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In a sport where their performance has to be 12 seconds or less, every tenth of a second can make the difference between victory or defeat. That’s why NASCAR pit crews are so important to auto racing, and why teams like Hendrick Motorsports are using athletes from college programs to make their pit crews the best they can be. CBS News correspondent on assignment, Jeff Glor, profiles a Hendrick team for the next edition of 60 MINUTES SPORTS premiering tomorrow, Wednesday, Feb. 5, at 10:00 PM, ET/PT on SHOWTIME.
NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson says he couldn’t do it if not for his “Team 48,” the pit crew members who change his tires, fill his tank and perform any number of other critical adjustments to his car. “Without a doubt, each and every week, they set their driver up to succeed or not,” he tells Glor.
Hendrick pioneered the practice of bringing in athletes to man their pit crews and with “Team 48,” the results have been tremendous. “Team 48” has won six of the last eight NASCAR Sprint Cup Championships. 60 MINUTES SPORTS cameras capture them in action, including R.J. Barnette, a former defensive back who played for Alabama’s Samford University; Ryan Patton from the strength and conditioning staff of Ohio State University and Calvin Teague, a former pitcher for Appalachian State.
Hendrick crews also have a trainer, Gene Monahan, who, for 49 years, trained the New York Yankees. He says he trains his crews like world-class athletes. There are first teams and bench players who must compete for slots just like pros. “They’re only seconds apart…but it’s the team that practices together that orchestrates,” says Monahan. “It’s a smooth progression as they move around the car. You could put music to this stuff and put it in slow motion. You have yourself an opera,” he says. 60 MINUTES SPORTS did just that.
To Rick Hendrick, the team’s billionaire owner, racing is more like war than opera. “I compare ourselves to the [U.S. Army] Rangers and the [U.S. Navy] SEALs…that’s what it’s all about. An elite group of guys that are going into battle,” he tells Glor.
The crews train and practice like any pro sports team members, but the true test is the battle, says Hendrick’s Crew Chief Chad Knaus, who could be considered a head coach of the team. “As soon as you get to the racetrack and you’re in front of 150,000 people and Jimmie Johnson is leading …battling with Tony Stewart or Kevin Harvick…that’s when the mental strength shows up or the mental weakness, whichever it may be,” he says.
Rear tire carrier Patton knows the feeling. He dreads mistakes, because they get noticed by a lot of people. “Every pit stop, people are watching… So one mistake on this team that could cost them a race, you’re on SportsCenter.”