NASCAR

Gas 'n' Go: Tough to tame Lady, lapped traffic

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Jeff Hammond

Jeff Hammond is a former NASCAR crew chief who led Darrell Waltrip to two of his three Sprint Cup championships. The duo also teamed up to win the 1989 Daytona 500. Prior to that, Hammond was the jackman for Cale Yarborough for all three of his Cup championships. He has 43 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief. Follow him on Twitter.

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James from Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Who has the right of way on pit road — the car coming into his stall or the car leaving? Also, do you think Ken Schrader let another Ford, Greg Biffle, go by while holding up Jeff Gordon?

Jeff Hammond: Pit road is a give-and-take situation. If it hadn't been Ken Schrader, it could have been somebody else. It was just the wrong place, wrong time for Jimmie Johnson's pit stop vs. Schrader's. If Johnson had backed off, and they did a crossover move on pit road, there may not have been an issue. But Schrader had to get to his pit stall so he's got to cut across. He was trying to stay on the lead lap, and his pit stop was just as important to him and the No. 21 team as Johnson's stop was for the No. 48 team. It's not like Schrader was 20 laps down. He was a lead-lap car, racing for position. Schrader's track position was just as important as anybody else's. Just because he wasn't a contender for the win in the eyes of lot of people, when you're on the lead lap, you have just as much right to position in the pits or on the track as anybody else. You can't fault Schrader for racing the way he did. He was on the lead lap, and the leaders caught him. He had run well all night long, and Jeff Gordon was frustrated because he could see and feel the win right there at the end. You don't get mad if you don't care so Gordon proved that he still wants to win. He could see the difference between himself and Biffle — three car lengths — and he was there. After 500 miles on a very long and stressful night at Darlington, that's how close Gordon came to winning the race. Gordon knows what it's like to win at Darlington and recognizes the importance of it — not only historically — but his team needs to win now. I was privy to some information prior to the replay and listening to Gordon's post-race interview. He thought Schrader was closer than he was, but it was strictly the luck of the draw and the break of the night that Schrader was there. Schrader gave Gordon plenty of racing room to get by. He didn't pinch him off, but at Darlington, you've got to respect lapped traffic. That's really where the frustration comes in. If Gordon throws caution to the wind, and Schrader does come up to challenge him, he doesn't get 2nd place. A lot of little things came together by the end of the night.

Darlington divots

William from Lansdale, Pa.: With all the new grandstands around the Darlington Raceway, everything looked so different, but the track still looked and drove the same. Thank God the old place didn't go the way of the "Rock," but what will the raceway do about the pieces of track coming up during the race? Jeff Hammond: They will fill it with some epoxy and fix it. It'll be fine. They never would have started the race if they thought there was a problem. Racing is all about doing the best you can despite things that you can't control. It's not a scientific experiment in a controlled environment. That's the challenge of not only losing a race like Gordon did but losing a radiator like Kevin Harvick did. You have to take the good with the bad, and even Biffle has to realize that he probably wouldn't have won the race if it had been two laps longer. For all the bad luck Biffle has had all year long, he got a little bit of good luck back on Saturday night. Track officials have been talking about possibly repaving the track in the next couple of years. They're all trying to be very conscientious of not changing what makes racing there so special. With today's technology, it would probably be easy to go in there and make that surface a whole lot more user-friendly, but it wouldn't be Darlington.

12-second stops?

Craig from Norfolk, Neb.: You explained why Matt Kenseth's pit stop went from 13 to over 14 seconds when his tire changer had to jump a loose tire. How fast do you think pit stops will be in the next couple of years, or will they not improve?
Speed Mail Jeff
Jeff Hammond: On the stop that you are referencing, they still had a great stop, but it cost them coming out of the pits first. It's all about track position, and the best place to pass somebody is on pit road. Even though he didn't give up a position, he didn't gain what I thought he would, especially since crew chief Robbie Reiser's crew had already turned out a 12.8-second stop. The future of pit stops is in the hands of NASCAR. If NASCAR switches to a 17-gallon fuel cell with the Car of Tomorrow in 2007, fuel won't be an issue anymore. Who are we waiting on? Tire changers. If the tire changers can get faster, the pit stops will be faster. Instead of 13 seconds being the benchmark, it may drop down to 12, and it will make racing that much more exciting. Fuel has always been the determining factor, and if guys know they're not waiting on fuel, more agile and quicker tire changers and jackmen that don't make mistakes will be in demand and determine who winds up being king of the hill and setting a new benchmark.


FOX race analyst Jeff Hammond led Darrell Waltrip to two of DW's three Winston Cup championships as his crew chief. They also teamed to win the 1989 Daytona 500.

For autographed copies of Jeff Hammond's new book "Real Men Work in the Pits" plus magnets, hats and more, check out www.dwstore.com.

For photos and appearances, visit Jeff's web site www.jeffhammond.com.

Tagged: Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth

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