Race Weekend Central

Monday Morning Pit Box: Martin Truex Jr. Spin Lowlight Of Drivers Struggling On Pit Lane

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Monday Morning Pit Box! It’s a brand new Frontstretch column where we break down the crucial calls on pit lane that shaped the outcome of the race gone by, looking at it through the eyes of a crew chief (sometimes, we even look at the calls that came from race control, too).

This week, NASCAR visited Homestead-Miami Speedway for Sunday’s (Oct. 23) Dixie Vodka 400, the second race of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs Round of 8. It was the second of three opportunities for an eligible driver to claim a golden ticket into the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway in two weeks’ time.

In a race where not too many cautions flew, tire strategy was king, but Lady Luck still found a way to intervene in the final stage. Sometimes, a crew chief’s decision to pit comes with impeccable timing when the caution flies right as they’re doing it.

That moment of good fortune appeared to propel Martin Truex Jr. to his first victory of a long season. Instead? It was a spin on pit road, after contact from Larson, that led to head-scratching and wondering what might have been.

Behind Larson’s comeback victory were a few crucial calls atop the pit box and in race control. Let’s look at a few of them.

Entire Race: Getting On And Off Pit Lane

While crew chiefs make decisions on top of the pit box, drivers still have to drive the car onto pit road. They need to get into their box safely and the crew needs to execute the stop at speed without incurring a penalty or leaving a loose wheel on the car.

This weekend at Homestead, those mistakes seemed to trump strategy several times, knocking out multiple potential contenders for Larson. Drivers like Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon and Truex all wound up shooting themselves in the foot, either on their approach to stops or during the stop itself.

Reddick appeared to suffer the worst of it for much of the afternoon. On lap 83, at the end of stage one, Reddick’s team suffered a jack issue that caused the No. 8 Chevrolet to plummet outside the top 10. After a fourth-place finish in stage one, he found it difficult to maneuver in traffic before a further setback: sliding through his pit stall during a green-flag stop on lap 121.

On the following lap, it was Dillon suffering through a similar jack problem for Richard Childress Racing on pit road, costing the No. 3 Chevrolet valuable track position. At least Dillon was able to fight back over the long term, working his way up into the top five during the final stage before finishing a strong fourth. Reddick never recovered, losing a lap and then the handling before causing the final caution of the race after losing it off turn 2.

Reddick’s wreck on lap 245 ended up causing the last of the mistakes – and it was a big one. Truex, leading the race at the time, hit pit lane with Larson right behind him in second. The cars were nearly locked together, maxing out pit road speed to try and create an advantage for their crews.

But did Truex try just a little too hard? Nearly missing his stall, he appeared to turn the No. 19 Toyota at the last second, surprising Larson who bumped Truex and spun him out right into his stall. It caused chaos, Truex’s crew pitting the car backward while Larson’s stop went smoothly, putting him in position to cruise to victory.

“I was just going behind him and he hung a hard left and was hard on the brakes at the same time and I ran right in the back of him,” Larson said about the incident in an interview with NBC Sports after Sunday’s race. “My team said he was late turning into his stall. If it was my fault, I’m sorry. I don’t think it was.”

Truex later gave his side of the story after a hard charge from 19th to sixth in the final laps.

“I did see my box late for sure, that’s why I turned out of the way of the No. 5 there, so obviously partly on me,” Truex said in his post-race interview. “I didn’t expect to get turned around. Glad nobody got hurt there. But overall, it’s just disappointing to have a good day going like that, have a shot at winning and couldn’t close the deal.”

Both Truex and Larson claimed it was hard to see late in the race, the glare of the sun blocking their view. Either way, it felt like a bunch of preventable incidents on pit road that we typically avoid at most other racetracks.

Lap 212: Martin Truex Jr., Ross Chastain Get Off Pit Road In Time

Up until that pit road incident, Truex was in position to capitalize after a caution flew right in the middle of his green flag pit stop on lap 211. As Ryan Blaney spun getting up to speed on the pit access lane, both Truex and Ross Chastain had pitted their cars but were not yet lapped by the leader.

It meant once the caution came out, both drivers could cycle around to the top two spots as the rest of the lead-lap cars pitted. For the first time all day, Truex had track position over a dominant Larson, a driver who had led 177 of the first 213 laps.

Ultimately, Truex got out front and was in position to win until that final caution and spin on pit road. But Chastain also benefitted and truly made the most of it, posting his second straight runner-up finish in the Round of 8. After surviving a battle with AJ Allmendinger during the final laps, he’s now 19 points above the cut line, the best of any driver who hasn’t yet clinched a spot inside the Championship 4.

Lap 123: Christopher Bell, John Hunter Nemechek Stay Out For Track Position

Going back to stage two for this call, we’ll go to lap 123 and what appeared to be a Hail Mary call for Christopher Bell and crew chief Adam Stevens. As green flag pit stops got underway, a pair of Toyota drivers made an interesting call to try and stay out longer than anyone else. Stevens and Bootie Barker, crew chief for John Hunter Nemechek this week, both made the call to stay out in the hopes that a well-timed caution would allow them to gain track position.

For Bell, it was also a way to try and get stage points on a day multiple playoff drivers, like William Byron, used them to their advantage. But the call wound up backfiring as the yellow flag never waved, forcing Bell and Nemechek to hit pit lane on lap 126. Bell didn’t score any stage points in the race, despite starting second, and had to fight hard in the final stage just to come home with an 11th-place finish.

That put Bell into must-win territory next weekend at Martinsville Speedway, sitting 33 points below Byron for the fourth and final spot. For Nemechek, his day went from bad to worse, unable to regain track position lost from an early spin while running inside the top five. A 27th-place finish wasn’t the one-race Cup audition he was looking for with 23XI Racing as Bubba Wallace will return to the car next week.

While the Toyotas faltered, honorable mention should go to a Chevrolet crew chief who kept his driver motivated behind the wheel. All race long, Cliff Daniels was in Larson’s ear to save both his car and his tires, pacing himself with a setup that allowed him to jump to a lead of just over 10 seconds at points during the first two stages.

In the end, Larson was able to claim his third victory of the season, locking Hendrick Motorsports into the owner’s championship at Phoenix.

“Definitely the best run we’ve had all year long,” Larson said in a post-race interview. “We’ve been capable of it; I feel like many weekends we just haven’t quite put it all together. Cliff [Daniels] gave a great speech this morning and got us all ready to go and focused. Happy for our team and we get to race for an owner’s title in Phoenix in a couple weeks.”

Up next for the Cup Series is a trip to NASCAR’s oldest active track, Martinsville. With the midnight hour approaching for the Round of 8, which crew chiefs will come up big in the nick of time, potentially earning that famous Grandfather Clock?

About the author

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

There are a lot of moving parts to a pit stop, & when they all mesh, it’s magic. It was just that kind of stop last season that gave Larson the title, while denying it to Truex.
On the other side of that coin, a bad stop can be due to either poor execution, or simple bad luck. A jack or air gun malfunctioning, the lock ring falling out, an air lock slowing down the fueling etc.
During the F1 race, an air gun malfunction almost handed the win to Hamilton. Had the stop come later in the running it would have.


Once again a Reverend Joe driver refuses to accept blame for an incident he caused with Larsen and again wants to blame Larsen. When they showed on the telecast Chasstain getting into his pit box the proper way it showed just how wrong Marty was. The glare causing a lot of the problem for Marty should tell NA$CAR to start the events earlier to avoid that situation.

The drivers with a (P) led 239 of the 267 laps in the latest example of Brian’s product. The only other driver to lead the 28 laps was Lord Byron.

Share via