News & Media

What to watch when the action hits the pits

February 12, 2011, Official Release,

Evernham, McReynolds, Hammond discuss changes that will affect pit stops

LOS ANGELES -- The biggest changes in Sprint Cup racing this season won't be in the driver's seat, they will be on pit road. Saturday's Bud Shootout will be the first showing of how teams adapt to the new fuel system and six-man crew, and fans can be on the lookout for a variety of pit-road strategies in action.

A survey of pit road pros -- Ray Evernham, Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond -- identified four areas that will be most impacted by the changes:

"This will definitely change the strategy ... You're going to see the new strategy have a big impact on the races early in the season."


New strategy for stops

"You are definitely going to see a different strategy for pit stops," said Ray Evernham, the former crew chief many credit with making pit stops as important as on-track racing. "You will see different guys in different positions on each stop depending on where in the race cycle you are."

Larry McReynolds, former crew chief and Fox analyst, suggested teams will have a detailed playbook for their stops.

"For the first few races, teams will be searching for the best option," he said. "Taking tires will be important every time. Who makes what adjustments will depend on who has a free hand. It will put more pressure on the crew chief in making the calls."

"Teams will need to learn to calculate the fuel mileage of the new fuel, so there is the potential to run out," warned Jeff Hammond, former crew chief and Fox analyst. "This will definitely change the strategy for when teams stop and the late-race option for tires-only stops. You're going to see the new strategy have a big impact on the races early in the season."

New choreography for six-man crew

The six-man pit stop will be the most visible change on pit road. The catch-can man was eliminated under the new rules, which means the person who used to handle most of the car adjustments is no longer there. But it does improve safety for the team.

"The catch-can man was like the meat in the sandwich between two cars," McReynolds said. "He was the most vulnerable out there. Now they've taken away the guy who makes a majority of the adjustments. Without having him to make adjustments, you'll see a lot of teams trying different approaches to pitting the car. But five years from now, we'll be saying 'Wow, can you believe we used to have a catch-can man?' "

The change will put more pressure on crew members to perform several positions during the race, which has had crew members cross-training during the offseason.

"The catch-can man was like the meat in the sandwich between two cars. Now they've taken away the guy who makes a majority of the adjustments. "


"The new pit-road rule will heighten the need for super athletes who can play more than one role," said Hammond, founder of 5 Off 5 On pit-crew training school. "You're going to see more cross positions out there. The change will redefine the pit-stop numbers initially. It will definitely slow us down on the race off of pit road. But you'll be able look at pit road and tell who has done their homework in the offseason."

Safety improvements continue

"We've come a long, long, long way in safety improvements," McReynolds said. "I like everything that has happened. Continuing to protect the crew guys from accidents and fires will remain a priority. One additional improvement that I'd like to see is more protection on pit road like the pit road retaining wall at Michigan. Some tracks -- like Texas -- have pit road very close to the front stretch. When you see a car sliding across the frontstretch grass, you worry about the folks on pit road. Something that is worth considering is having everyone in the pits in a firesuit.

"But the element of risk on pit road is part of the excitement. Fans want to see those pit stops with all of the guys on pit road at the same time. You want to make it safe but still keep it exciting."

Evernham also would like to see additional improvements in pit-road safety.

"Bigger pit boxes and more room between the cars would be great in terms of improving the safety of the pit crew," said Evernham, the former team owner who now is CEO of Ray Evernham Enterprises . "This would give the guys more room to get around the car and a greater area of protection."

Hammond said pit-crew training will be essential to improving their safety.

"With the additional physical requirements of doing cross-positions, team members will have even more need to work out to build their expanded skills and perform at that very high level," Hammond said. "This will help prevent strains and overuse injuries, particularly as we get into the season. But you have to remember that these guys are entertainers and athletes. You have to balance that safety with their performance."

Mechanix Wear is working closely with the teams on the new pit stop approach to develop safety equipment for the new cross-positions.

"We're seeing tire changes need different kinds of gloves that offer grip and dexterity, but also fire protection," said Brian Lunniss, head of R&D for Mechanix Wear. "There are guys who are wearing different kinds of gloves on each hand for the job they doing with that hand. The more jobs they are doing, the different kinds of protection they will need."

"The speed of the fueling will be critical in the overall pit-stop speed. "


New fuel impacts stop time, engine durability

The new fueling system puts a premium on accuracy for the gas man, and is expected to lengthen the time it takes to fuel the car. Ethanol also is tough on engine components, and can eat away certain types of polymers and be very corrosive on cast iron and some aluminum alloys. This will put additional pressure on the engine builders and tuners.

"There have only been a few changes in the fuel system since the 1970s, so this is a big deal for safety," McReynolds said. "But you've got to be accurate when you're fueling the car."

McReynolds said the nature of E15 will change how teams handle fuel, too.

"E15 is more moisture attractive, so teams will need to be careful how they handle it to prevent contamination," he added. "They won't be turning in the fuel at the end of the race to avoid possibly contaminating the fuel reserves. You'll also see fuel delivered to tracks in tanker trucks instead of being held in in-ground tanks.

"You'll also see teams using different strategies on when they fuel and how much they take," Evernham said. "The speed of the fueling will be critical in the overall pit-stop speed."

"There also is some concern about the higher flammability of E15 and the expanded number of crew members who come in contact with fuel," Lunniss said. "More teams are requesting fire-retardant gloves for other positions beyond the gas man, and there is some thought about fire-retardant suits and fueling aprons if we start to see fires on pit road."