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The Unsung Heroes of NASCAR: A Closer Look at the Pit Crew Roles & Rules

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Picture of Becky Greiner

Becky Greiner

A Kevin Harvick fan since 2001, Becky grew up in a NASCAR family and still finds time to catch up on the Cup Series standings in between raising two Tuxedo cats and a senior dog.
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To the casual observer, a pit stop during a NASCAR race may happen too quickly to notice what’s going on – it’s a chaotic, sudden flash of limbs, tools, car parts, and equipment that’s over just mere seconds (about 12 seconds, on average) after it started. But the actions and decisions made on pit road can make or break how the rest of the race goes for the whole team.

In the time it takes race watchers to blink or go get a snack, the organized, choreographed rhythm of the pit crew has changed tires, added fuel, and mitigated any damage to the race car that the driver may have acquired during the race, not to mention passing water or whatever the driver needs through the window to keep them fueled for the rest of the race. 

It’s no secret that being part of a NASCAR pit crew requires strength, agility, and speed, but who does what, and what are the rules?

The Pit Crew Puzzle: Each Pit Crew Role and Its Function

Although the average number of pit stops will vary depending on the track and the car’s performance, each NASCAR pit crew has specific roles and responsibilities, and each role must be perfectly in sync with the rest of the team to send the driver on their way as soon as possible without compromising safety.

  • Tire Changers. As the name suggests, the front and rear tire changers run to opposite sides of the car as it approaches the box and position themselves to change the first tire. With the use of a pit gun, the tire changers speedily loosen the tire’s lug nut, remove the old tire and replace it with a new one, and then securely refasten the lug nut for each tire. Thanks to NASCAR’s rule change at the start of the 2021 season, when Next Gen cars transitioned to using a single lug nut instead of five, this process is now more streamlined.
  • Tire Carrier. With only one tire carrier allowed over the wall, a team’s pit strategy includes carrying either one tire or two at a time during a pit stop. In some teams or situations, a tire carrier may also assist with tire removal or placement.
  • Jackman. Every role on the pit crew is critical, but the Jackman’s timing is critical to ensure a streamlined pit stop. This role props up the car as the tires are being changed, and if the Jackman lets the car down too early, the Tire Changers may experience difficulty securing the tires and – since the car being let down is the universal signal to the driver that they can go and rejoin the race – it may result in a significant safety issue.
  • Fueler or Gas Man. As you can imagine, race cars burn a lot of fuel as they drive at highway speeds around the track. The Fueler, also known as the Gas Man, only has to go a few steps to fill the car with two full cans of race fuel since the gas tank is located on the side that’s closest to the wall. 

Those are the five pit crew team members who are allowed over the wall during a typical pit stop, but in reality, a full pit crew can consist of up to 20 people. Some of the other pit crew roles that are not as visible are:

  • Crew Chief. This role is the equivalent of the Head Coach in NASCAR. The team’s crew chief is positioned at the top of the pit box, where they coordinate the pit strategy with the driver and decide when to stop, what should be adjusted, and what the setup of the car should be, among other details.
  • Car Chief. If we think about the Crew Chief as the Head Coach, then the Car Chief is the Assistant Coach. In addition to assisting the Crew Chief with all of their responsibilities, the Car Chief also oversees the mechanical side of the strategy and ensures that the car passes a technical inspection.
  • Utility. Often referred to as the “extra man,” this role is typically only utilized to clean the windshield, remove the windshield tear-off if necessary, and assist the driver. At NASCAR’s discretion, the Utility man can only go over the wall during the race’s second half.
  • Engineer. With so many strict technical specifications in place for race cars, an Engineer is a critical supporting role to make sure the vehicle can qualify for the starting line-up. 
  • Support Crew. Behind the wall are other team members who roll spare tires to the front and rear tire carriers, retrieve racing gear and pass gas cans over the wall to the Fueler, and NASCAR’s current rules mandate that these support roles must stay behind the safety barrier.

Pit Crew Rules

  • During a pit stop, only five pit crew members are allowed over the wall and into the pit box. They can be assisted by the support crew behind the wall with tires, gear, and equipment. 
  • All tires must be contained during a pit stop. If a tire rolls into the pit lane or otherwise interferes with the pit activity, the pit crew may face a penalty. The team may also be penalized if fuel cans, wrenches, or other equipment are not removed from the car before it leaves the pit box.
  • Drivers must drive into pit road at speeds of between 35 and 60 miles per hour, depending on the road’s length and width. The driver could incur a time penalty for violating this rule, or for not stopping in their assigned pit box.
  • Adhering to safety rules, including the 2002 mandatory helmet rule for pit crew members and drivers,  is paramount as the cars have gotten more powerful, and current NASCAR rules limit how many team members can go over the wall. 

The Importance of Efficient Pit Stops in NASCAR

The limited number of seconds it takes for a pit stop to happen may seem like a small detail, but there are many roles necessary for pit stop success and several rules that a pit crew must adhere to during every stop. Regardless of how long a race is, the pit stops may be the busiest and best-coordinated 12 seconds any team achieves.

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Picture of Becky Greiner

Becky Greiner

A Kevin Harvick fan since 2001, Becky grew up in a NASCAR family and still finds time to catch up on the Cup Series standings in between raising two Tuxedo cats and a senior dog.
All Posts