When competing for a championship at NASCAR's highest level, every part of the team needs to be functioning at the most efficient and highest level. One of the biggest parts of that equation is the six crew members who go over the wall to pit the car.
As the second round of the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup gets ready to kick off this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a number of teams in title contention have made changes to their over-the-wall crew in recent weeks.
Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all seen one or more changes to the complexion of the pit crew servicing the car. With battles on and off pit road one of the biggest components to putting together a complete race, the makeup of that group of six guys is paramount to success.
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While Earnhardt's pit crew saw another change ahead of last weekend's Chase elimination race at Dover International Speedway, he hopes the addition of front tire changer Scott Brzozowski is the last for quite some time.
During Tuesday's Chase Contender Round Media Day at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the Hendrick Motorsports driver shared his belief that having a cohesive pit crew helps with the overall confidence of the team, and that could go a long way in spelling success in the championship battle.
"It's not like we need two new changers. We just need one key guy that can come in that will elevate the standard and kind of push everyone," said Earnhardt. "Over the past couple of years, when we've had great pit crews, a lot of the guys we've been working with this year have been on those teams.
"If you get one guy in there that's a key player or a bit of a superstar, like a wide receiver or a quarterback is to a football team, he can really elevate the play of everybody around him and really boost the crew. Just the confidence the guys have going over the wall when he's a part of it changes the whole consistency of the team."
Brzozowski is the third front tire changer for Earnhardt this season, but the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet hopes he will stay on not only through the remainder of the season, but also become an integral part of the team.
"We really want Scott to wrap his brain around sticking with us," he said. "We could really use a guy like him on the 88 car to bring some stability to the rest of the group. I have a lot of faith in our guys, and it's not like we need to go crazy, blow it up and go looking outside of our system."
With Brzozowski moving into the starting role on the No. 88 crew, a number of other crew members were shuffled behind the wall to the reserves. Despite their move to the "B-team," Earnhardt was encouraged last weekend at Dover when he saw those guys lending a hand and playing an integral part of the stop from behind the wall.
"The backup guy that used to be the starter is blowing the left-front wheel to get the brake dust off. Another backup guy that was a starter was catching the tire getting rolled," Earnhardt said. "Everybody was up on the wheel trying to be a part of the pit stop, trying to be a part of getting us in and out of there as fast as they could. Everybody put their egos aside."
In past championship battles, when one team from an organization has been eliminated from title contention, crew swaps have sometimes followed. Jimmie Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, made a dramatic call to swap pit crews with teammate Jeff Gordon mid-race at Texas Motor Speedway in 2010, calling on Gordon's crew to pit Johnson's car for the day's final stops. With the goal of bolstering the team's championship efforts, the swap remained in place for the rest of the Chase.
With Johnson now eliminated from Chase contention after the Challenger Round, Earnhardt does not anticipate -- nor does he want -- to see something like that take place with his crew.
"I would really like to keep my guys," he said. "I don't think you build a guy's trust (by swapping crews). He needs to know that you believe in him. ... I think the carrier, the changer, all those guys want to know the driver believes in them when they go over the wall.
"If we get in a position where we take the 48 (Johnson's) guys because I think they're better, then what am I going to do next year when we have to start from scratch again? Those guys that are on my car now are going to be pissed off because I don't believe in them because I took the 48 guys when the going got tough," he said. "I don't believe in doing that. I believe that my guys can do it, and I'm confident we'll find the combination that will get us to the end of the season and beyond."
Though swapping pit crews for the Chase may lead to some short-term success, the long-term consequences are something that also have to be taken into consideration.
"I know teams have done that before, but I just feel like you may get somewhere in the short term and get some stability, but in the long term you basically have just destroyed the integrity of the team you had," Earnhardt said. "Having those guys back at the beginning of next season is not going to be an option. They're not going to want to work with you once you take them off the car in the middle of the Chase."