When we think of NASCAR as a team sport, we often think of the driver, crew chief, and pit crew putting together a winning race machine. We might think of the team owner, but beyond the visible faces at NASCAR Cup races, many fans may be left wondering if NASCAR is really a team sport.
NASCAR is a team sport. NASCAR teams comprise a driver, pit crew, crew chief, and owner, along with other team members that serve very important roles. Other members of a NASCAR team include a team manager, spotters, a pit crew coach, specialists in engineering and aerodynamics, and mechanics.
Without team members fine-tuning a car during the week leading to a racing event, a talented NASCAR driver and pit crew cannot maximize a car’s performance. Every team member must hold their weight to achieve the highest possible finish on race day. Below, we take a closer look at NASCAR teams.
NASCAR is a sport for several reasons, with the main criteria being that it involves physical exertion on the part of the driver, along with major competitive aspects that all have to run in accordance with a set of rules.
In the old days, many still considered NASCAR a sport even though drivers and pit crews were nothing more than experienced mechanics and drivers. If you watch a pit stop from the 1970s, you will notice they were substantially slower than today’s pit stops that often last less than 13 seconds.
NASCAR resembles its professional sports counterparts more today than ever before throughout its history. Drivers in the 21st century adopt serious fitness regimens and most eat a tightly balanced diet.
Meanwhile, many pit crew members are not natural auto mechanics. Instead, they may be former elite college athletes who did not play professional sports. Therefore, race teams recruit these athletes and teach them about stock car racing and the mechanics of a NASCAR vehicle.
It’s common to see pit crews practice choreographing pit stops throughout the week leading up to a race. Each crew member often has just one responsibility that they specialize and train in throughout the NASCAR season.
Therefore, pit crew members often embark on functional training regimens that will help them perform better on race day. Becoming a successful member of a NASCAR pit crew means they must have the strength, speed, and explosiveness required for a fast pit stop.
What About The Drivers?
As for drivers, NASCAR historians often credit Mark Martin as the first driver to adopt a strict fitness and nutrition regimen. Martin’s efforts paid off, and he ended up racing for 31 seasons, recording 882 starts.
Before the 21st century, the sports world still considered NASCAR a sport given the endurance it required to race between 300 and 500 miles for 30-40 weekends per season. However, drivers rarely paid attention to their fitness.
J. D. McDuffie was a prime example. McDuffie, one of the most distinguished independent drivers in NASCAR history, often smoked cigars during a race. He often cited that he had a successful race if he finished five cigars. He raced between 1963 and 1991, driving in an incredible 653 races.
To outsiders, NASCAR gives off the aura that it’s a single-person sport since there is only one driver. Or, at most, they will account for a driver and their pit crew making up an entire team. However, individual NASCAR teams seen on race day are just part of an overall much larger team.
NASCAR teams are made up of lots of people, with roles beyond the driver and pit crew involving management staff, media and marketing teams, mechanics and engineers, and many more people that you don’t see at the racetrack. Without all of these team members, a NASCAR driver wouldn’t have a car to race.
The number of NASCAR teams varies from year to year in the Cup Series. As of 2022, there were 36 chartered race cars. Of the 36 charters handed out, 16 different organizations fielded them with Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, and Hendrick Motorsports fielding a combined 12 teams.
Other prominent names that fielded NASCAR teams over the past three decades include Roush-Fenway Racing, Wood Brothers Racing, Team Penske, Richard Childress Racing, and Petty GMS Motorsports .
Celebrities and athletes have also formed organizations that provide multiple racing teams. Pitbull’s Trackhouse Racing and Michael Jordan’s 23XI Racing have a combined four teams for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series.
Finally, numerous up-and-coming teams have also earned a charter. These teams include JTG Daugherty Racing, Kaulig Racing, Spire Motorsports, Front Row Motorsports, Rick Ware Racing, Live Fast Motorsports, and RFK Racing.
These smaller chartered teams often employ just one full-time driver for one car, and it’s not uncommon to see multiple part-time drivers in the organization’s second car. For example, in 2022, Rick Ware Racing employed six drivers for its Number 15 Team. But what are chartered and non-chartered NASCAR teams?
Multiple kinds of teams exist in NASCAR. As of 2016, the two most common types include Chartered and Non-Chartered teams. The larger teams have stood the test of time and are among NASCAR’s most valuable.
Hendrick Motorsports is typically NASCAR’s most valuable racing team that opened its doors in 1984. However, some single-car teams have also lasted for decades. Wood Brothers Racing, who fields the iconic Number 21 Ford, started operations in 1950.
