Just How Does a NASCAR Pit Crew Work?

By Tom Anderson
Sep. 07, 2017

NASCAR’s roots go all the way back to the bootleggers of the Prohibition era, as Ricky Bobby will attest, but don’t let that fool you into thinking the sport is simple. Winston Cup races can see drivers cover more than 500 miles in a matter of hours. To reach the front of the pack and keep your lead, you’ve got to get the details right. Nowhere is this more apparent than during a NASCAR pit stop.

Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports
Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike Formula One, where crews of nearly 20 people are allowed, NASCAR pit crews consist of only six, with the optional seventh man available for driver safety adjustments only. This means that to achieve the goal of a 12-second or shorter pit stop, there can be zero wasted motion. Hitting the mark consistently requires special tools and rigorous training.

The Unsung Heroes of NASCAR

You won’t ever see a crewman’s name up in lights, but make no mistake: Each pit crew member plays a crucial role in delivering their driver to the winner’s circle. Executing a pit stop well is like pulling off a choreographed dance routine, all while dodging flying lug nuts, manhandling 90-pound gas canisters and making sure the stop goes according to rules.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

To get the most performance from their pit crews, NASCAR teams often scout college athletes who won't be transitioning to a professional career in their sport. Teams train daily for strength and balance, not just so they can perform more quickly, but also to ward off potential injury in the case of a misstep during a pit stop.

Tools of the Trade

On race day, a routine stop begins when the team of six leaps over a short concrete wall into pit lane. They’ve then got 11.5 seconds to swap four tires out and refuel the car’s 12-gallon tank, assuming no additional repairs are needed.

The team uses special tools that enable them to work quickly. Impact guns driven using compressed nitrogen help remove the five lugs on each wheel, and a special hydraulic jack lifts the car even as tire men are removing the old rubber. Need to patch up some bodywork or a vacuum hose under the hood? Duct tape earns its nickname of “200-mph tape” in this very sport.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

For particularly nasty jobs, there are even more specialized tools. Piano bars are essential extra-long crowbars that can help lift a racecar with a flat off the ground to allow access for the jack. When body damage is major and duct tape isn’t up to the task, the team can break out a special adhesive material called Bear Bond to replace swaths of sheet metal – just don’t get your finger stuck to it.

Symphony of Chaos

If you didn’t appreciate how much goes on during a regular NASCAR stop before, take another look at one now. Watch the tire men roll new tread while simultaneously stripping lug nuts, and consider the heft of the 90-pound gas cans that are passed off between crewmen to fill a car’s tank in under 12 seconds. It’s one of the most impressive parts of the sport, and getting it right can make all the difference.