Race Weekend Central

Monday Morning Pit Box: Chase Elliott Benefits From Late-Race Pit Call

Welcome to the latest edition of Monday Morning Pit Box after the Toyota / Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, where we break down the crucial calls that shape the outcome of the latest NASCAR Cup Series race. We take a look through the minds of those on pit road and, at times, those atop race control as well.

Coming back from last week’s NASCAR-mandated one-week vacation and still needing a playoff-clinching win, Chase Elliott headed into Sonoma on Sunday (June 11) needing to run well. For a driver who has missed races due to both a snowboarding injury and a suspension for on-track conduct, a strong run heading into NASCAR’s lone off week was key.

Elliott was solid from the start on Sunday — not horrendous, but not among the top-tier cars, either. So on a day where it was the Martin Truex Jr. Show on long green flag runs, Elliott’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, was one of three looking to shake things up with less than 20 laps remaining and the caution out.

The conventional wisdom, taken by many, was to head to pit road for four fresh tires. The opposite tactic was taken with Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Tyler Reddick, opting to stay out with enough fuel left to go the distance.

The apparent line of thinking was that the older tires would be enough to hold up. It worked for the No. 9 team, with Elliott leading initially on the restart before slipping back to fifth. But as good as the gamble worked for the Dawsonville, Ga., driver, the same could not be said for Blaney and Reddick. Blaney’s chances for a top-10 run ended with contact between him and Michael McDowell, while Reddick had a tire go down within a few laps of going green.

Of the trio, Elliott had the most to lose. Blaney and Reddick are all but locked into the postseason, so finishing toward the back was no huge loss. For Elliott, the gamble handed the No. 9 momentum heading into a three-race stretch where NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver is the defending winner in two of them (Nashville Superspeedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway).

See also
Michael McDowell Finishes 7th at Sonoma Despite Late-Race Pit Woes, Ryan Blaney Contact

Mid-Race Call Aids Ross Chastain’s Rebound

Sunday’s road course jaunt may have had stages, but there were no stage breaks due to new NASCAR rules for 2023 encouraging races on this track type to naturally play out. That, combined with just two cautions, made being on top of your game a must for both pit crews and strategy.

You also needed to have a little luck. In the case of Ross Chastain and crew chief Phil Surgen, fate and coincidence helped give the No. 1 a strong finish, a 10th-place effort that snapped a string of three results of 20th or worse.

Needing to pit, Surgen called Chastain in on lap 51. As the team started changing tires, the race’s first caution was displayed for an errant one rolling down pit lane from another car. There was no deviation from the stop, however, and Chastain remained on the lead lap. As many others would come down pit road under the resulting yellow, Chastain gained a sizable chunk of track position. He couldn’t hold inside the top five, but in the end, a top-10 result was a good-sized shot in the arm heading into an off weekend.

Kyle Busch Among Winners From Short-Pitting

Early on, race winner Truex and then-leader Denny Hamlin were among those who stayed out a little later on pit stops. A group of others chose to short-pit, including Kyle Busch.

The wager?

That positions could be gained and track position earned through a few extra laps on fresh rubber. It worked, catapulting Busch from outside the top 10 to around seventh, ultimately handing him the lead after the first caution fell with perfect timing. The calls by Randall Burnett appeared to be just the jolt that Busch needed, the No. 8 team leading 17 laps and eventually finishing second to follow up on last week’s win.

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