While focus is on pit crews, drivers play significant role in what happens on pit road

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CONCORD, N.C. – One of the secrets about pit road, Brad Keselowski says, is quite simple.

“There is not a pit road speed limit,’’ the former champion says.

Actually, NASCAR announces a pit road speed limit before each race – it is 45 mph this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway – but Keselowski notes that drivers are more focused on where the timing lines are so they can get through each segment as quickly as possible.

“I can go 105 in one of those zones and if I jam on the brakes and stop, I’m not speeding,’’ he said.

It’s why cars blast past one another on pit road but aren’t called for speeding. As long as they travel through the segment in the allowable time, how they get there does not matter. Of course, sometimes they exceed the limits and are penalized.

With the challenges of passing on the track, what happens on pit road grows more critical. Drivers and teams have more resources to see where they compare. While teams seek to shave a tenth of a second off pit stops, what a driver does can cut half a second or more off by being better entering pit road and maximizing their speed through each segment without breaking the rule.

Each week, teams receive a report that shows how much time each driver spends on pit road and how quick they were though each timing segment. Drivers also can view a video program that overlays their car with another, allowing them to see the difference in how they enter pit road and go down it compared to other racers. That helps drivers see where they need to improve. That can be significant.

“You can pass one car and that can be the difference, or position yourself in a better line or get in that clean air,’’ Joey Logano said of the result of that extra attention to detail with pit stops. “That’s what it’s all about, so we study that a lot and make sure we understand where the timing lines are and what we’re doing before the race starts.”

While each driver prepares differently, they all know how important their role is.

“Everyone knows when (Matt Kenseth) was at Roush they had the Killer Bs,’’ Jamie McMurray said about Kenseth’s highly regarded pit crew. “I think what most of us came to realize, he was the best at getting to pit road on green flag pit stops. He was always on the edge of out of control because he did such a good job getting to pit road.’’

McMurray provided a hint at how a driver prepares each week for pit road in what he did before last week’s Sprint All-Star Race, which featured a pit stop as part of the qualifying procedure.

He created an excel sheet of every competitor’s pit times from that event the year before. He watched videos of drivers going through pit road and timed it.

McMurray said he was faster in practice doing that than others had been the year before and felt he could be in a good position to win the pole. When it came time to qualify, the combination of new tires, additional tape on the grille and cooler temperatures conspired against him.

“I drove to the point where I could get barely stopped in my stall, but I was way off because the conditions were completely different,’’ said McMurray, who qualified 14th for the All-Star race.

That’s just how difficult it is for these drivers because one element can alter the pit stop.

Kyle Busch faced that challenge last week for the first time since he was injured in February at Daytona.

He was called for speeding on pit road.

“I was just trying to come in and come around Kevin (Harvick) and get into my box as quick as I could and it was just a little too quick on entry,’’ Busch said. “I have to get used to the ability of maintaining pit road speed to the tach and to the lights and everything that we use for how I do it.’’

He wasn’t the only caught speeding last week. Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Keselowski were also caught speeding. Keselowski’s penalty came on the stop before the final segment, as he raced Hamlin out to be the leader. It cost him a chance for the win and $1 million.

Entering the season’s longest race – and the chance for more pit stops than any other race – what happens on pit road could determine who wins the Coca-Cola 600.