CONCORD, N.C. – This weekend’s NASCAR All-Star Race festivities at Texas Motor Speedway will see Hendrick Motorsports' pit crews have a bigger stage to flash their skills.
The first of two showcases for pit crews will come on Saturday night in a unique qualifying format just for the All-Star Race. The second will come in the main event Sunday night with the pit stop competition being held during the race for the second straight year.
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The spotlight on his talented athletes is something Hendrick Motorsports pit crew coach Jon Carvin is appreciative of.
"I’m very glad there’s something that puts the focus on them," Carvin said. "Lots of times, it’s like an offensive line, no one really knows you are doing a good job until you don’t do a good job. Then it’s very obvious to see when something goes wrong. It’s a lot harder to recognize when things go right because it is kind of that expectation.
"With them being center stage and being able to display what they are capable of in front of a lot of people and it being the focus, I think that’s awesome. We have just unbelievable athletes and players here that are capable of amazing things, so the more that’s shown to the general population, the better in my opinion. Better for them. Better for the entertainment. Better for the sport."
In qualifying, the top eight drivers from single-car, one-lap runs will transfer on to a three-round, head-to-head elimination bracket that will see two cars staged adjacently near the end of the pit road. At the sound of an alert, the drivers will drive into the pit box and each pit crew for the qualifying car will execute a four-tire pit stop. The first car back to the start/finish line advances to the next round. This head-to-head format will reduce the bracket down from eight cars to four and to two, with the final pairing competing for the pole position in Sunday’s race.
"I like it a lot. It’s a team sport, right?" said John Gianninoto, the fueler on the No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet. "You can’t win a race without the driver or the pit crew or the road crew, so combining us with that is a chance for us to help our driver get a better qualifying spot and we’re excited to do it."
For Sunday’s pit stop competition, teams will be required to pit between stages two and three of the All-Star Race and complete a four-tire stop. Including pit-in and pit-out times, the team with the shortest time on pit road without a penalty earns the pit crew award. The winner of the award will line up fourth in the final stage as long as the driver finished 15th or better in stage three.
In 2021, which was the first year of the competition, the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports pit crew for driver Chase Elliott executed the fastest pit stop in round five of the six-round race. That flawless stop led to the crew winning a $100,000 prize.
"It was cool because it’s your time to shine as a pit crew," said T.J. Semke, jackman on the No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS team. "A lot of times you’re helping aid in a race and it’s a big team effort but that deal there, the spotlight was on you and who could perform under that pressure. It was a unique sort of pressure that you felt during that stop and it was fun to come out on top."
Heading into Sunday's non-points exhibition, the No. 9 crew of Nick O’Dell (front-tire changer), Chad Avrit (rear-tire changer), Jared Erspamer (tire carrier), Semke and Gianninoto have been the best in the NASCAR Cup Series based on four-tire stop times with an average of 11.708 seconds. Speedy work on pit road has been a boon to getting Elliott out front as he's led the third-most laps this season (359).
"As a team, that’s a huge advantage for us," said Alan Gustafson, crew chief for the No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevy. "(It's a) huge positive and certainly gives us the ability to put the car up and perform at a high level every week. That’s the big thing and we know we got the best pit crew on pit road. We work hard to get that, and those guys work real hard. It’s a great group of guys that we have going over the wall, and behind the wall support is a huge part of that too."
And with so many pit stops during the season, the opportunity to have a big stage to showcase their work is something Carvin welcomes for all his teams.
"You get a lot of opportunities during the season but there lots of times overlooked or no one really sees the amazing things that those guys are doing," Carvin said.
Tune into the All-Star Race on Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET on FS1 with radio coverage on MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Contributing to this story: Adrian Lauerman