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4 Tires & Fuel: Pit Crews Handle the Pressure at Las Vegas

In the first real test of the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series campaign, several pit crews rose to the occasion, leading their drivers to strong finishes at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.


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Las Vegas is the first race of the NASCAR Cup season where pit stop times made a huge factor and some showed how far they had honed their skills over the winter, while other ran into mistakes that cost points and positions. There were 213 pit stops where four tire were changed and times were fast, with 89 of those coming in at 10 seconds or less. The median four tire change for the race was 10.19 seconds. Things were so fast that there were even a few pit stops below the nine second mark.

Best Individual Pit Stop Speeds

Joe Gibbs Racing took the top two spots for individual stop speeds with the No. 11 crew changing four tires in just 8.88 seconds and the No. 20 crew just a hundredth behind with a stop clocking in at 8.89 seconds. The No. 14 crew at Stewart-Haas Racing also snuck into the 8s with a stop that clocked in at 8.99 seconds. Hendrick dominated the list with three of their house crews making an appearance along with the No. 7 crew that is leased to Spire.

CarTeamTime (seconds)
Joe Gibbs Racing
Joe Gibbs Racing
Stewart-Haas Racing
Hendrick Motorsports
Spire Motorsports
Team Penske
Hendrick Motorsports
Hendrick Motorsports
Trackhouse Racing
RFK Racing

Not only was that No. 11 crew of Denny Hamlin able to set the single fastest times of the day, they also remained consistent with a median pit stop time of 9.44 seconds for the race which put them second on the chart for the day. That squad is staffed by veterans starting with AJ Rosini changing tires up front.

Rosini was part of the No. 20 crew in 2022 and was moved to the No. 11 last year where he has become a great fit. Dylan Dowell carries tires for AJ and is a veteran who is one of the fastest carriers in the series and often the leader in how quickly he can carry and install a left side tire. Dowell carries to Deven Youker in the rear who is the youngest member of the No. 11 crew. He started on the Xfinity team just a few years ago and developed quickly to move up to the Cup Series. Joel Bouganon started his athletic career as a running-back in the NFL before finding his way to NASCAR and Joe Gibbs Racing and is a huge asset to that No. 11 crew. The squad is rounded out by veteran fueler Kenneth Purcell who has been at JGR for over a decade and prior to that has won a Cup Series championship pitting for Jimmie Johnson.

Median Four Tire Pit Stop Speeds

While setting the fastest stop of the day is a pretty large accomplishment, consistency on pit road is often what wins races, making the median times for the event incredibly significant.

The competition was so tight this weekend at Las Vegas, that two pit crews - the No. 22 for Team Penske and the No. 48 for Hendrick Motorsports -- set the same median pit stop time (9.39 seconds). The spread among the top-10 was small, with only four-tenths of a second separating tenth from first, and all well below the 10-second mark:

CarTeamTime (seconds)
22Penske Racing9.39
48Hendrick Motorsports9.39
11Joe Gibbs Racing9.44
3Richard Childress Racing9.49
20Joe Gibbs Racing9.58
9Hendrick Motorsports9.59
24Hendrick Motorsports9.59
99Trackhouse Racing9.59
14Stewart-Haas Racing9.64
10Stewart-Haas Racing9.79

Many of the teams listed on this chart ended up with strong finishes, likely a result of the track position gained on pit road. Though, oddly enough, the only Hendrick house crew that didn't make the top-10 list was the race-winning pit crew for the No. 5 team.

The team was ranked 19th overall for Sunday's event, with a median pit stop time of 10.14 seconds. That metric, though, was brought down by a couple of slow pit stops, peaking with an 11.09-second stop in the middle of the race. They were able to regroup and put down a 9.09-second pit stop at the end for the money stop that mattered the most. We spent some time with that No. 5 pit crew last year and featured them in our Pit Crew Challenge special.

Front ChangerBlaine Anderson
Rear ChangerCalvin Teague
JackBrandon Johnson
Tire CarrierRJ Barnette
FuelerBrandon Harder

Barnette, Teague, and Harder are veterans of Hendrick Motorsports, having been a part of championship squads for Jimmie Johnson, and have even been awarded the Mechanix Most Valuable Pit Crew award in the past.

RJ Barnette is a story of perseverance, walking on to play football at Samford University and then later taking an internship at Hendrick to work in the weight room. While there, he decided that he didn't want to train the pit crew but instead wanted to be part of one. Once again, he kept pushing and training until he was given an opportunity, which eventually led to huge success.

Anderson and Johnson are the young guys on the squad, both being former football players who began on development crews in 2019, before transitioning to the NASCAR Cup Series and winning the championship in 2021 with Kyle Larson. Johnson enjoys his adrenaline even outside of work as he spends much of his free time working on and riding his Ducati.

Misses Of The Race

While the No. 5 crew put down their best stop of the race at the finish with that 9.09-second four-tire change, the No. 45 crew of Tyler Reddick lagged a bit behind at 9.90 seconds, giving Larson better track position at the end.

