In the final moments before they begin their 400- or 500-mile journey, Cup drivers ease their cars down pit road, passing their pit box and crew, sharing a wave, thumbs up or fist bump as they drive by.
Their team, though, isn’t the only one to wish them well.
The Richard Petty Motorsports pit crew for Bubba Wallace waves at every vehicle — including pace cars and safety trucks — that passes their pit stall before the race begins. They’re the only crew to do so, sharing a bond with drivers before the green flag waves.
“I appreciate it,” said Ty Dillon, who waves back. “I think it’s cool. I look forward to seeing those guys on pit road. Just makes you smile.”
“It’s nice to have a smiling face and a wave,” he said.
Former champion Martin Truex Jr. also makes sure to wave at the Petty pit crew members.
“If you don’t wave at them you actually feel bad because they’ll like make sad faces,” Truex said.
Tire carrier James Houk started waving to all the cars a few years ago when he noticed that not every pit crew stood in its stall and saluted its driver as they passed before the start of the race.
“If I’m a driver and I’m driving past and I see all these crew members waving at their drivers and I’m just like I didn’t get a wave, I’m going to be sad about it going out on the race track,” Houk said. “That’s why I started waving at them.
“I was just like, ‘Man, they need somebody to at least tell them good luck.’ ”
On FS1 yesterday, Harvick and Dillon mentioned a 43 pit crew member who waves to all the drivers. Tried to look today, but it looks like the whole crew does that. pic.twitter.com/hgtNkl3Jpk
The rest of the pit crew soon followed. While pit crew members have changed through the years, the tradition remains.
“The first few times that you do it, you’re a little bit embarrassed,” said jackman Will Goodnow, who joined the crew after last year’s Coca-Cola 600. “At least I was. Now it’s fun.”
There’s nothing to be embarrassed about for any new members. They’re continuing a tradition that dates back to the team’s namesake. While Richard Petty didn’t wave to his competitors, he’s known as much for signing autographs and spending time with fans as he is for his 200 Cup wins and seven championships. It’s only fitting that this pit crew treats competitors as Petty treats fans.
“I absolutely notice it because I’m probably the only driver that drives down pit lane and has since I’ve started, give everybody a thumbs up,” seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson said. “For the longest time the only people that waved back was the 43 (crew).”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said that when he sees the Petty pit crew waving: “I always laugh. It’s kind of cool.”
He also waves back.
But understand this isn’t a hi, how you doing gesture. Houk, the ringleader, sparks the enthusiasm with his exaggerated waves and gyrations. His teammates follow.
“We have fun,” fueler Ian Anderson said. “We love what we do.
“Up and down pit road, we are part of a traveling circuit. We see the same faces, the same people every single week. So when it comes down to it, we’re all friends and family until that green flag drops. From flag to flag that’s when we compete.”
The same five pit crew members also service the No. 11 car for Kaulig Racing and Justin Haley in the Xfinity Series and wave to the cars before those races.
That’s where Cup rookie Matt Tifft first encountered the pit crew’s waving.
“I thought it was kind of weird,” Tifft said. “I thought it was a joke or something but they obviously always did it. I met some of those guys on the plane because sometimes we share their flight back and they’re all super cool guys.”
For as much fun as they have, there is some order to what they do. The five pit crew members line up the same each week. Houk is always first.
“James is the ringleader,” said Rear tire changer Justin Fiedler, who is next after Houk.
Front tire changer Brody Essick is third — he always has his helmet on because that’s part of his pre-race routine. Goodnow is fourth and Anderson is always fifth.
It’s Anderson’s job to count how many drivers wave back at the crew. The record is 28 set earlier this year.
Essick comes up with a number of drivers he thinks will wave and the rest of the crew decides if it will be higher or lower than that total.
For the Monster Energy Open, Essick projected 14 drivers would wave back. The field had 24 cars, two pace cars and two safety trucks. Fourteen drivers waved back to the team.
So, not every driver waves. Sometimes a driver might not do so because he’s fiddling with his radio or focused on his pit stall. For others, they’re just focused.
“I always think they’re being silly,” David Ragan said. “I always think they need to act more mature and get ready to make a pit stop.”
Ragan also recognizes how he prepares for a race is different from others.
“Everybody gets ready for a big event in different ways,” he said. “Some people listen to music. Some people act funny. Some people clam up, don’t say anything. Some drivers stand there and sign autographs, and some drivers stand near the back of the car and don’t say anything.
“For me, I try not to be too goofy before I get ready to go. That way, in case I make a mistake, it doesn’t seem like I didn’t have my focus.”
Reigning champion Joey Logano also isn’t big on waving back.
“Call me a jerk, but I’m not really wishing anyone luck at that point,” he said. “It’s all about going to win.”
One driver who has never waved back to the No. 43 pit crew is Denny Hamlin.
So what’s up with that?
“I’ve seen it, but I don’t wave back or anything,” Hamlin said.
Told that he’s the one driver the No. 43 pit crew hopes will wave back to them some day, Hamlin said: “Maybe I’ll give them a wave.”
The next chance should be this weekend at Pocono Raceway. The cars are lined on pit road before the start. The key for the No. 43 pit crew is to have a pit stall close to pit exit so they can wave to most, if not all of the field.
