It’s a smooth progression as they move around the car. You could put music to this stuff and put it in slow motion. You have yourself an opera."
To team owner Rick Hendrick, racing is more like war than opera.
"I compare ourselves to the [U.S. Army] Rangers and the [U.S. Navy] SEALs. That’s what it’s all about. An elite group of guys that are going into battle."
The crews train and practice like any pro sports team members, but the true test is the battle, says Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus..
"As soon as you get to the racetrack and you’re in front of 150,000 people and Jimmie Johnson is leading, battling with Tony Stewart or Kevin Harvick, that’s when the mental strength shows up or the mental weakness, whichever it may be," said Knaus.