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In-race crew swap helps Allmendinger salvage sixth at PIR

November 13, 2011, David Caraviello,

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- When A.J. Allmendinger approached pit road late in Sunday's event at Phoenix International Raceway, crew chief Greg Erwin came over the radio with a warning -- don't be confused by the guys in your pit box wearing different-colored suits.

Frustrated by performance during a couple of slow stops, the No. 43 team of Richard Petty Motorsports took the unusual step of swapping pit crews with another organization, in this case the No. 6 Roush Fenway outfit of David Ragan. Allmendinger's car was serviced by the brown and gold crew for the final two stops of the race, which helped him maintain track position and finish sixth, his second-best result of the year.

"I think days like this show we can run with the best. We've just got to put it all together."


"Thanks to the 6 guys for doing that," said Allmendinger, who ran as high as second, and recorded his best result since a fifth-place showing in the Coca-Cola 600. "They did a good last two stops that kept us in the game. There are things we have to work on. I've got to keep getting better as a driver, we've got to keep getting better as a race team. We're getting closer. I think days like this show we can run with the best. We've just got to put it all together."

RPM receives contracted assistance from its Ford brethren at Roush Fenway, and Erwin said in addition to cars and chassis, his team also is supplied pit-crew members, coaches, and training. The RPM crewmen work out with the Roush crewmen and go through the same training regimen, he said, adding that the groups have been interchangeable during the past three years.

So when slow stops threatened to detail what shaped up as a promising day for Allmendinger, Erwin and team vice president Robbie Loomis approached Roush about possibly switching teams. Ragan had spun on the event's second lap, and was well out of the running by that time. "We just decided to swap the whole group," Erwin said. "There is so much chemistry and timing that goes into that. We didn't want to just swap out one or two guys, because that would put them all at a disadvantage. So we decided to swap the whole group."

The move was reminiscent of last year's crew swap at Texas, when No. 48 crew chief Chad Knaus removed Jimmie Johnson's whole group in the midst of a championship battle and replaced it with the crew of Hendrick Motorsports stable mate Jeff Gordon. Unlike that situation, though, Allmendinger and Ragan aren't teammates. But the Ford bonds and the connections between RPM and Roush Fenway were enough to make Sunday's switch possible.

"A lot of times if a guy gets hurt, they'll go get a guy off another team," said Loomis, a former crew chief. "We just had to take a chance. We couldn't continue to lose spots on pit road."

Erwin said the team broke even on the ensuing stop, when Allmendinger came in third and exited fifth, behind two other cars that took only two tires. Allmendinger got loose and lost some ground on the event's final restart, but regrouped to salvage his 11th top-10 finish of the season. Erwin said the swap was not intended to be permanent, and that the No. 43 crew will work next week's finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"Unfortunately for these guys, it's going to hurt. It's going to sting," said Erwin, who worked at Roush as recently as earlier this year. "But who in this business hasn't been replaced at some point and time in their life, right? It happens to everybody. We'll get them back working this week, and we'll look at their film and video and find out what they did wrong. Maybe it's the West Coast swing, I don't know. But at that point and time in a race, you can't sit down and look for answers."

In Allmendinger's best season in NASCAR, it was a Sunday that showed how far the No. 43 team has come, and how far it still has to go. Now the driver's quest for that breakthrough first victory moves to Homestead, where he finished fifth last year and has never placed worse than 11th. First, though, he'll have to get over Phoenix.

"The car was so fast, I was having so much fun driving. Probably the most fun I've ever had," Allmendinger said. "These guys are doing a great job. I really want to win for them by the end of the year. Hopefully at Homestead we can do it. We're getting closer."

Watch Allmendinger's season highlights: