The way NASCAR pit stops work fit into a team’s overall racing strategy. If performed properly, pit stops will help their driver maintain or even gain track position. This means NASCAR pit stops are incredibly important, and they work using a very well-coordinated system.
NASCAR pit stops work with each pit crew member performing their assigned task quickly and efficiently. A pit crew’s goal is to replace tires and fuel in less than 13 seconds, and each pit stop in a NASCAR race is more important than the previous.
Below, we will discuss the tasks for each pit crew member and the guidelines they must adhere to if they want to put their driver in a position to win a race. We will also explore how many pit stops a NASCAR driver must make, and how repeated perfect pit stops and pit strategy help drivers win.
NASCAR pit stops are so fast because the pit crew practices the coordinated pit stops on a regular basis. These crew members are really athletic mechanics, and they train hard to be able to do their job perfectly every time their driver comes into the pits.
In the old days, NASCAR pit crews were mechanics that worked on their driver’s car in the week leading to the race. These pit crews emphasized speed, but they did not have natural athletic or choreographic ability to pull off the fast pit stop times you see in NASCAR today.
In modern times, pit crews are so fast it’s common to see them change four tires and deliver a can of racing fuel in under 15 seconds,with 12 to 16 seconds comprising an average pit stop. The easiest explanation behind a pit crew’s speed is that most are not natural mechanics, but athletes.
Today, NASCAR organizations employ specialists at every level, from engineering and aerodynamic specialists to a team of mechanics. And finally, they hire a pit crew whose members specialize in one to two tasks only.
For example, the tire changers and tire carriers only serve the team in those respective roles on a given week. The same holds true for the jackman, utility member, and gas man. By niching its pit crew members’ roles, it further allows crews to pull off fast stops for their drivers.
And since these members were often elite athletes at the collegiate level, it’s even natural to find them engaging in functional training to further speed up their pit stops.
Not only do all five members of a pit crew need to remain in top physical condition, but they also need to be well-versed in choreography and to expect the unexpected, because a 300 to 500-mile race will bring plenty of surprises.
Pit crews understand that NASCAR is a team sport. Regardless of how good their driver is, they realize they can serve as the difference maker between their driver winning or losing a race.
Therefore, throughout the week, pit crews engage in team drills just as a professional NFL or NHL team conducts practices to prepare for their next game. To the untrained eye, the perfect pitstop looks like controlled chaos. However, NASCAR fans who watch pit stops closely know that pit crews require the same choreography as elite figure skaters, synchronized swimmers, and dancers.
If the choreography deviates even a little, it will throw off the entire pit stop. So, who are these elite athletes who make their living providing 12 to 16-second services to a racecar?
When conducting the perfect pit stop, the gas man starts things when they inject 12 gallons of Sunoco racing fuel into their car’s gas tank. When full, the gas can weighs 90 pounds and it’s the gas man’s goal to transfer fuel into the car in under five seconds.
The jackman has 1.5 seconds to sprint to the right-hand side of the car, position the jack, and raise the car so their tire changers can unscrew the lug nuts. They must also be aware of the tire changers’ and tire carrier’s position at all times to ensure perfect choreography.
If the jackman is late to raise the car, they will delay the tire changers. If they lower the car before the tire changers finish bolting the lug nuts back onto the car, they risk their driver reentering the track with a loose tire.
The latter will always end with their driver falling a lap down when they’re forced to reenter pit road to fix the issue. At shorter tracks, the jackman’s error could result in the driver falling two or even three laps down.
The jackman also has multiple duties these days as they often pull rear tires from the car. They are also responsible for ensuring the old rear tires make it from the pit box to the wall, lest they risk a penalty.
Most sports scientists agree the tire changers are under the most pressure. Like the jackman, the tire changer has 1.5 seconds to get into position. They used to then have to remove five lug nuts in under a second. From 2022 onwards, NASCAR uses a single lug nut system, but the pressure is still on.
At one time, two tire carriers existed. These days, you only see the front tire carrier. Their job is to carry and install the front tires as fast as they can so the tire changer can replace the lug nut. Like the jackman, the tire carrier is responsible for ensuring the front tires make it back to the wall.
There are eight members for each NASCAR pit crew, but only five can go over the wall to provide service to the car. These members are the gas man, jackman, two tire changers, and the tire carrier. NASCAR used to allow seven members over the wall.
