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.
Ryan Blaney Recovers From Speeding Penalty
One of the biggest changes coming to Atlanta Motor Speedway was the length of pit lane: it was extended all the way to about turn 3. As a result, it takes almost a full minute to run the length of pit road.
That’s why it was important for drivers and teams to not make mistakes while pitting under green. Unfortunately, several drivers did get penalized, including the No. 12 of Ryan Blaney.
During stage two, Team Penske’s trio of Joey Logano, Blaney and Austin Cindric pitted around lap 132. Though they came back out together, Blaney had to make a pass-through down pit lane after speeding. This mired him back to about 33rd, two laps down with a risk of going three down.
But he and his team, led by crew chief Jonathan Hassler, never gave up. Blaney got a free pass on lap 191 after a caution for a crash and was back on the lead lap and in third place by lap 222. He stayed in the top 10 the rest of the way, eventually finishing in seventh place.
Though he finished behind his teammate and race winner Logano, Blaney and his team still pushed through adversity, avoided the incidents on track and recovered from what could’ve been a race-ending penalty.
Several Toyotas Overcome Issues With the Right Strategy
It was quite an eventful day for the Toyotas, starting with Bubba Wallace spinning out on his own on the backstretch on lap 10.
During the green-flag pit cycle in stage two, Christopher Bell’s crew chief Adam Stevens called for the No. 20 to stay out longer than everyone else. That didn’t work for Bell at first; he eventually pitted around lap 142 and came out on the outside of the top 10, losing spots.
During that same run, Tyler Reddick received fuel only, which put him up inside the top five at the end of the pit cycle.
However, the No. 45 encountered some trouble after stage two ended: the team couldn’t get the fuel tank full at first, so Reddick had to make a second stop. Also during this stage break, Ty Gibbs had to back up on pit road to get serviced. He was later involved in an incident after Kevin Harvick got turned at the front of the field. Gibbs and Austin Dillon ended up getting together but not much damage was done to the No. 54.
Then we have Denny Hamlin, who during the aforementioned caution took fuel only when the lead-lap cars pitted. As he came out of his box, he couldn’t avoid Ty Dillon coming in and hit Dillon’s left rear. Hamlin had battled for the lead with Harvick before that and was never able to return to the front row after the contact.
Yet when all was said and done, Bell (who also took fuel only on lap 195) finished in third, Reddick in fifth, Hamlin sixth and Gibbs in ninth — a solid day for Toyota that began with Fords sweeping the top-eight spots in qualifying.
No Tires? Big Problems for Aric Almirola
Sometimes pit strategies don’t always go as planned.
That seems to be what happened to Aric Almirola, whose pit calls from crew chief Drew Blickensderfer looked to be good at first. The No. 10 took fresh Goodyears around lap 137 during the green-flag pit cycle in stage two.
Then after stage two ended, Blickensderfer switched things up a bit to get Almirola up front. He called for fuel only during the stage break as well as after the lap 190 caution involving his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Harvick.
This is when Almirola’s bracket busted (or rather, when the strategy backfired on the No. 10 team).
Almirola, who was in the lead for 17 laps, blew a tire on the frontstretch in front of the field while working lap 209. As his car turned around, he was hit by Kyle Larson, who was running second at the time. Almirola then hit the outside wall and his race was over with a 30th-place finish.
About the author
Joy joined Frontstretch in 2019 as a NASCAR DraftKings writer, expanding to news and iRacing coverage in 2020. She's currently an assistant editor while continuing to write daily fantasy and news articles. A California native, Joy was raised as a motorsports fan and started watching NASCAR extensively in 2001. She earned her B.A. degree in Liberal Studies at California State University Bakersfield in 2010.
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NASCAR missed the mark on the pit lane changes. They should have just moved the commitment cone but left the pit lane speed limit to the actual pit lane. We only really have the speed limit to protect pit crews. Let the drivers drive as fast as they think prudent on the apron instead of a half of lap of crawling.