Pit road has played a big roll in the outcome of races this season, and as the Cup and Nationwide Series search for their 2011 champions, an even bigger emphasis will be placed on the crews. Those drivers with the strongest pit crews will have a serious advantage as we come into the home stretch. Knowing that, some teams have made moves to strengthen their performance over the wall. Two recent pit crew shakeups have already paid dividends to their teams, and the moves could be crucial in the hopes of two contenders.
Saturday night in Richmond, Kevin Harvick re-emerged as a legitimate title contender. After spending much of the summer struggling to find some measure of mojo, Harvick and the 29 team showed they are ready to take a shot at unseating the 48. And what was a big key to Harvick’s fourth win of the season? A key pit stop late in the race. With 15 laps to go, a caution brought the field to pit road, and fast work by Harvick’s crew put the 29 ahead of Jeff Gordon on the ensuing restart. Harvick was then able to hold off Carl Edwards for the win, and secure his spot tied with Kyle Busch atop the standings heading to Chicago.
If you might remember, it’s only been a few weeks since Richard Childress Racing replaced it’s pit crew coach. And along with the coaching change came a new front changer for Harvick’s crew. Tim Sheets, who has spent the season changing for Elliott Sadler’s #2 team in the Nationwide Series, was brought up to help alleviate some of the pit stop issues Harvick has experienced this season. Needless to say, the move has worked.
In the Nationwide Series, the battle for the driver’s title is a tight one. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. only has a 16 point cushion between himself and second place Elliott Sadler with seven races remaining. In order to give Stenhouse the best possible chance to win the championship, Jack Roush has pulled out all the stops. After a tough night at Atlanta, Stenhouse’s entire pit crew was replaced with the #6 Cup crew of David Ragan. The change provided immediate results. With the double duty #6 guys servicing his race car at Richmond, Stenhouse never ran lower than seventh in the race, and finished a very strong third behind Kyle Busch and Edwards.
Because racing has become so tight out on the track, teams have discovered that it is often easier to make passes on pit road. And in order to do that, they need the quickest six guys they can put together. As the Chase gets ready to kick off this weekend, expect pit road to be a big factor in who takes home this season’s Cup.