As we get ready to head to Talladega this weekend, pit crew coaches across the sport will spend the week preaching to their crews about the importance of not making mistakes. Even if it means pit stops take a few extra seconds than normal, it’s more important to get things right, than it is to have quick stops. Why? Because pit stops in the new era of superspeedway racing really don’t matter.
In a world where races often have multiple leaders per lap, the importance of track position has been lowered. Cars can go from the back to the front, or front to the back, very quickly. Having blazing fast pit stops and picking up spots on pit road is really not worth the risk of possibly having dropped lugnuts, loose wheels, and other mistakes. Obviously crew chiefs don’t want slow stops, but there is less of a focus on being quick, and more of a focus on being mistake free.
Besides the nature of the racing, another reason why pit stops mean less has to do with the tires. Now that both Daytona and Talladega have new surfaces, tire wear over the course of a race has become a non-issue. Some even said that it may have been possible to run the entire Daytona 500 on one set of tires! In any case, crew chiefs want to spend the least amount of time on pit road possible, and if they don’t need to take tires, they won’t. At Daytona in February, this led to a lot of fuel only and two tire pit stops.
Something else to keep in mind when watching pit stops this weekend, is that some teams will set the cars up to maximize speed on track, and in turn sacrifice speed on pit road. What I am referring to specifically is the shock package that some teams use. We’ve seen in the past that the front tire changers and carriers will struggle with the right front. When the car is jacked up, the shock won’t bleed down and it causes the right front tire to stay up in the fender. It makes it very difficult for the changers to get the old tire off, and for the carriers to get the new tire in. Not every team has this problem, but it can significantly slow down pit stops for the teams that do.
Like I’ve said here before, races can’t necessarily be won on pit road, but they can certainly be lost there. This weekend, crews will be doing everything possible to ensure the race is decided on the track and not on pit road.