Welcome to this week’s edition of the Monday Morning Pit Box. This brand new Frontstretch column takes a look at the crucial calls that shaped the outcome of Joey Logano’s win at the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and looks at how it all unfolded through the eyes of a crew chief (sometimes, we look at the calls made inside race control, too).
This week, the NASCAR Cup Series race in Vegas served as the first opportunity in the Round of 8 for playoff drivers to punch their ticket to the Championship 4. It was the second trip to the 1.5-mile oval during the 2022 season after a competitive debut with the Next Gen chassis here in March.
This race was also a nailbiter, coming down to a late gamble by Logano for four fresh tires. That led to a classic skirmish in the last few laps with Ross Chastain, both drivers fighting hard but clean for the race lead.
In the end, it was Logano who took home the jackpot, crew chief Paul Wolfe’s call with 25 laps to go paying off. Let’s start there.
Lap 242: Joey Logano pits for four tires
It turned out to be the race-winning move. When the seventh caution flew for a spin by Daniel Suarez, a dozen drivers chose to stay out on track to keep their track position. Justin Haley, William Byron and Noah Gragson, among others, opted to stay out while Logano joined the rest of the lead lap cars in choosing to dive down pit road for fresh rubber.
Wolfe and company pulled off a phenomenal pit stop, leaving Logano 13th for the restart. While the move initially cost him track position, the eighth and final caution of the race fell just a handful of laps later for Landon Cassill’s spin; by then, Logano had already passed a handful of cars.
Once the field bunched up once again, Logano hunted down the competition, closing in on race leader Chastain by lap 262 before passing him just three laps later. On older tires, Chastain just couldn’t keep up and the No. 22 eked out a 0.817-second margin of victory.
“All you want to do is get to the Championship 4 when the season starts and we got the team to do it,” Logano said in his post-race interview. “We’re racing for a Championship! Let’s go!”
Now that they’re locked into the title race, Logano and the No. 22 Team Penske Ford group can turn their attention to Phoenix Raceway in November and cruise through the next two weeks without having to worry about the point standings.
Lap 38: Bubba Wallace pits with Logano
Since the advent of the Next Gen car, we’ve seen just how much tire wear can make a difference. Pitting just a few laps earlier than someone else can allow you to gain precious seconds on the field with fresher tires.
We saw that in stage one Sunday, the field in the middle of green flag pit stops when Bootie Barker called Bubba Wallace down pit road the same time Logano made his stop. The decision enabled the duo, along with Daniel Suarez, to gain ground on other teams who chose to wait just a few minutes longer to split the stage in half. That meant Wallace’s No. 45 surged into second, eventually passing Suarez and maximizing his track position to hold off Logano and others out front.
Wallace’s edge remained right up to the stage-ending caution for Kyle Busch at lap 78. The Wallace-Logano duo ended up finishing the stage first and second, although their stories diverged from there. While Logano went on to win, Wallace was wrecked out moments later in an incident that led to a physical altercation off the track.
Lap 95: Kyle Larson and Bubba Wallace altercation
Wallace’s temper flared on lap 95 when he tangled with Kyle Larson while battling inside the top 10. Heading out of turn 4, Larson ran Wallace up the track, forcing the No. 45 Toyota into the wall. Wallace’s car then turned left, hooking Larson’s No. 5 and causing both cars to spin and hit the frontstretch wall. The crash also collected playoff driver Christopher Bell, who narrowly made it to the Round of 8 only to find himself in win-or-else mode for the Championship 4 once again.
That appeared to be blatant, intentional payback from Bubba Wallace on Kyle Larson. Hooked him and it takes out a Toyota playoff driver in Christopher Bell as well. Not a good look.
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) October 16, 2022
Once the drivers exited their cars, Wallace walked up to Larson and gestured toward him before pushing him into the No. 5 car. A brief shoving match ensued before the drivers were separated and taken to the infield care center to get checked out.
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) October 16, 2022
Wallace later gave his side of the story.
Larson, who emerged unhurt, admitted he raced Wallace hard and knew the 23XI Racing Toyota driver would be upset.
“I obviously made an aggressive move into 3 and got in low, got loose, chased it up a bit,” Larson explained in an interview. “Knew he was going to retaliate, he had a reason to be mad.”
But Larson, along with most other NASCAR observers, didn’t expect Wallace to turn left in an apparent act of retaliation. (For his part, Wallace said “steering went out” in his initial interview after the race).
Historically, when a fight ensues on track after a wreck, NASCAR has called both teams to the hauler. However, the sanctioning body did not follow its own precedent this time around, a call that puts them in Pit Box this week. Though penalties are to be expected after the fact, NASCAR once again dropped the ball. Wouldn’t you want to chat with both drivers considering they had a shoving match that went public on the frontstretch after their wreck took out a championship contender?
We’ll have to see what penalties result from this incident. Expect at least a fine for Wallace but it remains to be seen whether point deductions or even a suspension will be in play.
Next week, the Cup playoffs head for Homestead-Miami Speedway for the second event in the Round of 8. Just two races remain to set the four drivers who will race for this year’s championship, and every call on pit road and by NASCAR will be under a microscope as the field prepares to be trimmed to the final four.
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