Welcome to the latest edition of Monday Morning Pit Box, where we break down the crucial 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.
Take a quick look at post-race comments, including by Denny Hamlin, and think about the relative lack of passing on Sunday afternoon. The current racing in NASCAR’s top division is one that does not lend itself of passing on short tracks, as silly as that sounds to even think about.
In the current NASCAR climate, races are won not just on the track, but also in the pits. That is exactly why crew chiefs had to make a risky call in the late going. It was a bit surprising to see a small sampling of crew chiefs do something beyond just four tires with around 50 laps to go, but there were a few takers. No. 5 crew chief Cliff Daniels was among them with a two-tire call, and it helped Kyle Larson surge to the lead and claim the win.
Larson was not to only one to cash in late. Austin Dillon used the late call to finish 12th and Ryan Blaney ended up seventh. All got a better finish by their crew chief taking a chance late, and if track position continues to be king, the days of making calls from the pit box that are the status quo may be over.
Long Run Pays Off Big Mid-Race
It’s a wonder that a product like Pepto Bismol or Rolaids has not become the official in-race sponsor of crew chief heartburn, because that’s exactly what you saw play out at Martinsville with around 100 laps to go. With the race on a long green-flag run, the conventional logic was to follow the plan in place and pit. But a small number of drivers with 100-lap old tires stayed out a bit longer in hopes that a well-timed caution would fall.
Let’s just say the cards were played right, as the yellow flag on lap 303 played right into the hands of drivers with a tough day. It enabled Joey Logano, Bubba Wallace, Daniel Suarez, Michael McDowell and Martin Truex Jr. to get new life injected into their days. It was especially opportune for Logano, who battled issues with his No. 22 that set him back in the field, and it also gave a nice boost to Wallace, who got booted back by a pit road penalty after running near the top 10 early on.
In the end, Logano, Truex and Wallace were the biggest winners with finishes of second, third and ninth. With the way each of their days were going, these crew chiefs had nothing to lose by staying out. Sometimes that plan backfires, but Sunday was not one of those times.
It didn’t show in the final results on Sunday for Todd Gilliland and Ross Chastain, but staying out and throwing the worry of tire wear to the end helped them pick up crucial stage points. Those may not seem to be a big deal now, but they very well could be when it comes to having regular-season points to get into the playoffs.
Gilliland, Chastain Rake in Stage 2 Windfall
Around lap 140 on Sunday, most of the crew chiefs made the call for four tires and fuel, but atop the pit boxes for Gilliland and Chastain, crew chiefs Danny Bergenty and Phil Sergen did otherwise, giving Gilliland two tires and Chastain the lead by staying out. The ploy worked, as both ran 1-2 toward the end of the second stage prior to slipping back slightly — both drivers still managed finished in the top 10, which meant racking up crucial stage points.
About the author
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.