HOMESTEAD, Fla. — When the champagne bottles were passed out to Joey Logano’s team after he won the Cup championship Sunday night, Ray Gallahan found a place to sit at the back of the stage to watch his teammates spray each other.
“I’m not a heavy drinker, and I don’t like being too sticky,” Gallahan told NBC Sports. “I usually bow out for the champagne part.’’
The celebration was poignant for Gallahan, who served his final race as Logano’s fueler Sunday. The 35-year-old Gallahan will move into a role as an assistant pit coach for Team Penske.
But this victory had extra meaning for Gallahan. He was Logano’s jackman in 2014 when the car fell off the jack with less than 20 laps to go in that championship race, all but ending Logano’s title hopes.
“That crumbled me up pretty hard because I was supposed to be the guy that didn’t mess up,” Gallahan said.
The team returned to the championship race in 2016. Logano’s title hopes faded when he went to pass Carl Edwards on a late restart and Edwards blocked, leading to contact that eliminated Edwards and damaged Logano’s car.
Sunday, Logano’s pit crew gained him two spots on the final pit stop, allowing him to restart third and charge to the win. It was pretty much the same unit that had been there in 2014 and ’16.
Front tire changer Thomas Hatcher, rear tire changer Zachary Price and tire carrier Dylan Dowell had been on the team since 2014. The only new member was jackman Graham Stoddard, who had been teammate Ryan Blaney’s jackman but moved to Logano’s team after Blaney was eliminated in the playoffs at Kansas.
That four of the five pit crew members remained since 2014 is a remarkable achievement in an era where changes to pit crews can be common. This unit excelled late in the playoffs, playing a key role in helping Logano win at Martinsville, and having a strong performance in the championship race.
“I think the longer you are together, the more you learn what to expect from the other guy, so it actually makes you faster,” Dowell told NBC Sports.
Having experienced the lows of the title race — and missing the playoffs last year — it allowed the team to appreciate its accomplishment.
“It definitely made it sweeter,” Hatcher told NBC Sports. “It definitely made it sweeter.”
“This is 51 years for us,” the 77-year-old Shepherd told NBC Sports at Homestead-Miami Speedway, “and I’ve started on my next. If I can get it in, I’ll only be 127 (years old). We’ll see where we land.”
Isn’t it time for retirement?
“Nah,” Shepherd said as he sat on the pit wall. “I’m just a servant. I might not be able to help myself but I can help other people with what we’re doing. Our charity is 32 years old. … We’ll go as long as the Lord wants me to go.”
Shepherd understands that change will come at some point.
“We definitely would be better with a younger driver and build it around him,” Shepherd said. “We’ll see where it goes. We haven’t quit yet.”
Crew chief Luke Lambert told NBC Sports he’s signed a new deal with Richard Childress Racing and will serve as rookie Daniel Hemric’s crew chief on the No. 31 car next season.
It will make the first time Lambert has worked with a young driver. He’s previously worked with veteran drivers Jeff Burton and Ryan Newman. Lambert had been with Newman the past five seasons. Newman moves to Roush Fenway Racing for 2019.
“It will be different in ways,” Lambert said of working with a rookie. “I’ve been around situations with young drivers a lot so I’m very familiar with what sort of things need to be done differently. Ultimately, it’s going to be about learning each other and what he needs different to be successful and for me to help figure out ways to provide that for him.”