Will Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin switching pit crews pay dividends for Hamlin’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff run?
Luken Glover: With Kyle Busch eliminated from title contention and Denny Hamlin looking strong, it was the right move. We all know the woes the No. 11 team has experienced on pit road. Hamlin’s crew ranked 18th entering Bristol Motor Speedway while Busch’s ranked eighth. A fast pit stop put Kyle Larson in a position to capture the 2021 championship. Any advantage there has to help.
Amy Henderson: At the very least it won’t hurt. Hamlin has had a lot of mistakes made in the pits, and while he’s the king of speeding, most of them weren’t on him. With only two contenders left, and Busch on his way out, the team made the move they hope will bring Hamlin a title. Remember that a crew swap earlier this year made a huge difference to both Christopher Bell and Bubba Wallace. Both have since won races. Sometimes a move like that ignites a team, and even if this one doesn’t, Hamlin’s getting an experienced Cup crew that knows how to deliver a stop.
Mike Neff: It can’t hurt. We have seen Hamlin’s crew struggle during the playoffs before. Busch’s crew is consistently one of the top crews on pit road. Avoiding two or three pit miscues could easily be the difference between championship and elimination.
Andrew Stoddard: Thanks to the fine folks at Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet, we can get a better idea of just how much swapping pit crews can aid Hamlin’s title hopes. According to pit crew data from the first 29 races of the season, the average four-tire pit stop for Busch’s No. 18 crew lasts 11.18 seconds. That’s good for eighth in the Cup Series. On the other hand, Hamlin’s No. 11 over-the-wall crew completes a four-tire stop in 11.499 seconds, which only ranks 18th among Cup crews. In the NASCAR playoffs, where every millisecond counts, an average of three tenths of a second per pit stop could be monumental. Therefore, the pit crew swap will be a great boost to Hamlin’s bid for a championship.
Stephen Stumpf: After the 23rd race of the season at Michigan International Speedway, the No. 11 team had 31 pit-road penalties on the season. While a handful of the penalties were from Hamlin speeding on pit road, the number almost feels too absurdly high to be true. Hamlin has shown flashes of dominant speed even in a down year, but the pit road miscues have left the No. 11 team playing catchup throughout many afternoons for much of the season. With Busch eliminated from the playoffs after blown engines in two of the last three races, it certainly is a tough blow to also have his crew taken for the final seven races of his Joe Gibbs Racing tenure. However, JGR only has two cars left in the championship fight, and this swap will give it the best chance of competing at Phoenix Raceway in November.
What would be the best possible thing Richard Childress Racing could do with Tyler Reddick in 2023?
Henderson: If 23XI Racing has a seat for him, then the best thing RCR can do is let him leave. Tyler Reddick being there serves no purpose. RCR has always struggled when it tries to field three teams, and it’s unlikely Reddick will be included in technical meetings. He’ll basically be an afterthought. If RCR really wants to have three teams long-term, it needs to either commit to a third driver long term or put Ty Dillon in the seat and stop putting him in satellite rides with the promise of better stuff in return. If there’s no spot for Reddick at 23XI, RCR should commit to running him for a title, but that’s unlikely at best.
Neff: It all depends on sponsorship dollars. If it can fully fund a ride for him, run him the whole season. We have seen it for years. Organizations with more teams generally perform better. More eyes on the prize will result in more success.
Stoddard: While it is an awkward situation, the best thing Richard Childress could do for Reddick is to give him quality Cup equipment in 2023. Although Reddick was eliminated from the playoffs last weekend, 2022 was a breakthrough season for him. We saw that Reddick can go toe-to-toe with the best in the Cup Series when given the right stuff under the hood. Childress will put any hurt feelings aside for the chance of another championship-contending team in the RCR stable in 2023.
Stumpf: Childress says that the team will be a three-car team for 2023, but I’m not believing it until I see Reddick in an RCR car at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. The two sides have been professional throughout this messy contract situation, but it’s clear that Childress has lingering hard feelings toward Reddick for leaving. The best thing would be for Reddick to be bought out of contract and move to 23XI a year early. Both sides know that they are not in it for the long haul, and a buyout would expedite what would otherwise be an awkward lame-duck season. The second-best option is to create the third car for Reddick in anticipation of Austin Hill or Sheldon Creed moving up to the Cup Series in 2024.
