CONCORD, N.C. — As the Chase field narrows, what happens on pit road could play a key role in who advances.
That might not seem to be a good thing for Jimmie Johnson’s team, heading into Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the opening event in the Round of 12.
No Chase team had as many pit road penalties in the first round or as many penalties in the last 10 races. Despite those totals, Chris Krieg, pit coach for the No. 48 and 88 teams at Hendrick Motorsports, remains confident in the group.
Johnson has had two pit road penalties in the Chase. He was caught speeding in the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway, and his crew was penalized at Dover when the jackman jumped off the wall too soon.
In the last 10 races, Johnson’s team has had 10 pit road penalties. Four have been for speeding, two have been for not controlling the tire in the pit box. The team also has been penalized for the crew over the wall too soon once and for a body modification during a pit stop another time.
The Dover penalty was a result of Johnson having to slow as he headed toward his pit stall when Aric Almirola exited his stall. That threw the timing of the pit stop off and the team’s jackman jumped over the wall too soon.
While that incident can be viewed as a fluke incident for the crew, Krieg looks at it another way.
“It’s awareness before you get to that point,’’ Krieg told NBC Sports. “Before you get to that millisecond where you’re up on the wall and your weight is forward, it’s all those seconds that led up to that. The 10 seconds before that we get up on the wall and we see our surroundings. (Crew chief Chad Knaus) and myself as a coach go, ‘Hey, be aware, we may get checked up here.’ It’s all the seconds before you get to that point where we keep learning and getting better.’’
Krieg, who is in his fourth year as a coach, isn’t worried about the crew bouncing back from a penalty or mistake. That’s why Hendrick Motorsports seeks former college athletes and those who have competed professionally in another sport.
“They’ve had negative plays or things happen their whole athletic career,’’ Krieg said. “They’re used to bouncing back. It’s what they’ve done their whole life from an athletic standpoint. If you were to take a regular person and have that happen to them, they may be in a dark room all week.’’
As he examines the performance of Johnson’s pit crew this season, Krieg sees improvement.
“Last year the 48 (pit crew) was quite possibly the best pit crew on pit road,’’ Krieg said. “This year may have started out slower on the stop watch then we would have liked. So we dug in, the guys did a great, great job. They worked harder than any other group than I’ve seen in a very long time.
“Our times on the stopwatch have went down considerably in the last two months.’’