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.
How much risk are you willing to take? That’s the thin line that crew chiefs walk during the late stages of a race when considering how long to keep a driver on the track, in hopes that a caution during a round of green-flag pit stops can turn the tables on the field. At some point, the weight of the risk bears down, forcing a trip down pit road.
But at times, that waiting pays off. That’s exactly what happened on Sunday afternoon (April 2) at Richmond Raceway in the case of Josh Berry and Michael McDowell. Both were on pace for a solid run, Berry having rallied from an early incident to inside the top 15. But their crew chiefs, Alan Gustafson for Berry and Travis Peterson for McDowell, made their calls to keep their drivers out longer during green-flag pit stops pay off.
With the benefit of track position when Tyler Reddick spun with less than 30 laps to go, both McDowell and Berry were in a position to pit with the frontrunners. Berry even restarted on the front row late, getting a career-best finish of second with McDowell coming in sixth.
Yes, it was a gamble, but it works should the cautions fall right. They did just that for Berry and McDowell.
No gambling with tire wear
If you love the way that older-type surfaces wear down tires, then Sunday’s race was for you. When a three-car wreck involving William Byron, Christopher Bell and Kevin Harvick brought out the caution with less than 20 circuits remaining, the door was flung open for teams to have the chance to roll the dice by taking either two tires or fuel only.
Only one problem — as was seen during television coverage, tire wear played a substantial role, and it was enough of a factor to deter at least the top-10 drivers at the time of the final caution from gambling with tire wear.
Tires can be the great equalizer to pit strategy and Sunday was one of those times.
Rough day in the pits for Blaney
Mistakes are bound to happen on pit road during a race. So many things have to go right in so few seconds, from the pit entry to the pit stop to getting off pit road. But for Ryan Blaney? The No. 12 crew may as well have had a dark cloud over it during one disastrous exchange on Sunday.
It was bad enough for the No. 12 that Blaney was tagged for speeding during a round of pit stops to end stage one. It did not take long for matters to get worse as on lap 165, two pit crew members took a tumble as Blaney left the pit box with the wedge wrench still in the window. Blaney would be 26th at the falling of the checkered flag, a result greatly impacted by a tumultuous afternoon on pit road.
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