From Le Mans to COTA: Crewmen's endurance pays off in Austin tripleheader

AUSTIN, Texas — Going overseas to pit a NASCAR vehicle in the 24 Hours of Le Mans will always be a career highlight for Jarius Morehead, Cody French and Mike Moss.

That challenge encapsulated the endurance they display on a weekly basis back in the United States — and shines brightly again this weekend at Circuit of The Americas.

The trio is pulling triple-duty this weekend in the Craftsman Truck Series, Xfinity Series and Cup Series at the 3.41-mile road course. Morehead served as the tire carrier, French the jackman and Moss the rear changer on Rajah Caruth’s No. 71 truck, the only vehicle they serviced together all weekend. In the Xfinity Series, Morehead carries tires for the No. 9 JR Motorsports entry driven by Brandon Jones, while Moss and French serve on the No. 6 JD Motorsports entry piloted this week by Ty Dillon.

Morehead and French will additionally service the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet in the Cup Series for Carson Hocevar, while Moss changes rear tires for Corey LaJoie on Sundays.

Their experience working on NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports’ Garage 56 entry in Le Mans, France, nine months ago created a lasting bond, but it also provided plenty of applicable lessons back on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

“We probably were up for at least 40 hours that day,” Morehead recalled of his Le Mans race day. “So just learning, just being very detailed, very precise with what you’re doing. It’s a longer race and longer mileage, so you make one mistake, it’s crucial to that race over there. The lesson I learned is just be patient doing your job and be as precise as possible.”

Jackman Cody French prepares to pit the No. 71 truck during a NASCAR race at COTA.
Jackman Cody French prepares to pit the No. 71 truck during a NASCAR race at COTA.

French added that by working on the Garage 56 endeavor, their group — which also included Dawson Backus and Donovan Williams — had extended time to practice and learn with the Next Gen vehicle, even excelling at Le Mans in a pit-crew challenge.

“In all of NASCAR, I would say this pit crew probably has the most experience with the Next Gen car,” French said, “and doing so with all the extra practices and the countless testing hours that we’ve done at certain tracks, including the race. I would say building confidence and familiarity with the car itself, knowing how the car operates, knowing how … the car is gonna react essentially to a pit stop more so than what a five-lug car would.

“Now we can come back over here in the States and know that we could run some of the fastest stops in NASCAR and have confidence in ourselves that if there’s certain problems with the car, this is the way we’ve got to operate.”

At COTA, the order of operations started with a stout Saturday doubleheader with the Truck Series and Xfinity Series, with little time in between both events. This grind is nothing new to the trio, but that doesn’t make the experience any less challenging. Both Saturday vehicles have five-lug wheels, while Sunday’s Cup race features single lugs on the Next Gen car. That matters — even on Saturday.

“On the hot side of the track, I would say from Cup to Xfinity and Truck, the main thing is slowing the pace down,” French said. “On Sundays we’re trying to go eight, nine seconds, and then on Fridays and Saturdays, you’re trying to run 12 to 13 on a good stop. And I’m a jack man, so the game is a little bit different. I’m reacting to the changers. Changers carry the load on Fridays and Saturdays. Jackman is essentially your workhorse on Sundays.

“It’s just making sure your changers are on their A-game: hitting five, making sure five are tight and then knowing that when you wake up Sunday morning, roles are reversed. It’s the jackman’s turn to go.”

Jarius Morehead prepares to pit the No. 71 truck during a NASCAR race at COTA.
Jarius Morehead prepares to pit the No. 71 truck during a NASCAR race at COTA.

They’re also no stranger to milestone moments. Three weeks ago, their speedy service on Caruth’s No. 71 truck helped propel Caruth to his first career win at Las Vegas, with Caruth becoming the third Black driver to win at the NASCAR national series level.

“It’s great because they had a huge role in that success from getting us out (with) good stops in Stage 1 and getting us back in the game with that green-flag pit stop there in Stage 3,” Caruth said. “So I would put my guys up against anybody in the truck field.”

A sophomore Truck Series driver, Caruth has developed a strong relationship with his crew already and praised Morehead as a leader of the group. In turn, Caruth and the crew lean on one another and root for each other’s success.

“It’s important to me to have relationships with everybody on my team,” Caruth said, “from our mechanics to our people at the shop, people we go to the race track with and obviously our pit crew just, because everybody has an important role in this, right? Yes, I’m the one that gets to drive the truck, but that’s not the most important thing. Everybody has a role in this deal.”

A former three-year starting defensive back and captain on North Carolina State’s football team, Morehead reflects on the last year with gratitude and grace, appreciative of the glory that has come from such unique challenges.

“You just look back at it and just thank God for everything that he put in your life,” Morehead said. “Definitely a blessing to get his (Caruth’s) first win. Last year close to the end of the year, we were like, ‘we’re gonna get you a win.’ We dreamed. We were talking and it was just exciting to see him get out of that car, his parents over there with him, and him to get his first win. You just look and thank God for everything.”