THINK OF AN NFL quarterback facing a two-minute drill with 90 yards to go. Now, drop that down to 14 seconds, and those 90 yards to 250 miles. No disrespect, Peyton, but thatÂ is pressure.Â In a sport like NASCAR, where winners are decided by tenths of a second, absolutely everything â?? a missed lug nut, a dropped gas can, a loose cap â?? counts and can cost your team a race. Thatâ??s what the pit crew of Kasey Kahneâ??s No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team faces every week during the season, which began in Daytona in mid-February and runs through November.
Yet, for crew chief Kenny Francis and the crew of the Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, itâ??s less about pressure and more about performance. Each race week, the crew rehearses its moves like a dance company so each pit stop is an effortless replayÂ of practice.
â??Pit stops are really completing a certain number of tasks in a choreographed sequence. After the stop, it feels like it was a little chaotic, but itâ??s really a very thought-out, deliberate process,â? jackman Trey Burklin said.
Routine or not, the adrenaline gets pumping every time the car rolls down pit road. â??Time only stops for me if something goes wrong,â? rear tire carrier Ben Fischbeck said. â??Even though this is my 11th year being a tire carrier at Hendrick Motorsports, I still have the same adrenaline I had when I went over the wall for the first time.â?
â??That rush of energy is quickly replaced by a singular purpose â?? getting each individual job done,â? Burklin said. â??People tend to overthink pit stops. Itâ??s very similar to a golf swing. You perform the same motion over and over. When you start over analyzing every detail instead of having confidence that you are doing the right thing the right way, you tend to slow down.â?
The relationship between driver and car is symbiotic â?? thatâ??s what thousands of laps together will do. And since the crew keeps the car going, their relationship with Kahne needs to be just as solid. â??We have a great professional relationship,â? said gas man Chris Fasulka. â??Come race day our game faces are on, and our entire No. 5 Farmers Insurance team is focused on getting a win.â?
For the pit crew, the majority of race week is spent practicing and training at the Hendrick Motorsports facility in Charlotte, as they donâ??t arrive at the track until the day of the race. While they are preparing in North Carolina, the mechanics are at the track setting up the car. Itâ??s tweaked during race week and into the qualifying runs that determine the driverâ??s start order. Final adjustments are being made as the pit crew arrives at the track.
â??Some days have more pressure than others. Showing up at the racetrack and knowing the car has the ability to win the race puts pressure on the pit crew to not make mistakes,â? Burklin said. â??Showing up knowing the car might need a little work puts a different pressure on us to still be fast, but to also make a few adjustments during the stop which can change the choreography of our pit stop. Itâ??s a performance-based job so at the end of the day, performance what really matters so you learn how to deal withÂ the pressure.â?
In addition to knowing every move of a pit stop, the guys need to be in top shape as well. To stay in peak performance mode, the crew works on its flexibility with yoga and aquatic exercises â?? but youâ??ve seen these guys, itâ??s obviously not all downward dog. The No. 5 crew also trains three to four times a week during the season with cardio and weights. In addition to actual coaches for the pit crew, Hendricks Motorsports has a team of strength and conditioning coaches and a full-time trainer. These guys are athletes in their own right and many competed collegiately in other sport â?? Burklin walked on as a quarterback at the University of Miami and played during the 2005 season.
â??Our coaches do a great job of incorporating different types of conditioning, like yoga and pool workouts,â? Burklin said. â??We usually have one day where we are outside doing dynamic movements on our performance training facility field, which is when we work on our agility and explosiveness.â?
That explosiveness is put to the test on race day when the crew will leap the wall for a pit stop an average of seven times a race. But with a goal of completing each stop in under 11 seconds, that gives the crew just over a minute with the car during an entire race. Thatâ??s hardly enough time to make a major change but plenty for a major mistake.
Despite their time and efficiency in the pits, not every guy on the crew is a lifelong grease monkey. In addition to his time as a QB, Burklin has a degree in finance and is the son of two accountants. Fasulka was never into cars as a kid but played plenty of other sports. He went to his first race and was hooked. He got started through his brother in law, Peter Sospenzo, a veteran NASCAR crew chief who is now with the Randy Humphrey racing team.
That said, you donâ??t have to look far to find a gearhead. A Missouri native, Fischbeck grew up loving cars and raced stock and late models. He won over 100 features before he turned 17. Then he moved to Charlotte and joined Hendrick, where heâ??s been for 12 years. In addition to hauling tires for Kahne, he also serves as the fabricator for Kahne and Jeff Gordon, meaning even in the offseason, heâ??s still on.
You could call Fasulka a converted car nut. In addition to putting gas in the No. 5, he is the suspension and brake man in the shop for Kahne and Gordon. â??I never imagined Iâ??d make a career in racing, he said. â??Iâ??ve now been at Hendrick for 12 years.â?
With the combined experience in racing, these guys have seen it all. Burklin recalls flaming car parts preceding the cars down pit road, while Fasulka tells of a time a car spun out down the pits and got stuck in the wall in front of him. But Fischbeck has perhaps the most harrowing memory.
â??(It was) getting hit by a car on pit road,â? he recalls. â??It broke my leg, thumb and gave me a concussion.â?
Yet after recovery, there he was back out in the pits. Whether they started with the love or not, theyâ??ve got the NASCAR bug running fast through their veins now. Take away the car, the garage and the smell of burning rubber, and the pit crew is like any other athletic team, constantly practicing and perfecting its moves to be better the next time out. Better and, of course, faster.
â??Weâ??re not in the business of slowing down,â? says Burklin.
For more on Kasey Kahne, his pit crew and other teams under the Hendrick Motorsports umbrella, visit HendrickMotorSports.com
BY BRYANT LONG