Welcome to this week’s edition of the Monday Morning Pit Box. It’s a brand new Frontstretch column where we take a look at the crucial calls on pit lane that shaped the outcome of a race (sometimes we look at the calls that were made inside race control, too).
This week, the NASCAR Cup Series visited the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, the second wild card race within the Round of 12. The final road course event of the season started calm, but a chaotic restart late set up for a wild overtime finish, leading to Christopher Bell pulling a walk-off win over Kevin Harvick and sneaking his way into the Round of 8. Behind that win were some critical calls on pit lane and in race control.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the calls that defined the race.
1. Christopher Bell pits during a late caution – Lap 105
After a strong first round of the playoffs, Bell had a dismal Round of 12 where he finished 34th and 17th at Texas Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, respectively. Entering the weekend at the ROVAL, he was in a must-win situation, 33 points below the cut line. As Chase Elliott looked like he was sailing toward another victory, the caution flew for debris, and while most of the leaders opted to stay on the track, Bell’s crew chief Adam Stevens made the call that turned out to be the right one for the No. 20 team’s playoff hopes.
On the ensuing restart, wrecks involving race leaders Elliott, Tyler Reddick and Noah Gragson among others catapulted Bell to third. He got by Kevin Harvick later on lap 107 before the final yellow came out, forcing the overtime ending. Bell survived wrecks reminiscent of Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson’s last lap wreck in 2018 to claim the victory and his spot in the Round of 8.
2. Chase Briscoe pits – Lap 110
One last yellow set up the final overtime attempt, and most of the leaders stayed out once again. But crew chief Johnny Klausmeier had a little something up his sleeve for Chase Briscoe. A pit stop for four tires and fuel cost the No. 14 team track position but the restart, which saw several drivers wreck once again, allowed Briscoe to gain back some of those lost positions.
In the end, he gained enough spots to point his way into the Round of 8, leaving Kyle Larson on the outside looking in.
“There’s a difference between thinking we can move on and knowing we can move on,” Briscoe said in a post-race interview. “This team never gives up.”
3. Missing Chicanes (Multiple Drivers)
Sometimes, no handling adjustment from on top of the pit box can keep drivers from making a mistake that ruins their day. With road courses, one of the big worries is missing a turn, an issue that plagued drivers throughout this race at the Charlotte ROVAL. It’s been a pattern here, including with Elliott in 2019 when his brakes locked up and he overshot turn 1. Elliott ended up coming back from that wreck to win the race, doing his burnout celebration at the exact same spot where he wrecked.
All throughout this race, drivers like Austin Dillon, Bubba Wallace and Ross Chastain missed the chicanes. Dillon and Wallace missed the Toyota Chicane in the frontstretch, while Chastain missed the Trelegy Chicane on the backstretch. Of the three mentioned, only Dillon took a pass-through penalty for not coming to a complete stop before continuing on. He recovered to finish 10th.
Wallace flat-spotted his tires while trying to stop and was forced to come in from ninth. He didn’t score any stage points but came home with a solid seventh-place finish.
Meanwhile, Chastain stayed out to win stage two, but suspension issues plagued him late in the going, relegating him to a 37th-place finish, nine laps off the pace.
Next weekend, the Round of 8 begins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and a win for any of the playoff drivers remaining means a spot in the title race at Phoenix Raceway in just a few short weeks. Which crew chiefs will make the right gambles at the right time to beat the house?
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