Notebook: Changes from official rules to pit crews
May 19, 2012, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com
CONCORD, N.C. -- Admittedly, Sprint Cup drivers haven't raced in heavy traffic since NASCAR mandated shorter side skirts for the cars, but in the All-Star Race practice and qualifying Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, most drivers felt little or no difference in the way their cars performed.
NASCAR required crews to trim the side skirts on their cars one inch on the right side and an inch and a half on the left, thereby increasing the ground clearance. The result is a decrease in downforce and stability, though the difference isn't profound.
"I think there was a little bit of a different feel, sure" said Kyle Busch, who won the pole for the All-Star Race. "Any time you take downforce off a car, you'll feel it a little bit. Surprisingly, though, we didn't see the lap times slow down as much as we anticipated, maybe.
"Based off practice speeds, we ran the same practice time last year to this year. It might just be the progression -- or the tire, because the tire's a different tire, too, and maybe that played a little bit into it. But, overall, it's a little different feel, but it's not a big swing."
Michael Waltrip Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. thought it was tough to make a comparison with previous trips to Charlotte because of changing track conditions and the continued development of the current-generation race car.
"To be honest with you, I didn't feel a big difference from what we've been racing," Truex said. "Obviously, we haven't been here since last year. I felt like the track was a little bit different than it was here last year -- getting a little rougher -- and I think it's lost a little bit of grip, too.
"With those little differences out there, it's hard to compare. Our cars are so much different than they were here a year ago, as far as our stuff at MWR, so it's really hard to compare apples to apples, (but) to be honest, I didn't really feel a big difference from what we've been feeling the rest of the season."
Carl Edwards, a proponent of reducing downforce, said he felt no difference at all.
"I didn't run around any other cars or anything, but I didn't notice anything," Edwards said. "If they wouldn't have talked about it a little bit and told me before practice what was going on, I wouldn't have known -- so no effect from where I sit."
New approach to pit crews
Jimmie Johnson's crew winning the NASCAR Sprint Crew Challenge on Thursday night was hardly surprising. More remarkable was the complete turnover of the five-time champion's over-the-wall gang.
No member of Johnson's 2009 and 2010 title teams is still on the crew in any of the skill positions. Does that mean the template for a pit crew member has changed in the last three years?
"Yeah, just like the sport in so many other respects, it continues to evolve," Johnson said. "For a long time, due to budget reasons and the structure of the budget for our organization, we worked hard to have over-the-wall guys that also had some responsibilities in the shop. (Current car chief) Ron Malec was a tire carrier for a long time.
"We were getting our money's worth out of Ron week-in and week-out. Today, it's changed. The physical demand on the road crew guys, working on the car three days in advance -- here when the garage opens, when it closes -- it takes away a little bit. Pit road is so competitive that we felt we needed to have just specific over-the-wall guys."
Crew chief Chad Knaus actually held mini camps for prospective pit crew members, drawing from college sports.
"Our whole search started and took us some time to get everybody in the right positions and get the experience they need, but now it's really paying off," Johnson said.