Mistake at Darlington forces change in Hamlin's pit
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Denny Hamlin's over-the-wall gang will have a new look at Wednesday night's Nextel Cup Pit Crew Challenge at the Charlotte Bobcats Arena.
Crew chief Mike Ford made several changes to the crew after Sunday's pit road mistake at Darlington Raceway, the latest in a series of blunders dating to last season that have kept Hamlin out of Victory Lane.
Hamlin was second heading into a late stop, but fell to 16th after two lug nuts were knocked off on a right front tire change. He rallied to finish second, but felt he should have won.
"If we lose by about 20, 30 points when it comes down to the championship, we know exactly where we lost it and that's on pit road," said Hamlin, the defending rookie of the year who is fourth in the standings. "I gave away Phoenix, that's my fault.
"But there's two to three other races that we had the best car most all day and even at the end and just gave it away on pit road. Today was a prime example of that."
Ford agreed, so he moved the rear changer to the front and brought on a new front tire carrier. He replaced the rear tire changer with an employee at Joe Gibbs Racing that has been training for the position and moved the gas man to jack man.
He made a temporary change to the gas man and will continue to look for a long-term fix.
"We'll see where that goes," Ford said. "The key is we're trying to put a group of guys together that gel well. We did not have that chemistry on the pit crew that we needed.
"The more pressure situations we've been in the more obvious it was."
Hamlin noted several instances this season where a bad pit stop cost him a chance to win. Ford said the issues have been escalating since the end of 2006.
"As you're trying to build a championship team everyone handles pressure a little differently," he said. "We're making some short-term fixes with long-term possibilities."
Ford said this weekend will be a good test between the pit crew challenge and Friday's qualifying for the All-Star race in which the pit stop is included in the time.
"The timing of it with the challenge and pit crew being heavily involved in the race this week is difficult," Ford said. "It's also good timing. It gives us time to hit stride somewhere shortly before the [Chase for the Cup]."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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