While that last stop had a reasonably quick time, the No. 45 crew made mistakes earlier in the event -- with a stop time as high as 12.79 seconds for one of their mid-race pit stops. The team finished the day with a median time of 10.24 seconds while their teammates on the No. 23 of Bubba Wallace fared better with afour-tireour tire change pit stop time of 9.74 seconds.

That No. 23 crew was pretty consistent in the stops where they were able to change all four tires, but they did have an issue with an overtightened left front wheel on one of their stops. This eventually put them laps down and took them out of contention. The wheel nut stays with the socket in the wheel gun once it is loosened. Once the tire carrier mounts a new tire, the tire changer goes back in and fastens it. Typically they hit the hub with the wheel nut and then press the trigger on the wheel gun to fasten, but if they hit the trigger as they are hitting the hub and the socket is spinning before they reach the threads the momentum can result in the wheel nut being overtightened.

This is a habit that many veteran tire changers have had to learn to break because it is how you fasten the lug nuts during a 5-lug pit stop most quickly. Unfortunately, it usually causes issues when done on single lug cars, especially since the tire changer has no indication that a wheel nut has been overtightened until the car comes in for the next pit stop. The situation typically gets worse as the car runs on track because the heat produced by the brakes and tire cause the aluminum wheel to heat up and expand and further jam against the wheel nut.

There is an emergency wheel gun that produces more torque that teams carry, but in this case, the 23XI racing crew members had to cut reliefs in the wheel in order to help break it loose and eventually remove the wheel nut. This process took around six minutes which left Wallace 12 laps down to the field.

The No. 17 of Chris Buescher had the opposite issue as they didn't get the right front wheel tight on an early-race pit stop. The RFK team opted to come in for two tires and fuel since a caution was displayed early in the race, having Buescher out of the pit box in 3.99 seconds. That fast pit stop, unfortunately, came with a penalty because the right front tire was never fully tightened.

Next Gen Wheel and Hub
Next Gen Wheel and Hub

This can happen in pit stops where tire exchanges are done too quickly and the hole on the back of the wheel never fully seats into the drive pins sticking out from the hub. In these scenarios, the wheel nut appears to be tight, but all of the threads do not get engaged. As the car starts rolling, that space behind the wheel starts to open up and the wheel nut starts working its way loose.

Eventually, the wheel started sitting tilted on the hub as it worked its way away from it, and that means that it now starts touching components like the brake caliper. The sharp edge of that brake caliper begins grinding into the inside of the wheel and eventually machines it apart as we saw with the No. 17. At that point, the outside half of the wheel typically ejects from the car along with the wheel nut because they are no longer being trapped in place by the fender.

We've seen this scenario multiple times when teams aren't able to successfully seat and fasten a wheel and just like the other, NASCAR will likely suspend the two pertinent crew upon the release of the penalty report mid-week.

Success and Growing Pains for New Pit Crews

LEGACY MOTOR CLUB built out a brand new pit crew department over the winter and the launch of the season has gone well for both of their primary pit crew and their PDG group which worked on the No. 84 at Daytona.

Las Vegas was the first opportunity to see those No. 42 and No. 43 crews work under extreme pressure and the No. 43 squad showed that they are up to the task, with a median pit stop time of 10.08 seconds, putting them just outside the top-15 for the race.

The No. 42 crew didn't do as well, with their median pit time coming in at 11.85 seconds. This was heavily impacted by the last pit stop of the race, which was performed in 14.39 seconds.

More Pit Road Troubles for Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch is off to a tough start to the season as the first driver to see pit crew changes after issues at Daytona. Unfortunately the updated squad isn't showing huge improvements yet as they occupied the bottom of the charts at Las Vegas at just one spot above that No. 42 crew. The No. 8 crew had a median pit stop time of 11.49 seconds with their slowest stop of the day clocking in at 16.69 seconds. These issues were made worse when Busch slid through their pit box which resulted in a penalty that put them further back in the field. Their teammates on the No. 3 car fared much better with a median pit stop time of 9.49 seconds which put them into the top 3 for the day. The No. 3 crew is incredibly consistent with most of their pit stops being in the 9s and their slowest four tire change of the day clocking in at just 10.19 seconds.

Room for Improvement at The Bottom of the Charts

The the lowest ranked median 4 tire changes range from 10.49 seconds to 15.37 seconds and include a variety of new and development pit crews so it's not surprising to see them down there and improve as the season progresses. On the other hand, crews like those working on the No. 8, No. 15, and No. 21 are mostly the same as last year and if they don't see improvements quickly then we are likely to see changes there.

CarTeamTime (seconds)
NY Racing
Rick Ware Racing
Legacy Motor Club
Richard Childress Racing
Front Row Motorsports
Spire Motorsports
Kaulig Racing
Kaulig Racing
Rick Ware Racing
Wood Brothers Racing

Las Vegas showed us what these pit crews had worked on over the winter and who came out a winner with their hires. Young talent and growth will be helpful for the long but it is quickly apparent that HMS, JGR, and Trackhouse are still the groups to beat on pit lane. A few others others are showing up strong and could offer surprises as we step away from superspeedways and get to tracks like Phoenix, Bristol, and COTA over the next few weeks.

-Featured photo credit: Will Bellamy, Racing America

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