No. 31 team tops Pit Crew Challenge

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Denny Hamlin saw his girlfriend climb into his No. 11 car Wednesday night to steer it during NASCAR's Pit Crew Challenge, and noticed for the first time the message on her T-shirt: "All we do is win."

"I was like, 'Oh my gosh,'" Hamlin said. "It's pressure when you say stuff like that."

No problem for this hot race team. Two hours later, Jordan Fish and her white T-shirt were getting doused in a champagne celebration on the victory podium.

Hamlin's seven-member team changed four tires, put in gas and pushed the car 40 yards in 23.132 seconds to edge defending champion Jeff Burton's crew and collect $70,650.

Hamlin team's entered the event having won three of the last seven Sprint Cup races, and Hamlin predicted on Twitter earlier in the day that his team would win if it avoided penalties.

Indeed, after Martinsville, Texas, Darlington and Time Warner Cable Arena, all they seem to do these days is win.

"Our team is on a high right now," Hamlin said. "Everyone is kind of feeling it. Everyone has a good rhythm going."

Hamlin's crew chief Mike Ford said they'd take the first pit stall for Saturday's All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a perk for winning this single-elimination competition.

The No. 11 team beat Dale Earnhardt's crew in the semifinals, ending Hendrick Motorsports' best showing in the event. The Burton team routed Ryan Newman's crew to reach its second straight final.

Hamlin's team includes gas man Scott Woods; catch-can man John Eicher; front tire changer Mike Hicks and carrier Brandon Pegram; rear tire changer Jon Sherman and carrier Heath Cherry; and jack man Nate Bolling.

Fish, a dancer for the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats, rounded out the winning team.

"It's definitely an honor and a reward for our hard work," Wood said.

Driver Kyle Busch's front tire changer Nick Odell and carrier Brad Donaghy headlined the individual awards timed in the opening rounds with an event-record 13.903 seconds.

Other winners, who collected $10,000 for each competition, were rear tire changer Dustin Necaise and carrier Matt Kreuter (14.322 seconds) of Clint Bowyer's No. 33 team; Bolling of Hamlin's crew (5.573 seconds); and gas man Brad Pickens and catch-can man Travis Gordon of Mark Martin's No. 5 car (10.518 seconds).

In its sixth year, the only NASCAR-sanctioned indoor competition was the beginning of a busy week for the sport. A day after the All-Star Race, the first Hall of Fame class will be inducted on Sunday at the new facility a few blocks from where this competition was held.

It included the top 24 crews in the Sprint Cup standings, with the top eight getting a bye into the second round. Teams faced each other in head-to-head stops.

But this was unique. Hendrick Motorsports pit coach Mark Mauldin said his team practiced for a month to get ready for the format.

There were eight identically marked cars, four on each side of the arena floor. Teams simultaneously changed tires on two cars, filled the gas tank with water on another and a jack man lifted both sides of the fourth car.

The jack men then ran to the teams' regular cars, lined up side-by-side at the corner of the arena floor, and pushed them to the finish as teammates joined to help after their tasks.

Teams received time penalties for loose lug nuts, spilled gas and other infractions, and that led to an early upset. A 3-second penalty for a loose lug nut knocked top-seeded Busch's No. 18 team out in the second round and allowed the No. 71 team of driver Bobby Labonte, which has been strapped for funding much of the season, to advance.

The No. 71 crew was beaten in the quarterfinals by Earnhardt's team. Jeff Gordon's team was ousted in the quarterfinals by Newman's crew, thanks to a loose lug nut. Newman's crew also beat Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 team, which has never won the event.

All seemed to make mistakes except that confident No. 11 crew, which went error-free to give Joe Gibbs Racing another victory in a stellar season.

"It's one thing to be fast," Hamlin said. "It's another to be good and solid and not make mistakes. That really comes into play in this kind of competition."