An NTT INDYCAR Series team is a lot like a football team. The driver is like the quarterback in that he gets all the attention. Win or lose, the driver is at the forefront of coverage. The strategist is like the head coach. They make all the calls at the top of the pit box and the one who does all the homework in planning any and all situations that could arise during a race weekend. Pit crew members, well, they’re like offensive linemen. They are the most behind the scenes part of the organization.
The pit crew really only shows if they mess up. When they do their job satisfactorily, they don’t necessarily get a lot of glory. Just like the offensive line. You usually don’t know as many of their names as you do with the drivers. But when they show up to play, they do the dirty work, and when they don’t slip, you don’t even know they’re there.
In games where the quarterback walks off the field with a clean jersey and a smile on his face, it’s usually because the offensive linemen kept defenders out of the quarterback’s pocket. In most of those situations, the team usually receives an additional number in the win column.
The quarterback gets the glory. Praise usually starts there and ends with the coach. Offensive linemen aren’t usually on the receiving end of winning accolades.
It’s the same in racing.
A crew member changes tires, fuels the car, makes adjustments, and anything else needed to service this vehicle in 6-8 seconds. They have no margin for error in doing so. They risk their lives by jumping over a pit wall and doing so within inches of cars ahead or behind and feet from cars traveling at speeds that you and I do on our normal daily roads.
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Having the focus to do it in such a quick time takes guts and skill. It’s a shame they don’t get the attention they deserve.
“Yeah, it highlights the people who actually get their hands on the product,” Mike Hull told me Wednesday afternoon before the weekend’s season finale. “All of us work very, very hard to have people who are physically and mentally fit, ready to make pit stops.
“It’s funny, since I’m taking care of car 9 on race weekend, we’ll talk about the strategy for the race. If it’s a two-stop race, a three-stop race, a four-stop race, whatever, I’ll just say, guys, we have three stops today. How long is that?
“They’ll say, Oh, that’s 18 seconds. Three stops, six seconds each.
“All we’re asking for is six seconds of your time three times today. That’s all you have to do.
“But it’s much more than that. They put their heart and soul into getting the car ready, then they put their heart and soul into getting over the wall, the people behind the wall who support them. If there are six on the wall, there are 12 people who make that stop.
“We don’t have people flying just to make pit stops. We have people physically working on the car all day, then what they do is jump over the wall.
“I think it really is a team sport. If they’re quick enough to be the quickest in the pits, they certainly beat each other’s chests. It’s really cool that they can still do that in INDYCAR racing. That has always been a part of INDYCAR racing and I hope it always stays that way.”
It’s fascinating to see it in that sense. In NASCAR, these guys on the team are truly weekend warriors and fly in the day of the race or the day before to service the car. There is a group of people in the sport who prepare the car. They each have their own unique roles.
In INDYCAR, the guys and gals in the shop are the ones who service the car on race weekends. They take it personally and take pride that this car is truly theirs too. His blood, sweat and tears are hand-printed all over the Dallara chassis.
“It’s always a difficult balance. The more cars you have, the more difficult it is to equip all those cars with capable pit crews,” Tim Cindric told me on that subject. “It goes back to the different challenges and balances there.
“The fact that most of the people at large in INDYCAR are also the ones who put their heart and soul into building those cars makes it a little bit unique, especially relative to NASCAR.
“The pit stop layout that INDYCAR has come up with really plays well because at the end of the day they really are all stationary with the exception of the outside rear tire changer, the only one that moves more than a couple of steps during a pit stop. in the pits. That allows them to keep doing it.
“It’s not so much based on how old they are, somehow or even their physical condition. Sometimes it’s more of a mental workout or muscle movement, so to speak.”
Cindric also added a wrinkle to this factor in that the pit crews are really the only other part of a race team that you can separate, meaning that in a spec series, there’s not much difference between a car and the other. The human element of a pit crew is really one of the last things left for you to really make a difference in time during a race.
Cars are almost always within a second of each other. So in a series where the margins of victory are less than a second in most cases, how do you get from the green flag to the checkered flag in the least amount of time than others?
Less time on pit road….
“At the end of the day, when you’re trying to differentiate yourself, I think Mike (Hull) brought it up earlier with what are essentially race cars that we all have access to, engines that are randomly distributed throughout the series, the El human factor, whether it’s the driver, the decisions that are made or the pit stops, how they are executed, they really become as important or more important than the physical parts of the cars because it is a matter of decisions and decisions. processes that are carried out”, continued Cindric.
“There is certainly a lot of pride in the pit lane in terms of who they are. But each team takes a different approach to how they assemble their pit crews, whether it’s the so-called All-Star team within the people they have or trying to put together multiple teams that are all A-tier. .
“I think our two groups have been able to achieve that. I think there is a certain amount of pride in being able to put pit crews that are capable of winning races in all your cars. It’s certainly a challenge that I think a lot of people don’t see how hard it is to be consistent across all of your cars, not just one of your cars.”
It’s also no coincidence that when you look at the pit crew rankings provided each week of the NTT INDYCAR Series, the best teams are the ones fighting for a championship this weekend.
4 of the top 5 pit crews listed are 4 of the 5 teams in the hunt for a title.
Scott McLaughlin has the best pit crew. Will Power’s is second best. Scott Dixon is in third place. Josef Newgarden is 4th.
Are they position points?
5th, 1st, 3rd, 2nd respectively.
Alex Palou’s is 5th. He is sixth in points. Duck O’Ward is 7th in points and his crew is 7th. Marcus Ericsson is eighth.
They are 7 of the top 8 in the drivers standings with 7 of the top 8 pit crews. Rinus Veekay is the only outlier with his crew in sixth place.
That’s not a coincidence.
INDYCAR pit crews also differ from NASCAR in that NASCAR races feature many more pit stops. An INDYCAR race only has 2-3 of them most weeks. If you make a mistake 1, you face a deficit that you really can’t get out of. There isn’t enough time.
That’s why to win an INDYCAR race, let alone a championship, you have to be at your best at every stage. Arguably the pit crew is possibly the most important part of this process.
In an age where thousandths of a second separate a win from a no, an extra second on pit road can take you from first to out of the top 10 and one day you do that, you’re getting into territory where you can not win a championship.
Newgarden has 5 wins this season. He has over 1st, 3rd and 4th in points combined (4). So why isn’t he in the points lead?
He has 5 finishes of 13 or worse too. That’s why a pit crew can really make or break you. Fortunately, Newgarden’s problems in those finishes were not related to the pit crew. But this is a prime example that a bad run can ruin your hopes for the future.
That’s also why these drivers are up front because we never talk about bad pit stops for them. Take last weekend as a good example. All 3 Penske cars entered pit road at the same time. It was a race between pit crews for the win.
Pit crews are the unsung heroes of this sport. They put a lot of time into these cars, spending most of their springs and summers on the road away from their families and making a huge sacrifice for the good of the team.