For someone just getting into NASCAR, the pit stop definitely doesn't jump out as the most exciting part of the sport. Sure, it's not something that really holds a candle to the intensity of a Big One at Daytona or Talladega or the excitement of a last-lap maneuver that seals a driver's victory. But, the pit stop is an integral facet of NASCAR, with each millisecond being crucial, making the pit crew members stand out as the unsung heroes of stock car racing.
From the NASCAR's early days to the modern era, the pit stop has evolved from a necessary endeavor into a highlight-reel-making experience. Just think about it: decades ago, a diehard fan probably wouldn't even know the name of a single crew member (aside from the crew chief). Today, crew members are in the spotlight more than ever, with some even developing into high-profile personalities, thanks to the advent of podcasts and social media. Given their growing relevance, we're here to look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of NASCAR pit stops.
1967-2012: Remember the Pit Crew Challenge?
Okay, so this is more of a collection of memorable pit stops as opposed to one definitely memorable moment, but we'd be remiss if we didn't look back on the Pit Crew Challenge. Cancelled in 2013 due to lack of sponsorship, the event was held annually from 1967 to 2012. The first iteration of the contest, which lasted from '67 to '84, was held at Rockingham Speedway in Richmond County, North Carolina, and consisted of a two-tire change competition. The next iteration bumped the two-tire change up to four and lasted from '85 to 2003.
After a one-year stint in Mooresville in 2004, the Pit Crew Challenge was moved to the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, where it stayed for the remainder of its lifespan. This is when things really got turned up a notch, with competitions consisting of a four-tire change with jacking, a gas fill-up done on separate cars, and the entire pit crew pushing another car 40 yards.
Can you imagine if this were still a thing now? NASCAR, if you're reading this (and we know you are), please give the people what they want and bring back the Pit Crew Challenge. It's the right thing to do.
1987: Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip Race on Pit Road
Back in late 2022, this video of Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Darrell Waltrip racing each other door-to-door on pit road during the 1987 Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway made the rounds on Twitter. It got the attention of Dale Earnhardt Jr. (who retweeted the video), and hearkened back to the day when NASCAR was way more intense than it is today. The ensuing pit stop was down to the wire, with Dale Sr. getting out of the box before DW. Ultimately, Earnhardt would win the race (and he'd also go on to win his third Cup title in '87), while Waltrip would place second.
Now, the Dale versus Darrell showdown on pit road went down before there were any speed limits on pit road. As you'll see from our next entry, that would all change just a few years later after a terrible incident in Atlanta.
1990: Tragedy Strikes in Atlanta
Before 1991, there was no such things at speed limits on pit road. That all changed following the tragic death of Mike Rich at the the 1990 Atlanta Journal 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Rich, who was the right rear tire changer for Bill Elliott's No. 9 Ford Melling Racing team, was in the middle of a pit stop during lap 300 of the NASCAR Cup Series race. Meanwhile, Ricky Rudd was driving his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy into pit road to refuel and get new tires. Unfortunately, as Rudd was attempting to slow down, his brakes locked up. This caused him to slam into the back on Elliott's car during the pit stop. Jackman Tommy Cole was hit in the back during the crash, while Rich became trapped between the two cars. Cole was treated for an arm injury at the local hospital, though Rich's injuries were much more severe. Before even being transferred away from the track, Rich went into cardiac arrest as a result of severe head and chest injuries sustained during the collision. He was initially resuscitated at the hospital, but died soon after.
Beginning with the 1992 Cup Series season, NASCAR officials implemented pit road speed limits, and today, penalties are assessed if drivers surpass those limits.
1995: Jeff Gordon's Bizarre Pit Stop During Title Race
Coming into the 1995 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship race at Atlanta, Jeff Gordon had his first title pretty much locked up. He was 147 points ahead of Dale Earnhardt, and basically, all he had to do was show up to get the job done. If he didn't lead for a single lap, he had to finish no worse than 41st place to be the champ. If he led for just one lap, it didn't even matter where he finished: he was walking away with the title. With all that in mind, neither Gordon nor his No. 24 team at Hendrick Motorsports were really in a rush to do anything at the NAPA 500.
Obviously, if Gordon were operating under the current Cup Series playoffs system, he would've had more riding on the race in Hampton, Georgia. But, since the points system was in full effect at the time, he had earned the right to take it easy. Still, it's funny to imagine that a lot more was on the line when watching this bizarre pit stop during the race.
