Welcome to the latest edition of Monday Morning Pit Box, where we break down the critical calls that shape the outcome of each week’s race. We take a look through the minds of those on pit road and, at times, call atop race control as well.
Pit Crew Delivers Jackpot for Byron
Up to Sunday’s (March 5) race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway going into overtime, the race win was all but sewn up for Kyle Larson. The key phrase, of course, is all but.
With the caution flag displayed after Aric Almirola sustained damage, most of the field made its way down pit road. That’s where William Byron’s pit crew rewrote the storyline, doing just enough to lead those who came off pit road.
The brilliance within the pit box worked, as the two-tire call by Rudy Fugle got Byron’s No. 24 out ahead of all of those that pitted, allowing him to get past Martin Truex, Jr. in overtime.
There are obviously lots of ‘what ifs’ when you look at the ending from the standpoint of Larson, and the reason we’re talking about those what ifs is due solely to the pit-road execution of the No. 24 team.
No. 19’s Small Takes a Vegas Gamble
Speaking of that late-race caution, it’s hard to blame Truex’s crew chief James Small for staying out on old tires. This race was dominated by Hendrick Motorsports and it was very apparent that nobody would be able to beat that stranglehold straight-up on the track.
In times like this you have to think outside the box and that’s what James Small did by staying out. It did not take long to think that the No. 19 needed to have friends named Tonto and Kemosabe because Truex was the Lone Ranger with the rest of the leaders pitting. And in an expected result, those old tires got overtaken by fresh ones, even if they were only changed on one side of the car.
Truex’s team knew the odds were long and it took a chance that for its effort garnered a seventh-place finish.
No. 11 Takes a Swing at Leaders with Two-Tire Call
From the start of the weekend, Joe Gibbs Racing’s entries were not among the frontrunners at Las Vegas, and that was further shown as the Hendrick Motorsports-led parade developed on Sunday. What’s more is that for a good part of the race, the best Toyota was not even from the JGR stable – that title belonged to Bubba Wallace from 23XI Racing.
So, to get a jolt going to the final stage, someone would have to change things up. That someone was No. 11 crew chief Chris Gabehart, calling the shots for Denny Hamlin. His two-tire pit call during pit stops after Joey Logano‘s lap 183 crash put Hamlin in the lead with 81 to go. Track position and clean air can be king on intermediate tracks like this, especially if cloud cover changes; the No. 11 was in a prime position to take advantage.
Hamlin would go on to lead laps in the final stage, 10 overall for the day, before eventually fading on the final restart to finish 11th.
In the end, Hamlin’s team had to get creative due to Hendrick Motorsports dominating the day, and that’s more of a credit to what Hendrick did to the field on Sunday than anything else.
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