While it’s rare these days, there have been instances of independent racing teams seeking to compete with established teams like Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske, and Joe Gibbs Racing. While most independent teams suffer from low funds, others have risen to become household names. Furniture Row Racing was a small, single-car team when they earned a trip to the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2013.
While Furniture Row closed its doors after the 2018 season, they expanded to become a two-car team featuring Martin Truex Jr. and Eric Jones. Truex Jr. won the championship in 2017.
Chartered teams in NASCAR are teams that sought to qualify for every race between 2013 and 2015, and they are automatically allowed to enter every race. Non-chartered teams are those teams that do not hold a chartered position, but they may be able to buy a charter from a chartered team.
In 2016, NASCAR introduced the Charter Agreement when they gave 36 charters to teams, with each charter being good for one car. These teams must have sought to qualify for each race from 2013 to 2015 to earn a charter. Teams with a charter received guaranteed entry into a race and they also got a predetermined amount of the purse.
If a chartered team could not fulfill their overall commitment, they were free to sell their charter to a prospective team. They could also transfer charters from one team to another for one season.
NASCAR can also remove a charter if the team finishes between 34th and 36th in the standings for three consecutive seasons. As of 2022, NASCAR teams fielding a charter can only run up to four cars per race.
Since NASCAR also caps each race at 40 cars with 36 chartered cars, only four non-chartered cars can usually enter a race. Sometimes that number is zero, while other events see four or more non-chartered cars attempting to qualify for the event.
In the past, some NASCAR teams gained notoriety for adopting a strategy called starting and parking. These teams, known as start and park teams or field fillers, were seen at every level on the NASCAR spectrum, including the Cup, Xfinity, and Truck Series.
The controversial strategy involved one if not more cars driving for the same organization. These drivers would relinquish their qualifying position and navigate toward the back of the pack to start the race. Just a few laps into the event, they took their car behind the wall, quitting the race, while still pocketing some of the prize money without having to absorb tire, fuel and running costs.
Per NASCAR rules, every car that retired early needed to list a reason for going behind the wall. Often, start and park teams listed something like a vibration issue as the cause. However, not only did this take away from the racing spectacle, but it also meant qualifying spots were taken up by cars that had no intention to race, meaning slower teams lost out.
Fans caught on quickly to start and park teams during the mid-2010s, prompting NASCAR to respond with the Chartered System. They also reduced the number of Cup Series participants to between 36 and 40 drivers, scrapping the previously standardized number of 43.
Low-budget racing teams were often one-car or two-car teams that employed multiple drivers, but sometimes their owner doubled as the driver. These teams often had no full-time pit crew, and they also lacked the sponsorship and financial backing needed to compete with established teams. Fans easily identified low-budget teams because of their blank hoods.
J. D. McDuffie was perhaps the most prominent low-budget driver. Having started his career in 1963, the former dirt track expert fielded his own race team for most of his career until it tragically ended in 1991 following a fatal crash at Watkins Glen.
McDuffie, given his lack of financial backing, rarely kept up with the more prominent teams of the day. However, he was talented enough to win a pole position award, achieve a career-best third place in a race, and he also finished ninth in the final NASCAR standings in 1971.
A modern low-budget team was Kirk Shelmerdine Racing, which predominantly ran between the 2004 and 2006 NASCAR seasons. Shelmerdine, best known as a championed crew chief for Dale Earnhardt, also raced in the ARCA and then-Nationwide Series levels. Despite lacking sound sponsorship, Kirk Shelmerdine Racing appeared in two-dozen NASCAR events and finished a career-best 20th at the 2006 Daytona 500.
The low-budget team closed following the 2009 season after they attempted to enter a handful of races starting in the 2007 season. One reason for its overall lack of success and closure came from the fact that low-budget teams lacked the resources to compete with their established counterparts.
A typical NASCAR team is made up of around 15 people at the track, while others work in the shop and team headquarters. There are also dozens of other team members that fill roles in media and marketing, and various other important sectors.
The typical chain of command in a NASCAR team goes like this:
- Team owner
- Team manager
- Crew chief
Below the crew chief sits a team of:
- pit crew coach
- Pit crew
- Truck drivers
- Media and public relations officers
If you’ve never sat and paid close attention to a NASCAR pit stop, you probably don’t realize how many pit crew members are part of a race team. NASCAR pit crews are made up of several different people.
The tire changers are responsible for removing lug nuts on the front tires and replacing them once the tire carrier installs the new tire. One tire changer handles the front tire and the other handles the rear tires.
Front tire carriers remove old tires and install fresh tires. At one time, a rear tire carrier took care of the rear tires. However, the jackman has since taken responsibility for installing and removing rear tires. Tire carriers must also keep control of the old front tires.
