Skip to main content

NASCAR Drivers and Crew: A Winning Chemistry

I worked for many years as a science teacher in Toronto, Ontario, and now am an occasional teacher working on the local school board.

Chemistry and NASCAR

Consider the two following definitions of "chemistry":

  1. the science that deals with the composition and properties of substances and various elementary forms of matter.
  2. the interaction of one personality with another.

Chemistry is very important in the industry of NASCAR. To win races, both the driver and his crew must have chemistry with each other. They must also have more than a basic understanding of the function chemical science plays in the optimal performance of their race car. Both aspects of chemistry are vital in the successful career of NASCAR racing teams. Team chemistry will be examined in detail while the scientific knowledge required by team members will be outlined.

Money may be the most important element in modern-day stock car racing, but team chemistry runs a very close second.

— Bill Elliott on his first ever NASCAR win

Team Chemistry

All teams involve a group of people working together to achieve a common goal. NASCAR racing teams work together to produce and keep a race car or group of cars in top running order, supporting a driver by providing him/her with the proper tools to win races. In order to function optimally, an effective team:

  • shares leadership roles
  • shares accountability for their product or products

In the case of NASCAR, this process involves the production of a car and driver who together regularly win races.

Effective teams express the following characteristics:

  • They have open-ended meetings during which objectives are established.
  • They utilize active problem-solving strategies whereby each member listens to and provides input on the problems encountered.
  • Every member of the team has a clearly established role.
  • However, if one team member requires help with their task, the others will set aside their work if necessary to assist.
  • Team performance is based on the outcome of the entire team, NOT on the work of individuals.
  • In strong team relationships, team members intuitively understand each other's body language and pet phrases.

Chemistry is so important. Sometimes, you never hit the right combination. But, man, I look back and I think we're very fortunate. Didn't have any idea it was going to be this good. But I think that the chemistry between these two guys, and I've been doing this for 30 years, is as good as or better than any I've ever seen.

— Rick Hendrick on the relationship between Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Steve Letarte

NASCAR Teams and the Importance of Chemistry

A driver and his crew may get along off the track, but while working as a tightly bound racing team, they may not have the elusive communication skills necessary to become a top-winning team. Most important in the team chemistry of NASCAR is the communication evident between the driver and his crew chief. Subtleties of language are extremely important. A crew chief must know exactly how much the car needs to be tightened when the driver says "it's really loose", "it's a little loose" or "it's just a smidge loose".

Fixing a car problem could involve a large number of possible fixes. NASCAR chemistry involves the knowledge a crew chief has of his driver in order to know what fixes he wants in each circumstance. Every driver is an individual and likes things his own way. The crew chief who figures out what tweaks to the car make his driver satisfied and able to win races is on his way to having that elusive, winning NASCAR chemistry.

We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.

— Carl Sagan

Chemistry Knowledge Instrumental to a NASCAR Team

The understanding of the following chemistry concepts are vital knowledge for the successful NASCAR team:

  • The process of combustion is a chemical reaction involved in the use of fuels. The more complete the combustion, the more power which is available to increase the car's speed.
  • Understanding the basic premise of gas laws, especially in the maintenance of the car's tires. Nitrogen gas is used in racing tires due to the fact that it expands less than normal air when heated. The racing crew needs to know that the tire will experience a pressure increase when heated and inflate tires according to the weather and track conditions.
  • Chemical kinetics are important to the crew in understanding the effect of higher compression on fuel combustion and the possible ramifications when tweaking the engine.
  • As the car and safety equipment of the driver are composed of many different polymers, the crew must have an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each in order to maintain speed and safety during changing conditions.
  • Latent heat of phase change is an important concept as the NASCAR driver cannot sweat because of the protective clothing worn. As special cooling systems are used to maintain the driver's body temperatures in extreme in-car temperature conditions, it is vital the crew know how to maintain the safety cooling systems.

If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 MPG.

— Bill Gates

Famous NASCAR Racing Teams

Very few NASCAR racing teams have found that elusive team chemistry leading to uber-successful careers.

  • Ray Evernham and Jeff Gordon were one successful team. Together they won three cup titles.
  • Dale Earnhardt Sr. had successful chemistry with crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine. With Shelmerdine as crew chief, Earnhardt had 46 wins, 142 top 5 finishes, and 246 top 10 finishes.
  • Richard Petty and Dale Inman also had that successful team chemistry. Inman was Petty's crew chief for 30 years. Together they won 198 races and seven championships.

Each of these teams were dominant forces in their era of NASCAR. In fact, these three crew chiefs were instrumental in bringing the widespread use of pit crews into NASCAR racing.