Glover: With the awkwardness that the pair likely will face in 2023, the best scenario would be buying Reddick’s contract out and sending him to 23XI early. However, there are still unknowns pertaining to Kurt Busch, the charter system and sponsorship. Because of those factors, the next best option is fielding a third car for Reddick that will still be valued as much as the other two. That would save Childress the criticism of holding a grudge and allow for Reddick to continue to build.
Chris Buescher has career highs in top fives, top 10s and laps led in 2022. Is Buescher emerging as a championship contender for 2023 or is it too early to tell?
Neff: Championship contender is such an indistinct moniker. Is a championship contender a playoff driver? Does it mean he will make the Championship 4? Chris Buescher is improving as a driver and that is going to lead to better finishes and more wins. That should make him more of a potential title contender for sure.
Stoddard: I definitely see him as a playoff driver in 2023 but not necessarily a championship contender just yet. Yes, Buescher has a career high in top fives, but he is only ranked in a tie for 19th among Cup drivers in that statistic. His nine top 10s do not put him much higher on the list at 16th in the Cup Series. The 193 laps led in 2022 are only 14th in the Cup Series. Furthermore, as an organization, RFK Racing has gotten incrementally better throughout the season, but there is still progress to be made. Is Buescher a playoff driver next year? Yes. Is he a championship contender? Pump the brakes.
Stumpf: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It was a surprisingly dominant performance for RFK at Bristol, but Buescher’s win was the first for the team in over five years. If RFK can build on its success at Bristol for the 2023 season, it will certainly be contenders for more checkered flags next season. That said, there’s still a long road ahead for the team to get back into championship contention.
Glover: It’s too soon to call Buescher a title contender, especially since RFK just snapped a five-year winless drought. However, I am confident in calling him a playoff contender. It’s easy to overlook the fact that Buescher beat Chase Elliott to win the 2015 NASCAR Xfinity Series title. RFK will continue to get better, especially with Brad Keselowski. Next season may be too early, but it would not surprise me to see him fighting for a title in the coming years.
Henderson: I need to see more out of RFK as a whole before calling it a title contender. Buescher has shown some real flashes of brilliance this year and he’ll turn out to be a strong, consistent driver in the years to come. He’s not even 30 years old yet, so he’s got time to grow into the contender that he can be. But next year is a big stretch.
Xfinity playoff drivers Daniel Hemric, Riley Herbst, Sam Mayer and Ryan Sieg are all winless in 2022. Which of the four will advance the furthest?
Stoddard: Ryan Sieg made the playoffs by the skin of his teeth with an underdog team, so he is a Round of 12 boot. Sam Mayer drives for arguably the strongest team this season in JR Motorsports. However, as a 19-year-old, he lacks playoff experience and his driving style is still rough around the edges, so he will be out in either the Round of 12 or Round of 8. That leaves Riley Herbst, who is having easily his best year statistically in three full-time Xfinity seasons with six top fives and 16 top 10s through 26 races, or defending series champion Daniel Hemric, who has been solid but a bit of a downgrade in the No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet compared to his predecessor Justin Haley. I’m going to go with Herbst. He is going to sneak up on the competition and put the No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford back in the Championship 4.
Stumpf: Mayer or Herbst. Sieg and Hemric were the lowest-seeded drivers to make it in on points, and unless they suddenly find speed for the next two months, they will likely have to rely on their competitors running into trouble. Mayer and Herbst have significantly better finishes than Sieg and Hemric this season, and the battle to make it the furthest will likely depend on the driver that runs into the least amount of trouble in the upcoming weeks.
Glover: Kaulig’s speed has been absent aside from AJ Allmendinger, who still has been off a little bit. Still, Hemric has the most experience in the playoffs of the four. Plus, a strong playoff fueled his 2021 title run. Hemric is consistent, and he has never missed the Championship 4 in three full-time seasons. Will he win the title? Most likely no. But his experience and strength should carry him deeper than the other four.
Henderson: Either Hemric or Mayer. Hemric has the best playoff experience even without the wins to back him up. Mayer has better equipment than the more experienced Sieg. Herbst hasn’t shown anything that points toward him being a real title threat.
Neff: Hemric is the defending champion. He knows how to race the playoffs, and most of the time, he brings his cars home in one piece where they are capable of running. Herbst and Mayer have had numerous issues of self-inflicted failure. Sieg is still learning how to make it to the Championship 4.
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