NASCAR: How Chiefs Are Taking Measures to Avoid Crew Burnout

by TK Sanders
(Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Because of NASCAR’s notoriously grueling schedule, plus a Next Gen parts shortage and reduced staffing abilities, crew chiefs across the board are trying to find creative ways to prevent burnout on their teams.

Chris Gabehart, crew chief for the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, said that he dedicated a large portion of the offseason to building a complex, yet fair work schedule for his employees. The NASCAR Cup Series offers just one full weekend off per season in mid-June. Starting at Daytona in February, teams must work around the clock for 17 straight weeks before the break, before ramping up immediately afterward for an additional 20 weeks into the playoffs.

Logistically organizing this tight, tumbling schedule requires a lot of planning and a bit of finesse.

“It’s scheduled, choreographed. It’s not haphazard,” Gabehart said, as reported by Racer. “[My crew] all know what weekends they’re getting off and when, because I think it’s a big deal. On top of rolling out a new car, we’re now all traveling more than we have with a much-reduced roster, and parts shortage. It’s no secret on all that.

“So, it’s a lot of work for these guys. It’s a big deal, and I spent a lot of time in the offseason trying to get it where I thought we could get it.”

One NASCAR crew chief said the schedule is “definitely grueling”

Gabehart said the goal in scheduling is to minimize distractions while maximizing transparency.

“I didn’t want it to be a distraction,” he said. “If you didn’t do it right week to week, it would be a distraction. But I wanted it to be such that everybody could plan an off weekend with their families and all that’s been done.”

NASCAR’s off-weekend is June 19, Father’s Day. The break marks the end of Fox’s half of the television contract, and begins NBC Sports’ segment in Nashville.

Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Rudy Fugle echoed the same sentiments as Gabehart. He also acknowledged that COVID-19 protocols actually made the schedule easier last year, and that this season’s return to normalcy meant a return to intensity for NASCAR crew chiefs and teams.

“Big worries about that,” Fugle said when asked about burnout. “We do everything we can to try to give people time to reset. Whether that’s a day off during the week or sometimes we’ll do stuff as a group that’s not racing when we’re at the track. Whatever we can do to make sure people have a little bit of break.

“It’s definitely grueling. You get yourself in a little bit of a rut, and I think it’s easy to not do your job as good as you can if you’re well-rested. It’s something on the (agenda) for all of us to take care of.”

Denny Hamlin said his team faces significant shortages across the board, from parts to labor

A lot of the strain on teams stems from shortages in the industry from both a parts and labor perspective. Shortages cause extended wait times, which cause longer hours and more pressure for mechanics.

“I’m not sure what we can do about it,” Denny Hamlin, now a team owner at 23XI Racing, said. “We have to work extreme hours because we have to wait on parts. My crew chief told me on the plane (going to Richmond), don’t tear the splitter up (because) we have legitimate concerns we won’t have a splitter for Martinsville, so just be gentle. But how do you do that and race too? The short supply is causing extended hours.

“I think I saw some stuff on Twitter … teams are losing a lot of people just because of workload and eventually, it becomes a problem. You can’t afford to just pay them more. We’re trying to do everything we can to tread water right now, so it’s a tough position that we’re in that the supply chain is not coming through to us as good as it needs to do.”