No. 11 team repeats as pit crew champs
Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx pit crew doubled down Thursday night.
The team became the first pit crew to win back-to-back titles in the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge, beating their championship rivals, the No. 48 Lowe’s crew.
“We got a really athletic group of guys,” Hamlin said. “I’m really amazed with the consistency that they have. If you look at all the times from every round, they’re within a tenth of a second every round. So they did a great job.”
Similar to last season’s title bout, the Challenge came down to the Nos. 11 and 48 teams in the final round. The five-time Sprint Cup champions from Hendrick Motorsports could not outrun the Joe Gibbs Racing crew, which posted a 0.416-second advantage at the line in their head-to-head final showdown.
Jack man Nate Bolling, gas man Scott Wood, second gas man Justin White, front tire changer Nick Krizmanich, front tire carrier Brandon Pegram, rear tire changer Mike Hicks and rear tire carrier Heath Cherry made up the winning No. 11 team.
For Hamlin, the win was about giving credit where credit was due.
“They did it, I didn’t,” Hamlin said. “We know where the weakest link is, obviously. This is good for them, obviously; this is their main stage.
“They’re all bigger than me, they can all whip my ass.”
The FedEx crew knocked off Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 team in the semifinal round by a mere .066 seconds. The 48’s ascent was much simpler. Although Tony Stewart’s No. 14 team outpushed the No. 48 crew to the finish line, Stewart’s squad was served a 10-second penalty for spilling fuel. Johnson’s team was docked five seconds for the same infraction and still advanced to the final round to face the No. 11 crew.
The battle of the Buschs in the second round of the competition saw the No. 18 team eliminated and the No. 22 crew move on to the quarterfinals. Hamlin’s No. 11 squad won easily over Kevin Harvick’s No. 29 crew.
Although Taylor Earnhardt was behind the wheel of the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, brother Dale had a better set of pushers behind the No. 88.
Clint Bowyer’s crew posted record times in the tire-changing categories but could not hold off Tony Stewart’s men in the second challenge round. The No. 14 jack man Mike Casto and gas man Rick “Pidge” Pigeon topped their individual skills division as well. Jeff Gordon’s team bested the No. 17 Ford, and the No. 39 Army Strong squad could not hold off the No. 4 crew at Red Bull Racing. There was no contest between the No. 48 and the No. 00 from Michael Waltrip Racing as the five-time Cup champions continued their winning tradition until they were thwarted in the final round.
While the $70,675 purse is a great incentive for the crews, the big prize is the first pit stall for Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star Race.
“The critical part of all this is the No. 1 pit stall,” Hamlin said. “That’s the most important benefit for myself when it comes to this. This is more about them than me, but it gives us a good shot at winning the All-Star race.”
BEST OF THE BEST
Event records were set in all four divisions in the Pit Crew Challenge.
Casto jacked the No. 14 Chevrolet in 5.071 seconds. Gas man Pigeon and second gas man Ryan Flores fueled Stewart’s car in 8.652 seconds.
Richard Childress Racing’s No. 33 rear tire changer and carrier combination consisting of Dustin Necaise and Matt Kreuter repeated their title with a time of 13.846 seconds. Their teammates working the fronts — changer Jason Pulver and carrier Austin Craven — topped their division with a time of 13.901 seconds.
Pulver, who has won his position before, called their performance “a great team effort.” He and Kreuter enjoyed a round of golf prior to coming to the event.
Kreuter, 35, said the key to the team’s success is the fact they’ve been together since 2009.
“We’ve been together for so long, there are no egos involved between us,” Kreuter said. “We’re always looking for a challenge. It’s awesome that us older guys can still get it done.”