CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team, which pits the car of driver Denny Hamlin, became the first back-to-back winner of the Sprint Pit Crew Challenge, defeating the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team, which pits the car of five-time defending Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.
In a matchup of the teams that finished 1-2 in last year’s Cup standings, the No. 11 completed its stop — jacking the car, fueling and changing front and rear tires — and pushed its Toyota across the finish line in 22.298 seconds to 22.714 for the No. 48 Chevrolet.
Scott Wood (gas man), Justin White (second gas can man), Nick Krizmanich (front tire changer), Brandon Pegram (front tire carrier), Mike Hicks (rear tire changer), Heath Cherry (rear tire carrier) and Nate Bolling (jack man) made up the winning team.
Asked what the defining characteristic of his crew is, Hamlin joked, “They’re all bigger than me, and they can all beat my [butt].”
The team took particular pleasure in beating the No. 48 squad.
“Any time we can beat the 48 … it’s especially gratifying to beat them,” Wood said. “And going back-to-back is especially gratifying, too. But we’d trade this in a heartbeat to beat ‘em at the end of the year — when it counts.”
As was the case last year, the victory in the Pit Crew Challenge will give Hamlin first choice of pit stalls for Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The no-brainer selection is pit stall No. 1, closest to the exit from pit road.
The No. 11 crew beat the No. 22 (Kurt Busch) to set up a semifinal matchup against the crowd-favorite No. 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.), which beat the No. 27 (Paul Menard) Richard Childress Racing entry. Though Earnhardt was on hand to cheer his crew, Hamlin’s team prevailed in one of the closest races of the evening — 22.259 seconds to 23.325.
In the other semifinal, the No. 14 team of owner/driver Tony Stewart beat the No. 48 across the finish line, but drew 10 seconds of penalties for fueling issues. As a result, the No. 48 team advanced.
Fueling problems with the new closed system mandated by NASCAR this year cost Stewart dearly in last Sunday’s race at Dover. Though the Pit Crew Challenge featured the fueling system in place last year, it nevertheless proved the downfall of the No. 14 Chevrolet team, which had performed flawlessly in advancing to the semifinals.
The individual competition was dominated by the No. 33 Chevrolet team of Clint Bowyer and Stewart’s No. 14 team, as members of those two crews broke event records in every individual category.
The rear tire changer/rear tire carrier combination of Dustin Necaise and Matt Kreuter (No. 33) completed their skills in 13.846 seconds in winning the competition for the second consecutive year. They joined teammates Jason Pulver and Austin Craven (front tire changer/carrier) who completed their skills in 13.901 seconds.
“The thing was, those old records were on short wheel studs,” Kreuter said, noting that the wheels studs were lengthened before the start of 2011 season. “That tells you how far all these tire changers have come.”
Mike Casto of the No. 14 Chevy won the competition for fastest jack man in 5.071 seconds, while teammates Rick Pigeon and Ryan Flores won the individual competition among gas men in 8.652 seconds.
Each individual champion won $10,000. The winning team collected $70,675.
Sporting News Wire Service