It was something I always looked forward to that brought down the tension and nerves before a race – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Pit stalls are chosen based on qualifying. Slower cars pick late and have fewer choices. That can mean the team has a pit stall that is behind all the cars that are parked on pit road and the crew doesn’t get to wave. Or, as happened in last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600, the field is parked on the front stretch and doesn’t come down pit road.
Essick said that “it’s kind of a bummer” when they don’t get to wave to the field.
At ISM Raceway this year, the team’s pit stall was behind where all the cars were parked, meaning the crew members would not get to wave to the cars as they went by.
No problem. They waved as the drivers walked by to their cars.
The pit crew understands what they do is not for everyone. Still, many wave. They appreciate Johnson’s thumbs up. They note Chase Elliott waves a couple of fingers at them — “Somebody’s waving at you, so wave back,” Elliott said. Houk said Dale Earnhardt Jr. would wave as enthusiastically at them as the crew waved to him.
“It’s in my personality to want to make friends or get along with everyone,” Earnhardt said. “I thought it was our thing. I don’t know those guys personally, but it was something I always looked forward to that brought down the tension and nerves before a race.
“I’m all for everyone getting along. I also appreciate boundaries and going to battle and knowing your enemy. But there is a place in the sport for brotherhood and fellowship. I felt like that’s what was happening in those moments.”
CONCORD, N.C. — There is one indisputable fact about the Coca-Cola 600.
As Kyle Busch put it on Thursday, “It’s a long-ass race.”
At 400 laps around Charlotte Motor Speedway, today’s 600-mile race is the longest event on the NASCAR schedule.
Cup drivers will attempt to survive its marathon length starting just after 6 p.m. ET, with the sun still up and temperatures hovering in the mid-90s. Unlike other races, there are three guaranteed cautions for stage breaks instead of two.
But the field is also full of veterans who have endured and conquered the 600. What advice would they give the newcomers to the 600?
“This race, for whatever reason, you just feel like you lose the most amount of weight and you get the most dehydrated from of any race during the year,” said Brad Keselowski, who will make his 10th start in the Coca-Cola 600. “It’s a very grueling challenge. It’s real easy to lose sight of the fact that there are so many laps to go. Don’t look at the scoreboard. … Because when you look up at the scoreboard and it’s Lap 100 and you see there are still 300 to go that can drag you down a little bit. So don’t look at that and stay hydrated and do the best you can.”
Kyle Larson put it in TL;DR terms: “Hydrate and don’t ask what lap you’re on.”
Busch, the defending 600 winner, focused more on strategy and when to drop the hammer for the final run to the finish.
“You can’t necessarily focus on your car handling for the first 300 miles and then you can kind of start to pay attention to it at mile marker 400 to 500 and then 500 on is where it all comes to play,” said Busch, who will make his 16th start in the 600. “That’s when business picks up. That’s when you need to be in position in order to put yourself in position for a final pit stop or the final couple of pit stops that’ll gain you track position and get you up in the position that you need to be in.”
Busch also had advice for a driver who finds himself mired in the middle of the pack early on.
“There’s really nothing to worry about,” Busch said. “You just try to stay on the lead lap. If you do go a lap down, you just try to stay one lap down because there may be an opportunity for you to get a wave-around or something with the stage breaks and stuff like that. You can’t get impatient and try to overdo it.”
When it comes to the early stages of the race, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. reiterated Busch’s advice, saying drivers “got to be patient” as the lap numbers rise and the sun sets.
“I think this race I’ve been good during the day and struggled at night, and then I’ve had cars where you kind of stayed the same throughout the whole night,” said Stenhouse, who made his Cup debut in the 600 in 2011. “I do think that with this package you’re gonna have a lot of comers and goers when the temperature changes, the sun goes down. … Don’t flip out too early.”
Tifft, who drives Front Row Motorsports’ No. 36 Ford, is going to take his first Coca-Cola 600 “one stage at a time.”
He’ll also be playing the “lap game” when it comes to keeping pace with the field, echoing Busch’s advise.
“You’ve got to make sure you’re on the lead lap or just one lap down at the end of that second stage (Lap 200),” Tifft said. “If you’re one lap down at the end of Stage 2, more than likely you’re gonna get a top-25 finish, so you just kind of play that game. … You just have to be able to go as hard as you can at the beginning of those stages and those restarts are so important that you focus on that and the good thing is once you’re kind of done with the job you have to do there, then you’re on the next segment of the race and you do it again. So that’s the easiest thing is just trying to focus on the short-term of where you’re at.”
Tifft admits the prospect of a 600-mile race is “daunting” but he’s been preparing with driver coach Blake Koch while also consulting active drivers about their preparation, including “hydration schedules.”
“They say to start hydrating a day earlier than what you normally would, especially with how hot it is, but the thing I keep hearing is people are wanting a snack during the middle of this race,” Tifft said. “So I’ll try to figure out a protein bar or something like that in the middle of the race to keep you going because it is so long.”
The 22-year-old driver said he’ll try not to get “wrapped up too much” in the length of the race.
“It’s just like the first 500-miler for the Daytona 500 that I did,” Tifft said. “You go and you go and you don’t stop until they tell you to.”