When it comes to pit stops, our crews have to be prepared for more than just changing tires, making adjustments and adding fuel to Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet or Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet on race day. If one of our teams is involved in an incident, our over-the-wall teams have to be ready to step up and handle the repairs on pit road.
The whole idea is to keep the car out of the garage so whenever it’s possible the crews will address the damage right there in the pit box. The issues they address are significant but relatively standard to fix—a fender will need to be moved off a tire or maybe a brake line has been cut, for instance. We don’t do anything major on pit road, like handle suspension components or weld, but we will assist in cosmetic repairs that make the car more functional.
It’s our job to prepare our guys for those situations before race day even happens. Of course, we can’t go around wrecking race cars here just to fix them, so the majority of the real experience is garnered on pit road. The next-best thing we can do here at the shop is put our crew members in similar situations they’ll see at the racetrack. We’ll take a car that we’ve wrecked and the crew chiefs aren’t going to fix, and we’ll cut it completely apart to little pieces. So the practice there is two-fold. The guys practice cutting the car apart and also putting it back together with prefabricated crash pieces. We want them to learn how to put back together a crush panel or something like that, in a safe, efficient manner.
Speed isn’t the main focus here; it’s efficiency. Getting the repairs done correctly is far more important than hastily sending out a race car that jeopardizes the safety of our driver or other competitors. So our teams are realistic in these situations. When you’re on pit road, you work between caution laps. If it’s got to be fixed, then you sacrifice one lap for fixing it right. You might do as much as you can on one caution, and then send the car back out and continue the repair work on an ensuing caution. It also depends on where it is. At Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, you’ve got a lot more time to fix something than at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, so that plays into your decision-making process as well.
When damage repairs occur on pit road, the crew is led by the car chief who receives guidance from the crew chief. In the case of the No. 48 team, that’s Ron Malec. Jason Burdett supervises the process for the No. 88 team.
For specific scenarios, we’ll have a play call already established in response. Ron and Jason are two of the veteran guys, who work in the shop, and they help guide our newer members. As a rule, we like for our crew members to also work in the shop so they’ll have a further understanding of what goes where and which part does what. They know what to look at immediately when trouble happens so they can diagnose problems quicker.
As I said before, efficiency is key, but safety is paramount. You don’t want to hustle and get it out there before it’s completely fixed and then have something happen. Ultimately our goal is to send the properly fixed car back onto the racetrack in a quick manner.