In these cases, the additional members were the rear tire carrier and the catch can man. However, for safety purposes, NASCAR removed the rear tire carrier. And since cars are now self-venting, the catch can man’s role became unnecessary. They were there to catch any fuel that spilled out when the tank was full.
During the second half of the race, an additional member called the utility man is allowed over the wall. They provide general service to the cars like cleaning the windshield and providing necessities to the driver.
The final two members of the pit crew include the crew chief and the car chief. When you watch a NASCAR race, the camera often pans to the crew chief when their driver is either leading or fighting for contention. Since the crew chief determines pit strategy during the race, they hold almost as much responsibility as the drivers do for winning or at least snagging a high finish.
Their role also expands to the pit crew. Besides calling strategies, the crew chief also keeps the pit crew performing at maximum capacity. This means hiring a coach to keep them fit throughout the NASCAR season and offseason.
Often, if NASCAR penalizes a driver because they failed an inspection, it falls on the crew chief’s shoulders. This is because they have the final say regarding the car’s setup. It’s not uncommon to see crew chiefs face suspensions for repeated failed inspections.
The car chief’s primary responsibility comes off the racetrack. During the week, they supervise preparations and adjustments made to the car. The car chief further helps ensure the team passes NASCAR inspections, so they also bear the blame if a car does not meet NASCAR’s strict standards.
You must pit in NASCAR if you plan on making it through the entire duration of the race. There is no way a set of tires can withstand wear and tear for 300 to 500 miles, or even less if the race occurs on a road course, as they are just put under too high loads to last that long at racing speeds.
NASCAR drivers and their teams must also account for fuel and track conditions, and although it’s not a well-known issue, dirt and grime accumulating on the windshield can cause visibility problems, and pitting allows the utility man to clean that off.
Driving between 150 and 200 miles-per-hour, drivers will lose fuel quickly and odds are slim that a full tank of gas will even take them halfway through the race. Topping up fuel alone requires multiple pit stops.
Also, track conditions can change quickly. Sometimes conditions can be harder on the tires. The 2008 Brickyard 400 is the best example of a race whose track conditions did not mesh well with the cars’ Goodyear tires, which turned the event into quite the eyesore.
To remedy the issue, NASCAR needed to issue competition cautions every 10-12 laps on average so drivers could pit and get new tires. Since Indianapolis Motor Speedway is 2.5 miles in length, multiply that number by 10 and cars needed to pit for new tires an average of every 25 miles or so.
The average range of pit stops vary between four to 12 times per race. Other factors also dictate the number of required pit stops. Notable factors include the type of racetrack, the race length, and even on-track events that occur throughout a race.
If cautions litter a race, odds are the drivers will pit often. However, if most races run for long stretches of green flag laps, they won’t pit as often, especially if the track conditions don’t wear down the tires that fast.
The type of track will also affect the number of pit stops per NASCAR race. For example, road courses run substantially fewer miles, and the annual race at Watkins Glen only goes for 220 miles. Races at the Sonoma Raceway run for 218.9 miles.
However, since road courses comprise substantially more turns, with 12 at Sonoma and 11 at Watkins Glen, it can cause even more wear on tires. So, it’s not uncommon to see drivers pit at Sonoma under green between three and four times within a race’s first two stages.
In 2019 at Bristol Motor Speedway, a short track just a half-mile long whose races run for 500 miles, the Busch brothers, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, and Denny Hamlin pitted 31 times combined, for an average of just over six pit stops each for the race’s duration.
Before the chartered system came about in 2016, some NASCAR teams at each level of the sport showed up without pit crews and had no desire to pit. These were start-and-park teams, also called field fillers. Start-and-park teams operated as their name sounds. They started a race and drove a handful of laps before retiring early, protecting their often-unsponsored car from on-track incidents.
Start-and-park teams didn’t have the budget to hire a pit crew, which would have dwindled take-home earnings for their drivers had these teams decided to run a full race (they still made money just for starting, even if they didn’t finish).
Since the Camping World Truck Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series run slightly different schedules to their Cup Series counterparts, there are some instances where rules also differ.
