Rookie Stripe: The Importance of Pit Stop Speeds

Photo credit: Lisa Janine Cloud for Skirts and Scuffs
by Logan Stewart

Not too long ago I was visiting a close friend from high school who, while one of the most athletic people I know, has little interest in NASCAR. I was telling her that many pit crew members are former college and pro athletes, and that pit stops take place at lightning-like speed, meaning crew members must possess incredible dexterity and athleticism.

Me: “Pit stops are crazy fast. It’s almost like a blur to watch them.”

Her: “Oh, that’s interesting. I thought those pit crew guys just kind of hung out and changed tires like on the side of the road.”

Whoa, wait.
Changed tires on the side of the road? I think it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Run that by me one more time
Fast pit stops normally clock in at just 12 seconds or less, yet are one of the most critical parts of a race. In one stop, the over-the-wall pit crew jacks the car up, removes five lug nuts, changes two or four tires, puts in two cans of fuel and may clean the grille or remove a windshield tear-off before sending the car back down pit road. It’s a synchronized, high-speed show contingent on precision and rapidity. Pit crews have to be fast, strong and work together seamlessly, because just an extra second or two -- or even a few tenths of a second -- in the pits can make or break a race. When the pit crew makes a mistake, it’s obvious.

How time flies published an article in 2015 chronicling the thin line of time that pit crews have to execute a pit stop. The Elegant, Sweaty Art of a NASCAR Pit Stop by Jordan Golson details everything from the time needed to go over the wall (0.5 seconds), to removal of lug nuts and tires (five seconds) to tires replaced and old tires returned to the wall (seven seconds).

Photo credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
“Consistency is key. The pit crew must do its job the same way every time. The crew succeeds, and fails, as one—five guys can do the fastest stop of their lives, but if the sixth guy is half a beat behind, it doesn’t mean a thing.”                       --Jordan Golson

If you really want to get up close and personal with the pit crew at work, watch Interstate Batteries’ video Inside a NASCAR Pit Stop with Joe Gibbs Racing Pit Crew Coach Mike Lepp. Lepp, athletic director for Joe Gibbs Racing, has an eye trained for pit stop analysis. Reviewing video helps him and his team identify strengths, fix weaknesses and make the modifications necessary to be faster.

Once upon a time
Like everything else in NASCAR, pit stops weren’t always so intense. Races were shorter in the early days, meaning fewer or no pit stops, and neither speed nor technology were anywhere close to as high-octane as they are today.

According to Zack Albert of, as speedways came into existence and races got longer, teams made self-derived modifications to whittle time and bolster car performance. By 1974, Albert says pit stops were averaging around 30 seconds. They didn’t drop to the 20-second mark until the early 1990s when NASCAR teams began to behave more like sports teams, with each over-the-wall crewman designated to a specific position on the car.

Read more on the progressing speeds of the NASCAR pit stop in Albert's article, Evolution of the NASCAR Pit Stop: How Far It’s Come.

Photo credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
As for my friend, I told her I was going to talk about our conversation for this Rookie Stripe column. She’s the true definition of a rookie, and that’s okay. She told me NASCAR “sounds cool” and maybe she’ll go to a race one day. So even if the sport seems overwhelming, just think…you have all the time in the world to learn it.

Rookie Stripe: The Importance of Pit Stop Speeds Rookie Stripe: The Importance of Pit Stop Speeds Reviewed by Logan Stewart on Wednesday, August 24, 2016 Rating: 5