It's been awhile, but NASCAR's Pit Crew Challenge will be back on Friday (5:45 pm ET on FS1).
That's an awesome thing.
I know it's been overused as a comparison, but the pit crew of a NASCAR team is akin to a football team's five offensive linemen — they only get noticed when they screw something up. Otherwise, they toil in obscurity, and yet they are unbelievably important in any success a team has. In racing, the pit crew can lead to "passing" multiple opponents without risking a wreck out on the track at 180 MPH. In the recent past, it was a great opportunity for the pit crews' families to come out and watch, and just another cool part of the All-Star racing experience.
This year's Pit Crew Challenge will be the sport's first one since Hendrick Motorsports' No. 48 crew won it in 2012. It was cancelled in 2013 because of lack of sponsorship for the event, and hadn't been revived since then. But that will all change on Friday night when they take it to North Wilkesboro Speedway. The Cup Series is going back in time by bringing a race back to Wilkesboro, and it's only fitting the Pit Crew Challenge is being brought back too — and it has full sponsorship thanks to Mechanix Wear, a company that happens to provide gloves and knee pads for NASCAR pit crew members. It's a perfect sponsor for a badass event.
The challenge will feature a four-tire change with no refueling, with the big news being that the more successful crews will be setting their drivers up for more success on the weekend, too. This isn't a pointless event that's just for fun, it is actually a critical event that could shape the entire weekend for a race team. The drivers won't just be looking on with smiles on their faces, they'll be deeply invested in how their team finishes up the entire weekend.
Why all the seriousness? It will be because crews will be determining the starting order for Saturday's heat-race portion of the All-Star Race and Sunday's NASCAR All-Star Open race. And on a track like Wilkesboro, starting position is a key thing.
So how far does this pit crew event go back? You might be surprised at how far it reaches, actually.
In 1967, NASCAR held its first two-tire challenge at Rockingham Speedway. The Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 — driven then by Cale Yarborough — actually won the first two years' worth of challenges. Rockingham's race weekend provided the date and location of the event from 1967 until 2003. The Richard Childress Racing No. 3 — you guessed it, Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s team — actually won it four years in a row from 1985-88. It was a staple of the racing season, and gave the crews a chance to have a spotlight for once and let the drivers be the cheerleaders. In 2005, the event moved to Charlotte during All-Star Weekend.
Now, we try something new at a track that has a ton of history.
Pit Crew Challenge — it's nice to have you back where you belong.
MORE: The 8 Most Memorable NASCAR Pit Stops Are Underrated Moments in Racing History
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