Since 2020, NASCAR has required pit stops at select tracks in both of their mid-tier series. This was done to foster better competition, which would create more fan interest at these events. The rules called for at least two full-service pit stops within a “designated time period.” The Iowa Speedway, Road America, and Mid-Ohio Road Courses were the affected tracks at the Xfinity level.
The rule also reflected the Iowa event for the Truck Series, plus events held at the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park and World Technology Raceway. However, rare as they are these days, a potential start-and-park team could theoretically get around these rules if they only planned on running a few laps. So, in the case of the 2020 rule change shown above, the changes would only affect drivers looking to run the entire race.
Do You Lose Your Spot When You Pit In NASCAR?
You can lose your spot when you pit in NASCAR, just like in any other motorsport. However, as every other car is likely to pit about as often as you, the field eventually balances out in a way that ends with your car in a position where it should be in terms of overall race pace and performance.
When a driver pits, they are likely to temporarily lose their position. This is because cars that don’t pit can ‘overtake’ them while they’re stopped in the pits. But because other cars also pit, either at the same time or at some point later, the driver that pitted first will usually regain their position, or at least catch up to the point where they can fight for positions once again.
Pit Stop Strategy Is Key
While you can name over a dozen top drivers who always seem to contend for wins, you need to give credit to the crew chief and pit crew members who are responsible for error-free pit stops. Yes, a driver’s performance bears a lot of weight, but so does a top-notch pit strategy.
If a crew chief’s pit strategy does not bode well with track conditions or if something unfortunate happens, like pitting under a green flag only for the caution flag to wave a lap later, then even the best drivers in NASCAR may not remedy a failed pit strategy. So, if a driver pits and falls one lap down while crew members provide service to the car and the caution flag waves, they are not getting their position back.
However, since they already pitted, they will at least find themselves back on the lead lap if the field pits when pit road opens assuming the cars on the lead lap pit.If most of the field pitted under green, then the unfortunate event occurs that the driver will not even get back onto the lead lap. Taking a pit stop is a gamble and even the best pit strategies can falter depending on the events of the race.
Moving Up The Positions
The good news, however, is that drivers who are racing in the back of the field can use an effective pit strategy to gain spots. For example, if they find themselves between 25th and 30th place throughout the race, fast and well-timed pit stops will help them climb in the field.
Now, this is where things get tricky. Suppose a driver pits under green, but the caution flag waves before the leader makes their way past pit road to lap the driver when they otherwise would while under green.
Although the leader is theoretically lapping the driver pitting, caution flags freeze the field the moment they are waved.So, although the drivers may seemingly lap the driver who is pitting following the caution flag waving, the driver remains on the lead lap. Only if the leader laps the driver before the caution flag waves will the driver taking their pit stop end up one lap down.
The basic NASCAR pit stop rules are as follows:
- At each track, drivers seeking to pit must follow a predetermined speed limit that often ranges between 45 and 55 miles per hour.
- For each stop, only five members from the pit crew are allowed over the wall. During the second half of the race, the utility man can provide basic services like removing the window tear-off to clean the windshield. An additional crew member is also allowed over the wall if an on-track incident results in damage for their driver’s car that necessitates basic repairs.
- During a pit stop, crew members are allowed to change between two and four tires, provide gasoline, and fix any damage the car may have accrued during the race.
- NASCAR pit crews must also account for a car’s old tires and ensure they at least contact the wall or else they risk a penalty. A penalty also occurs if the pit crew loses track of a tire, and it ends up rolling down pit road or onto the track.
- Pit crew members must wear their fireproof suits and helmets at all times during a pit stop. They must also take a car into the garage area if they need to perform any additional work that goes beyond the scope of tools allowed on pit road.
- NASCAR strictly regulates what kind of equipment teams must have on hand. While NASCAR only allows one jack on a given pit stop, teams may carry a backup if the first one malfunctions. All NASCAR teams must carry an air impact wrench,and NASCAR limits the number of wrenches on-hand to two. All teams also need an air compressor which works in conjunction with the impact wrench.
- Drivers must remain stationary in the pit box throughout the duration of their pit stop.
NASCAR pit stops can make or break a driver’s success on the track. They must follow strict rules set out by NASCAR, and while certain teams have gone without pit crews in the past, teams looking to run the full-length race must pit multiple times, even if they risk losing track position.