Resources Used

Cohen, Ben. The Wall Stree Journal: The Daily Fix. Daytona 500: Why Tide for Jet Fuel? February 28, 2012.

McCormick, Steve. NASCAR Racing. What is NASCAR Chemistry? 2012.

Ryan, Nate. USA Today. Voted "greatest crew chief," Ray Evernham branches out, August 24, 2010.

Sreenidhi, S.K. citeHR. Psychology of Working Together in Teams..

White, Rea. Fox Sports. Letarte, Junior meld together well, June 20, 2012.

© 2012 Teresa Coppens


Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 19, 2013:

thanks susugede. So happy you found my hub interesting.

susugede on March 19, 2013:

What an interesting facts.

Thanks :)

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 11, 2013:

Thank you kindlySidKemp. I find it interesting that lab chemistry and personal chemistry are both so important in the sports world including NASCAR!

Sid Kemp from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on March 11, 2013:

You did an excellent job linking personal chemistry and technical chemistry, and showing how we can all create winning teams by focusing on personal chemistry. Voted up, interesting, and useful. And congrats on Hub of the Day.

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 10, 2013:

TeaPartyCrasher, no one person wins a race alone. The driver may be the most visible personality but without a faithful crew behind him he would win few races. So glad you enjoyed the hub, cheers!

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 10, 2013:

prasetio30, thanks for reading and so glad you enjoyed the hub. Hope you get the opportunity to enjoy another race in Indonesia!

TeaPartyCrasher from Camp Hill, PA on March 10, 2013:

I wonder how many championships Jimmy Johnson would have won without Knaus (sp) as his crew chief, and let us not forget Jeff Gordon's "Rainbow Warriors".

A great piece about the team behind the driver!

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on March 10, 2013:

Very informative hub. I saw the NASCAR race only through my television. Maybe, I live in Indonesia. Thanks for writing and share with us. I love the pictures as well. Voted up!


Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 10, 2013:

lovedoctor926 , glad to hear positive feedback from a diehard fan. So happy you enjoyed the hub!

lovedoctor926 on March 10, 2013:

Congrats on HOTD! Useful information and interesting too.

I'm a fan of NASCAR. I have attended various car racing events at the Homestead Miami Speedway during the past several years. I also watch it on TV.

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 10, 2013:

torrilynn, so glad you enjoyed the hub. And yes, chemistry is so much a part of all relationships. Even in NASCAR, a team without chemistry is not a successful one!

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 10, 2013:

LKMore01, thanks for the comment. And yes, it is amazing how much chemistry figures into so much of our lives. Without those special relationships, any team would not have much success!

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 10, 2013:

pinto2011, so glad you enjoyed this hub. It was a pleasure to research and write!

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 10, 2013:

monisays2u , thanks for reading and leaving such a glowing comment. So glad you enjoyed my work!

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 10, 2013:

Thanks Cyndi. Glad you enjoyed!

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 10, 2013:

Thanks so much for the compliment Joelipoo. Living in a house of boys, NASCAR is popular in our home along with the NFL. Glad you enjoyed the hub!

torrilynn on March 10, 2013:

Hi Teresa.

really nice hub that you have here

and i agree that chemistry is important in making the cars and configuring

how to make them durable and fast

thanks for the information

Voted up.

LKMore01 on March 10, 2013:

Great Hub, Teresa. Chemistry can be mysterious but when people discover the magic it turns into a successful relationship, Thank you for shining the spotlight on racing.

Subhas from New Delhi, India on March 10, 2013:

You have made it a great read through your great explanatory skill. Thumbs up!

Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on March 10, 2013:

This is awesome, Teresa! Way to go on HOTD. :)

Joel from Ohio on March 10, 2013:

I am a big NASCAR fan, and I really appreciate reading a good piece like this. I think people usually stereotype NASCAR and its fans as just a bunch of rednecks that turn left. However, there is so much more, and you did a great job of telling us.

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 10, 2013:

buddhaanaysis, I enjoyed the research for this one. A lot goes into a winning NASCAR team. Glad you enjoyed this one!

buddhaanalysis on March 10, 2013:

Very nice pictures and hub.

Thanks for sharing and congrats.

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on October 22, 2012:

Dontei, glad you enjoyed venturing out of your comfort zone. My son's job at our local racetrack inspired two NASCAR hubs including this one. I'm glad you like the inclusion of quotes. I've used it in a number of hubs and like the human feel it gives to them!

Michael on October 22, 2012:

I am not a huge fan of nascar but I always enjoy learning about new things. I enjoyed how you used quotes in your hub. I may even begin to incorporate more of this into my own hubing. Thanks for the great read!