Busch's team wins Pit Crew Championship
MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Kurt Busch's team won the National Pit Crew Championship, defeating Jeremy Mayfield's crew in the final round with a mistake-free stop Monday night.
Busch's crew, which helped him win the Nextel Cup championship last season, didn't make a single mistake during the competition and picked up $100,000 for the win.
Mayfield's team earned $25,000 for finishing second.
Joe Nemechek's crew was third -- missing out on a spot in the finals because of a two-second penalty for a loose lug nut in the semifinals.
The competition was a bracket-style tournament that pitted crews against each other in four rounds. Teams had to change four tires and fill the car with fuel in a race against the stopwatch. Each tire changer had to push a button on the wall to stop the clock, and many teams had a team member pick the changer up and throw him at the wall.
Penalties were issued for loose lug nuts, excessive fuel spillage, or not getting enough gas in the car.
Busch's team made it through each round without a single penalty.
"I tell you, this team is awesome," crew chief Jimmy Fennig said. "All the stops tonight, everything was perfect. That's awesome."
Mayfield's crew had a tough battle to get into the finals, squaring off against Kasey Kahne's crew -- their teammates at Evernham Motorsports -- in the semis. Both teams were sloppy with several loose lug nuts, and Mayfield's made it in based on fewer errors.
Then the crew went up against Busch's team, which completed its stop in 16.342 seconds. Mayfield's team clocked in at 16.439, but was penalized four seconds for two loose lug nuts.
An additional $500,000 was up for grabs in a bonus round, open to the top three finishing teams and one wild card, which was Greg Biffle's crew.
The crews had to complete an error-free stop in 14.437 seconds to earn the money. Busch's crew came close -- front tire changer Scott Ward did his part in 14.121 seconds and celebrated by jumping on the hood of his car. But rear changer Kevin Gillman clocked in at 14.900, just short of the bonus.
Gillman was thrown by a teammate to the wall in that round for the first time and it wasn't clear if he hit the button on the first try.
"I don't know if I missed it or not," he said. "We tried something different with my carrier throwing me against the wall, and I wasn't sure if I got the button on the first try so I gave it a second swipe."
There was no denying that Ward did, though.
"I was kind of dumbfounded when I saw the time," he said.
Ward's effort impressed his fellow competitors.
"Scott, I'm jealous, man," said Slugger Labbe, crew chief for Mayfield's team. "That was a great effort. Where else can you go for half a million dollars in 14 seconds?"
The winning crew members were: Mark Full (front tire carrier), Ward (front tire changer), Scott Radel (jackman), Doug Newell (fueler), Jim Gaudette (catch can), Gillman (rear tire changer), Jason Binger (rear tire carrier) and Wayne DeLoria (coach).
Busch's team is the most recent crew from Roush Racing to win this sort of competition. The crew of Roush teammate Matt Kenseth won two consecutive titles under a previous format.
"We have the best pit crews in NASCAR," DeLoria boasted. "If nothing else, you could see tonight what athletes these guys are."
The competition was created by the Crew Chief Club, which wanted a contest that rewarded the behind-the-scenes team members who play such a pivotal role in a driver's success.
Unocal sponsored a similar contest for 36 years at North Carolina Speedway, but the fuel company pulled out of NASCAR last season. The competition went with it.
So the Crew Chief Club came up with this one, which pitted the top 30 teams in the Nextel Cup points standings and the top 10 Busch series teams against each other in a bracket-style tournament. The four Cup teams from Hendrick Motorsports declined to participate.
Shortly after the event was announced, NASCAR and Nextel said they, too, would hold a pit crew competition. That event is scheduled for May 19th at the Charlotte Coliseum, and the Hendrick teams are participating in that one.
Because two competitions is one too many, both sides have agreed to try to merge it into one event next season. So all eyes were on this one to see how it would unfold.
Except for long pauses between rounds, and the event running well over its scheduled end time, it seemed to go well. The temporary bleachers were filled to capacity -- roughly 4,000 fans -- and several drivers were on hand to support their crews.
There was some controversy during the first round, when Biffle's pit crew appeared to hit the buzzer that stopped the timer before the gas man had finished filling the car. Officials reviewed tape of the stop several times, and commentator Larry McReynolds, who helped organize the event, came out of the broadcast booth to participate in the ruling.
It was decided that the gas man was done pumping in the fuel when the buzzer was hit, and Biffle's crew advanced to the second round.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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