The thing was complete chaos. No one was really doing their assigned jobs. The shop mechanic took over as the jackman. You had Ray Evernham, Gordon's crew chief at the time, helping out to change the tires. Heck, even Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick got in there to help clean the windshield. All told, it took 39.6 seconds. But, as the late Bob Jenkins said, "39.6 seconds, but he's the champion anyway.
2015: Brad Keselowski Crashes Into Pit Crew
It's not often that you see a NASCAR driver run over his pit crew, but that's exactly what happened during the 2015 Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway.
On Lap 62 of of the 160-lap Cup race, Brad Keselowski overran his pit stall, and unfortunately, front tire carrier Jeremy Ogles and jackman Braxton Brannon were part of the ensuing collateral damage. While Ogles rolled up onto Keselowski's hood, Brannon did a wild flip next to the driver's side window. For everyone watching both in person and at home, it was no doubt a scary situation.
"I'm sorry about that guys," Keselowski radioed to his crew after he left pit road. "Everybody okay?"
"We'll get through it," Paul Wolfe, Keselowski's crew chief, replied.
Thankfully, they did get through, as not only did Ogles and Brannon end up walking away uninjured, but Keselowski ended up placed second in the Pocono race behind Matt Kenseth. Considering that the pit road incident led to loose tire, which meant a penalty for Keselowski put him down a lap and in 37th place, he and his were more than happy with the ultimate finish.
2018: Martin Truex's Crew Breaks Out the Power Saw
A K-12 rescue saw is typically used by fire and EMS services, but at the April Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway back in 2018, Martin Truex's crew used the massive tool to get the driver out of a serious bind.
Now, the tool was able to effectively fix the front fender on Truex's Toyota and get him back into the race, but after NASCAR officials reviewed the footage, they came down with a mandate outlawing the saw usage. According to the new rules, teams could "only use traditional battery-powered equipment to repair a vehicle on the service side of the pit wall," including "reciprocating saws, rivet guns, screw guns, and drills." In other words, the monstrosity used by Furniture Row Racing was an absolute no-go.
Truex's crew chief Cole Pearn wasn't too happy with the ruling, later tweeting that NASCAR was "pretty much taking the piss out of everything these days." We're sure plenty of other diehard NASCAR fans would agree with Pearn's sentiment.
2021: Kyle Larson's Title-Clinching Pit Stop
Thanks to an extremely clutch pit stop late in the 2021 Cup Series championship race, Kyle Larson clinched his first-career Cup title during his first year with Hendrick Motorsports. Clocking in at 11.8 seconds, the stop allowed Larson to pass Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, and Chase Elliott. As a result of the momental position shift, Larson was able to take the lead, which he kept for the remaining 28 laps of the race. All the more impressive, the stop included refueling, a full four-tire change and air pressure adjustment, the addition of tape on the nose of the car, and the replacement of the track bar. That's a hell of a lot to get done in less than 12 seconds. But, Larson's squad got it done.
"I've been doing this for a long time and that was probably the greatest pit stop I've been a part of," rear-tire changer Calvin Teague, who had previously been part of three other championship-winning teams, said after the race.
Aside from Teague, the No. 5 team behind the most consequential pit stop of 2021 included front-tire changer Donnie Tasser, tire carrier R.J. Barnette, jackman Brandon Johnson, and fueler Brandon Harder.
"It'll never get old seeing that," Barnette said. "It's incredible. It still gives me chills, honestly."
2022: Kyle Busch's Pit Crew Makes History
On August 14, 2022, at the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway, Kyle Busch's No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team set the record for fastest NASCAR pit stop, putting up a time of 8.6 seconds. The members of the history-making team included front tire changer Thomas Hatcher, tire carrier CJ Bailey, rear tire changer Lee Cunningham, jackman Kellen Mills, and fueler Matthew Tyrrell.
Now, even just a couple years ago, the prospect of a sub-nine second pit stop would've seemed unfathomable. But, with the introduction of the Next Gen car in 2022, which brought such changes as single lug nut wheels, and other alterations to the pit stop process, these sort of times will probably just be par for the course in the Cup Series going forward. Who knows? Maybe, as you're reading this article, there's already been a new record for fastest pit stop. We have a hard time believing that any team other than JGR will be leading the charge, though. These guys are just on another level.
MORE: Brad Keselowski Came Into His Pit Stall Way Too Fast and Sent Crew Members Flying in This Wild NASCAR Moment
Want More Sports News?
Get the biggest and best sports news sent directly to your inbox.