TALLADEGA, Ala. --- The parking lots were still full and traffic was barely moving when the teams from last Sunday's race were already on their way home.
By the time the last car left Talladega Superspeedway, most of the race teams had been home long enough in North Carolina to take a shower and have dinner.
It takes a squadron of airplanes to shuttle NASCAR to and from races. It's become a necessary expense in a sport that has no time or patience to spare. Every minute saved on race day is another minute that can be spent in the shop during the week.
"If you don't have an airplane, you can't be competitive," said Mike Ford, Denny Hamlin's crew chief.
Car owners either own or charter large regional jets. They can fly the over-the-wall crews in on race morning and get everyone home quickly after the race -- sometimes before dark.
By moving most of the crews on the morning of the race, teams don't have to rent hotel rooms and rental cars, and they don't have any restaurant bills. Equally important, there are no other distractions or traffic jams.
The first load of crewmen landed at the Talladega Airport five hours before last Sunday's Aaron's 499. Thirty crewmen that work on three cars fielded by Richard Childress Racing were already in uniform as they deplaned. Five minutes later they were at work inside the busy garage area. Within two hours, the airport was filled with planes.
Childress uses a 30-seat Brasilia to move some crewmen. He also has an eight-seat King Air and buys seats on charters operated by ExpressJet.
Hendrick Motorsports moves 90 people each weekend on one of three 50-seat Saab jets. Earnhardt Ganassi Racing has a pair of 50-seat Embraer EJR 145s; Stewart-Haas Racing and Penske Racing have a 50-seat Canadian Regional Jet. Joe Gibbs Racing uses two Saabs and one Learjet.
With four Sprint Cup and three Nationwide series teams, car owner Jack Roush operates a pair of 727-200s that are capable of moving 255 people.
"A few years ago I looked around and I had 10 Learjets and King Airs and Citations moving my team around at that time, and in today's environment it would take 20 to do the same job," Roush said. "It was a matter of time before I had a really bad result. I got airplanes with a lot of redundancies, and I've realized the benefits of having airplanes that go really fast and can go coast to coast to save some hotel rooms and some rental cars.