Johnson’s team won the NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge on Thursday night, avenging last year’s loss in the finals to Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 team.
Hamlin’s team was the two-time defending champions coming into the event and cruised into the finals again this year, but lost to Johnson’s team by three-tenths of a second.
Johnson’s six-member team changed four tires, put in gas and pushed the car 40 yards in 22.3 seconds without a penalty to earn the $80,675 first-place prize and the front pit stall in Saturday night’s All-Star race for Johnson.
When pit crew coach Greg Morin realized who his team would be facing in the finals he knew there wasn’t much that needed to be said to his highly competitive crew.
“It was sort of like, seriously? Seriously, you’re going to let them beat you again?” he said. “When the two numbers went up on the board you couldn’t write a better story.”
Morin said he’s never been a around a crew with better camaraderie. Johnson’s team included gas man Brandon Harder; front tire changer Dave Collins and carrier R.J. Barnette; rear tire changer Calvin Teague and carrier Matt Tyrrell; and jack man T.J. Ford. Their crew chief was Chad Knaus.
“I think it came down to who wanted it more and we had some stamina at the end,” Barnette said.
Johnson, who sat in on the news conference alongside reporters while his team was up on stage, said he was extremely proud of his guys.
“It’s cool to sit here and watch all of that, and to watch their celebration on the
stand,” Johnson said after the
news conference. “I know how
much this means to them. To see their smiles and their celebration, it’s well deserved. They’ve put in the time.”
Johnson’s team came in as the No. 1 seed and earned a first-round bye.
Johnson said it’s a “big advantage” to have the best pit stall and it could come in handy in the All-Star race.
The indoor pit crew competition kicked off a busy
11-day stretch in the Charlotte area that includes Saturday’s All-Star race, the Hall of Fame induction ceremony Wednesday and the Coca-Cola 600 on May 27.
The top 24 crews in the Sprint Cup standings competed in the standings with the top eight ranked teams earning a bye into the second round. The teams faced each other in a head-to-head, single-elimination tournament.
The event consisted of eight similarly marked NASCAR cars, four on opposite sides of the floor at Time Warner Cable Arena.
The six-man pit crew teams simultaneously changed tires on two cars, filled the gas tank with water – lot less cleanup and odor than using real gas – on another and a jack man lifted both sides of the fourth car.
Teams received time penalties for loose lug nuts, spilled water and other infractions. For the pit crews, it was a night of fun and a rare chance to shine.