Besides their added responsibilities discussed above, the jackman also raises the car during a tire change. The jackman also confirms the tire changer tightened the lug nuts to NASCAR’s standards.
During a typical pit stop, the gas man uses a red gas can to provide fuel for the car. While they may not provide additional assistance, they may help pull old tires off the car if the driver is only entering the pits for a tire change.
They typically help the pit crew during a race’s second half, or the third stage. Sometimes, NASCAR may allow them to hop over the wall earlier. They often clean the windshield or provide drivers with a quick drink of water.
The pit crew’s “supervisor,” they oversee operations from the car setup in the shop to adjustments that may be necessary during the race. They also have the final say in pit strategy. An additional responsibility includes hiring a pit crew coach to prepare the crew for the week’s race.
One of the most challenging roles in NASCAR is that of a NASCAR spotter. Spotters are rarely seen and if you’re new to NASCAR, you may not even know they exist. Occasionally, the camera will show the 36-40 spotters for each individual driver standing atop the press box tower.
Given their bird’s-eye view of the track, spotters let their drivers know about opposing cars that may close in on them either high (closer to the wall) or low (closer to the apron). They may also warn drivers about faster cars on the track approaching from behind or incidents up ahead.
The spotter must pay close attention to their assigned driver while simultaneously paying attention to any debris or incidents that might be going on in front of them. For example, they will direct a driver through a wreck if one occurs, instructing them to go high or low to avoid contact.
Despite their importance to a driver’s success, spotters originally were not common in NASCAR until the 1980s. Overall communication between the driver and their pit crew became commonplace in the 1970s, but it occurred exclusively from the pit box.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that NASCAR mandated teams to have at least one spotter. However, on superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega or road courses like Watkins Glen, teams will utilize multiple spotters.
What Is Each Member Of A NASCAR Team Responsible For?
Every NASCAR team begins with the team owner. The team owner may even oversee several NASCAR teams. As of 2022, each owner can have up to four teams, which comprise their ‘organization.’
They have the final say in all decisions regarding the hiring and firing of staff, signing sponsors, and ultimately increasing the team’s value. Overall, the owner’s sole responsibility is to make their race team money that may go toward funding other cars or further research and development.
The team manager oversees a single team within the organization. Using Hendrick Motorsports as an example, Rick Hendrick would serve as the owner, with a separate manager for each of his four race teams at the NASCAR Cup level.
The manager reports directly to the owner and their role is like that of an NFL quarterback or an NBA point guard. Just as a quarterback or point guard leads their respective offenses, the team manager does the same on race day for the entire team.
The Crew Chief
Besides the driver, the crew chief is the most distinguished face on a NASCAR team. When a driver is contending for a win, the camera often shifts to the crew chief and sometimes the television audience gets to listen in on the crew chief’s communication with their driver.
Their primary responsibility is to ensure their driver achieves a respectable finish. They make in-race adjustments regarding the car’s performance and they also determine pit strategy.
The engine specialist develops and maintains the car’s engine throughout the grueling NASCAR season. Their primary goal is to ensure the engine runs at 100 percent performance on race day.
The tire specialist has a job similar to the engine specialist, except they’re primarily focused on the tires’ performance throughout a race. Different racetracks call for different tire compounds, and the tire specialist, when choosing the right compound, further augments their car’s speed.
The aerodynamics specialist seeks to maximize the car’s overall stability without sacrificing speed. The specialist must account for wind, weather conditions, and track conditions. For example, crosswinds affect a car differently to head or tail winds. It’s up to the aerodynamics specialist to maximize the car’s efficiency in unstable conditions.
The suspension specialist worries about traction above all else. Different tracks have different racing surfaces, and the suspension specialist must figure out how the car acts on each one.
NASCAR teams employ engineers to relay information that will help the specialists fine-tune the car for race day. Data collectors at heart, engineers interpret this data from past races at a respective racetrack before the specialists handle the car.
No race team is complete without a team of mechanics. They are responsible for manually performing all necessary changes to a car to prepare it for the race.
The truck driver is more than just the one hauling the equipment to and from a racetrack. They transport all necessary equipment from shops and even factories related to their respective team. It’s common to see the truck driver play an additional role on the team, such as a mechanic.
Media And PR Teams
Like all major companies worldwide, each NASCAR team employs a set of public relations (PR) specialists to take care of all media-related activities. They handle the team’s social media pages, websites, and they organize public events both at and away from the track.
NASCAR is a team sport. NASCAR teams are made up of many different people, not just the driver. The entire team is responsible for their success, including the marketing teams, mechanics, engineers, management team and all of the various other staff that you don’t see at the races.