CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WMBF) - As we countdown to the 70th running of the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, you can feel it in the air as the start of the NASCAR Playoff inches closer.
In Charlotte, the heart of NASCAR country, race teams are putting in the extra work for the home stretch of the regular season.
“Darlington is a great example of the variation of NASCAR. You can go to a short track that might be 2.5 to 3 hours, and at Darlington it’s 500 miles and can get closer to five hours,” said Andy Papathanassiou, director of human performance at Hendrick Motor Sports.
While leading up to race day all the attention is on the track, at Hendrick Motor Sports driver’s pit crews put in countless hours of diligent practice runs.
“Consistency, I mean simple things like hydration and not losing your focus, not only for our driver but the crew,” said Papathanassiou.
For a number of the pit crew workers with Hendricks Motor Sports, most come from athletic backgrounds but not all were racers.
“Being able to take things that we learn playing college football to this is something unique,” said Landon Walker, Williams Byron’s pit crew fueler.
Walker played for the Tigers from 2008 to 2011 and now lines up on a different type of sideline.
However, the action on the racetrack shares a number of similarities to the gridiron of Death Valley.
“There’s so many variables that translate to NASCAR,” said Walker.
Much like in football, the pit crew spends hours watching back film and making sure everyone is primed and ready for the “Lady in Black”.
“It is our weakest link that ultimately determines our success, so if you can take a difficult thing like pit stops and train a crew to be fast, consistent and do the right adjustments, you can gain an advantage that’s ultimately with top fives and race wins,” said Papathanassiou.
We’ll have full coverage from the Darlington 500 on Labor Day weekend as the playoff push makes its way through Charlotte on September 29.