Yost up for Challenge


CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Josh Yost watched last year’s Pit Crew Challenge from a wheelchair, his right ankle mangled when Rusty Wallace’s car ran over it in a pit road accident.

Yost, the jackman on Jeff Burton’s crew, has a job with many hazards. Only this one sidelined him six months and nearly cost the 28-year-old his livelihood.

“It was a pretty tough time for me,” Yost said. “I had two surgeries, was in a cast for three months, couldn’t work at all for six. I needed a wheelchair when I left the house and a walker for when I was home. It was a pretty ugly injury.”

One Yost worked extremely hard to come back from, and he’ll proudly showcase how far he’s come in tonight’s Nextel Pit Crew Challenge. Kasey Kahne’s team one the overall title last year, and the competition also awards $10,000 to the fastest crew member at each position.

“I actually practiced for the competition last year, because it was only being held two weeks after my accident,” Yost said. “But then I got hurt. I had just had the second surgery right before the competition, and the team came and got me and brought me out there in my wheelchair to watch them.

“It will be a lot better to be out there with them this year.”

Yost had just jumped over the wall last May 1 to service Burton’s car when Wallace’s car came down Talladega’s pit road at 55 mph and clipped him.

The impact broke the tibia bone in his right leg, and severed every ligament and tendon on the right side of his ankle. When Yost looked down, the bottom of his shoe was facing up and he was standing on his bone.

But Yost, who has a thick scar that zigzags from the top of his ankle down the side of his foot, was back in the shop at the end of last year and practicing pit stops shortly after. He returned to his job on the race-day crew with the season-opening Daytona 500.

“It’s pretty amazing what he went through to get himself well and back to work,” team owner Richard Childress said. “But he’s real tough, and really did a great job through the whole healing process. Then he jumped right back into it. Didn’t hesitate at all to go back over that wall.”

A pit crew job can seem glamorous to outsiders, but it’s quite dangerous and has led to many fatal accidents over the years.

It wasn’t until 1990, when a crewman for Bill Elliott was killed when Ricky Rudd’s car hit Elliott’s stopped car that NASCAR even implemented a pit road speed limit. Helmets were mandated in 2001 after driver Ward Burton veered his car into three of Rudd’s crewmen, causing serious head injuries to the front tire changer.

Despite the peril, there’s no shortage of applicants who all wish to jump over the wall and change four tires in 16 seconds or less. They are the faceless, nameless people on a race team who only get attention when they fail to tighten a lug nut or don’t remove the gas can before their driver speeds away.

Toss in the intimidation other drivers use to rattle their nerves and the job seems less then desirable.

“Rusty was known for trying to scare other crews,” Yost said. “The stop before he hit me he bumped another one of our guys. I guess he just tried to get other crews off their game.”

Yost still holds a little bit of resentment toward Wallace, and it actually made headlines last season when the two failed to connect during Wallace’s attempt to apologize. But Yost says to this day he’ll pass Wallace on pit road before a Busch race and Wallace doesn’t even acknowledge him.

“That bothers me because I know how Jeff Burton would have handled it if he had hurt a crew guy,” Yost said. “When Jeff Gordon hit a bunch of Jimmie Johnson’s guys a few years ago, he went to the hospital to check on them. There’s just a way to take care of it, and Rusty never did.”

AP-ES-05-16-06 1715EDT