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.
When the checkered flag fell at Sunday’s Goodyear 400, Bubba Wallace found himself with a fifth-place finish. That was close to where he began the race, leading laps early on. The biggest part of his day happened, for better and worse, on pit road.
A full-day top-five run would come undone by way of an issue with getting a lugnut on during a mid-race pit stop. That dropped Wallace back from third to around 15th, a place that a driver does not want to be: mired in traffic with a limited chance to move forward. Martin Truex Jr., another of Sunday’s strong early runners, would run into the same fate before being caught up in a late crash.
But here’s where Wallace’s crew minimized the damage. Sure, a few positions were lost to get the lug on, but many more would have been thrown away had Wallace gotten on the track and had a tire or wheel issue, likely ending his day. That’s the last thing that the No. 23 would have wanted.
That, combined with crew chief Bootie Barker keeping everyone on an even plane with eyes focused on the big picture, helped Wallace post his second top-five finish in a row and third top 10 in the past five races; the outliers in that span were a 12th-place finish at Dover and final-lap wreck at Talladega while racing for the lead.
Last year, you saw Wallace’s day torpedoed by a pit-road misadventure. That was not the case on Sunday.
Byron’s Team Isn’t Fazed By Bumps on Pit Road
If you want a clinic on not letting one bad turn of events beat you twice, look no further than what William Byron’s No. 24 team did on Sunday at Darlington. Byron’s Chevrolet was not what you’d call dominant, but it was among the frontrunners, and the goal as a race goes on is not necessarily to win it but to not lose it as well.
The possibility of the latter reared its head in the first two stages with the No. 24 team and Byron, in Hendrick Motorsports Vice Chairman’s Jeff Gordon’s words, “getting a little bit behind on one or two pit stops,” particularly on one where Byron locked his brakes coming to pit road.
That’s where the steady hand of crew chief Rudy Fugle came in, ensuring there was no panic, and with the help of attrition and late-race cautions, Byron was able to rally back and be out front when it mattered most.
Daniels’ Call To Short Pit Puts Larson in Position to Win
The move may not have put Kyle Larson in victory lane on Sunday, but he was in a position to do so thanks to Cliff Daniels being among those choosing to short pit in the final stage.
Obviously, the call did not result in a race win, as Chastain and Larson’s collision ended any hopes of a win for the two drivers. Still, the pit call put Larson in the catbird’s seat for the closing laps, which is the best that any crew chief could hope for.
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