Rockingham II: Pit Crew Competition preview

Union 76/Rockingham World Pit Crew Competition illustrates importance of 'over the wall' team members in title chase. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 30, 2002) -- The NASCAR Winston Cup Series season is winding down, and the series' championship chase...

Union 76/Rockingham World Pit Crew Competition illustrates importance of 'over the wall' team members in title chase.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 30, 2002) -- The NASCAR Winston Cup Series season is winding down, and the series' championship chase is heating up. Against the backdrop of Tony Stewart trying to stave off several challengers and win his first series title, 25 pit crews will vie this weekend in a competition all their own that will show how important they are to any driver's aspirations.

The 35th annual Union 76/Rockingham World Pit Crew Competition will be held Saturday at North Carolina Speedway, the day before the Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400. Coming in, Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac) has a 146-point lead over Mark Martin (No. 6 Pfizer/Viagra Ford). The pit crews of both Stewart and Martin will be among those competing Saturday (at approximately 3:30 p.m., ET) for a $30,000 first-place award; the total purse is an event-high $100,000, with a $10,000 bonus available for setting a world record.

Twenty-five teams are chosen based on current car owner points. Each team is timed while two seven-gallon gas cans are emptied into the car and all four tires are changed. The defending champions are the over-the-wall warriors of the No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford, driven by Matt Kenseth. They established a record time of 17.695 seconds last year.

Just as the on-track activity at each race illustrates the increasing competitive balance in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series -- there have been 17 different winners this season, two short of last year's record total of 19 -- Saturday's pit-road showdown will illustrate how crew members play into that competitive balance. And of course, let's be honest: it's also a chance for the people who toil in the trenches to have their day in the spotlight.

Here's the No. 17's pit-crew lineup for Saturday's competition:

Gas Man: Benjy Grubbs of Richmond, Va.;
Catch Can: Dave Paronto of Woodsville, N.H.;
Jack Man: Russ Strupp of Stanley, N.C.;
Front-Tire Changer: Phil Drye of Concord, N.C.;
Front-Tire Carrier: Justin Nottestad of Cambridge, Wis.;
Rear-Tire Changer: Dave Smith of Millersville, Md.;
Rear-Tire Carrier: Bryan Dunaway of Momence, Ill.

"The crew is ready for the pit crew challenge," said the No. 17's crew chief Robbie Reiser. "I would like to see them win it again, but this year there is a lot more pressure on them. I have told them this is their chance to shine, and it's about them so they should have some fun with it."

Whatever fun is had will be the result of long hours of hard work. In recent years, pit-crew preparation has been revolutionized. Many crews are now coached and conditioned by demanding athletic trainers, who in some cases are termed pit "coordinators" such as Andy Ward, who works with Kenseth's crew. Pit stops are more vital than ever to a team's success. A split-second here, a split-second here, and a race can be won or lost.

"It's become serious business on pit road," said Phil Horton, athletic trainer for the No. 88 UPS Ford driven by former series champion Dale Jarrett.

Hendrick Motorsports' pit stop coordinator is Andy Papathanassiou, a former Stanford University football player who is considered one of the key figures in the pit crew "revolution." "The crew chiefs understand the importance of the pit stops and how practice feeds into it," Papathanassiou said. "For us, it's not like we have to fight for their time. We get a certain amount of time [to train them] barring any sort of special circumstances. On average we get the guys for training a couple of hours a day. They're either with our strength coach doing strength and conditioning activities or performing flexibility and injury prevention exercises."

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports