If the record-setting #83 Red Bull Toyota team is to repeat as champions of Thursday night's Sprint Crew Challenge in Charlotte, the men that service Brian Vickers' Camry in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series will have to do so with a new cast of characters.

Of the crew that won last year's competition, four members of the over-the-wall gang remain: jackman Shaun Peet, rear tyre carrier Jake Brzozowski, gas man Doug Newell and rear tyre changer Danny Kincaid. The others -- front tyre changer Joe Slingerland, front tyre carrier Ryan Crellin, catch can man Brett Nenaber and pit crew coach Lance Munksgard -- all are new to the #83 car this year.

Peet thinks a repeat victory in the pit crew competition would be especially gratifying during a year in which top pit crews have experienced more difficulty than usual at the racetrack, where the pressure to gain track position during pit stops is enormous.

Accordingly, Peet welcomes any recognition the crews might receive.

"If they could use a pat on the back, this is definitely the year they could use it," said Peet, who played professional hockey before he found his niche as a jackman. "They get to have their families out, they can mingle, and it's kind of a neat deal for them."

Despite the convivial atmosphere, the competition is intense and serious. Unlike a pit stop on race day, where crew members perform their duties simultaneously, the pit crew competition requires the various functions to take place in succession each on a different car--fuelling, jacking and changing tires. After team members complete their tasks on generic cars, they run to a car bearing their team's colours and begin pushing it toward the finish line 40 yards away.

The quickest overall time wins. The 22.655 seconds the #83 team posted in last year's quarterfinals is an event record.

Though drivers don't take part in the event, many attend the competition to support their crews. Of the 24 teams in last year's competition, 20 had drivers in attendance. Three-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is well aware of the effort his crew is making to prepare for the event.

"It's definitely a team-building opportunity," Johnson said. "The guys have been working real hard on the techniques needed for that particular event, which is unlike a normal pit stop, as we all know. So they're trying to figure out exactly how to shave time and the steps and techniques; the way they push the car and the points (scoring)...they're working hard on it. I certainly hope our guys can come through and win the thing."

The Sprint Pit Crew Challenge also features individual competition at each position, and there's a streak on the line in Thursday's event. For each of the past four years, at least one member of the #9 Dodge team (now part of Richard Petty Motorsports with driver Kasey Kahne), has won an individual title. Jackman Eric Wilson kept the streak alive last year.
by Reid Spencer/Sporting News