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, those atop race control as well.
It seems we’ve seen this movie before, doesn’t it?
Kyle Larson starts a race in an abysmal state, Cliff Daniels works away at the car, and by race’s end, Larson has raced his way toward the front. It’s a common thread seen in strong finishes from Larson, and you saw that play out Sunday (June 4) at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. Larson, who was around the 30s on the speed chart early on, slid backwards through the field. He struggled to communicate what was wrong with the car, although Daniels seemed to catch on to the problems.
With every stop on pit road, the No. 5 Chevrolet slowly moved up. After climbing to around 10th place, Daniels infused some go-go juice into their run with around 60 to go.
At that point, everyone could make it on fuel the rest of the way, so it was likely to be the final stop with a lot on the line. Daniels called for two tires, catapulting Larson up near the front. The result was the 2021 Cup Series champ staying in contention for the win, ending up a solid fourth position. That was just what the doctor ordered for him after last week’s rough outing in the Coca-Cola 600, the 10th time Larson had been involved in some sort of incident this season.
McDowell Rolls The Dice Right After Getting Ross Chastain-ed
How does that old saying go? If, at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again.
The No. 34 team from Front Row Motorsports would be within its rights to make that into a plaque at the team shop following Sunday’s long afternoon of racing.
Crew chief Travis Peterson, looking to help Michael McDowell move toward the front and pick up eventual stage points, was one of a few crew chiefs opting to gamble on pit stops before the second stage. He did so by calling for just two tires. The gamble was worth taking with the surface at the track near St. Louis not as tire-grinding as some others. The call would initially backfire, with McDowell and Ross Chastain getting together on the ensuing restart, punting the No. 34 back in the field.
But the FRM braintrust apparently saw something of value in taking two tires. With around 60 laps to go, McDowell was again one of a few drivers taking a gamble. It paid off this time, putting the driver inside the top five, a place he’d stay until the closing laps where McDowell wound up ninth.
That gave the veteran a much-needed top 10 as he’s one of many drivers seeking to build a points cushion to avoid needing a win to get into the playoffs.
Rotor Issues Put Brakes On Strong Finishes
Brake rotor issues proved to be the undoing of multiple drivers on Sunday.
The feel-good story of the race, Carson Hocevar, pressed into fill-in duty for Spire Motorsports, saw a top-20 run come to an abrupt end by way of losing a brake rotor.
Potential top-10 runs for Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick met similar fates. A week after making history with 23XI Racing’s first top-five finishes for both cars in the same race, both drivers met an early end thanks to brake rotor issues. Noah Gragson also had a hard hit with the outside wall when (wait for it) one of his brake rotors broke.
At the end of the day, Gateway is still a new track for the NASCAR Cup Series. Did the track’s layout of turns vs. straightaways play a role? That’s something which will consume engineers and crew chiefs between now and the next potential stop here in 2024.
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