CONCORD, N.C. – It is a test of everything.
Sunday's 600-mile NASCAR Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway will push drivers and the Next Gen car to limits they haven't gone to this year. Pit crews will be pushed given how this race shifts from the day to night over the course of 400 laps., With the potential for the most pit stops we could see in one race this season, Hendrick Motorsports pit crew coach Jon Carvin believes they will have a measurable impact.
"Where we have a lot of pit stops, we can be a major factor in the race," Carvin said. "We look forward to those opportunities. Obviously, 600 miles gets us a lot of those chances."
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This season on the three 1.5-mile tracks run so far (Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway), those races have averaged 10.33 cautions. Two of them were 400 miles in length (Las Vegas and Kansas), while one was 500 miles long (Atlanta).
Greg Ives, crew chief for the No. 48 Ally Racing team, expects his pit crew to be busy with action given the tire wear seen for much of the season. Teams will have 13 sets for the race on Sunday.
"You have to plan your stops as strategically as you can," Ives said. "We expect a lot of tire wear with falloff, so that will play into more of a tire strategy."
With the summer season approaching, the crews have begun to prepare for the heat. This entails working outside on the performance field at Hendrick Motorsports as the strength staff puts them through a range of exercises with ropes, agility work and pushing sleds to get used to the hotter temperatures they will encounter at the track.
"We started heat training with our weight room staff in the last two weeks," Carvin said. "It hasn’t been too bad yet honestly this week (in the Charlotte area) but sometimes you get into that 95 (degree) range, which luckily we don’t have to deal with this weekend. We started heat training just to try to combat that, just to get the guys a little more stamina for the 600 miles. Not a lot different in terms of practice and preparation. Just making sure the guys are going to be well rested when we get to Sunday where they can perform at their best for that long of a race."
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The pit crews of Hendrick Motorsports have contributed greatly to the team’s success in 2022 – a season that has seen the debut of the Next Gen car. The organization’s five wins are the most among teams this season. The No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS pit crew for driver Chase Elliott has averaged the best four-tire stop time at 11.708 seconds. William Byron’s No. 24 Axalta pit crew is tied for the least amount of pit road penalties. Kyle Larson (second) and Byron (fifth) are in the top five in average rolling rank and Elliott ranks third in box time, according to data from Racing Insights.
"The beginning of the year was a major learning curve amongst the pit crews and amongst the teams in general," Carvin said. "What was important, what mistakes not to make and how important it was to avoid really costly wheel coming off scenarios. We’ve definitely played conservative at first. We’ve tried to make some gains on the clock and speed-wise lately, which I really feel like the guys have responded and be able to do.
"I think we’re pretty competitive at the moment. I’m happy with where we are but definitely a long season left and we’ll be much better than we are right now when we get near the end of this thing."
Last year’s Memorial Day weekend race at Charlotte saw Hendrick Motorsports place its drivers all in the top five with a 1-2-4-5 finish thanks to fast cars and efficient work on pit road to maintain the track position.
Watch the pit crews in action this Sunday starting at 6 p.m. ET on FOX with the broadcast being carried on PRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.