Race Weekend Central

Monday Morning Pit Box: Teams Use Impending Darkness to Improve Their Prospects

Welcome to another edition of Monday Morning Pit Box following the Grant Park 220, the NASCAR Cup Series’ first ever street course race in the heart of Chicago. In MMPB, we break down the previous NASCAR Cup Series race from the perspective of the crew chief, analyzing race-changing pit calls, pit stops, and pit road penalties.

The moment NASCAR announced plans for a race on the streets of Chicago, it entered into a new frontier for the sport. This event marked the first ever street race in NASCAR history, and the first time public roads were used for a race since Daytona Beach way back in 1958.

Therefore, when the drivers and crew chiefs arrived in Chicago, none of them had any experience or prior data for this street course, with the exception of a handful of laps on iRacing — which was used to develop the racetrack. As if that was not enough, extenuating circumstances added more layers of unpredictability to an already uncertain race.

Shortened Length Changes Everything

The Grant Park 220 was supposed to be 100 laps long; however, Mother Nature decided to throw the drivers and teams a curveball with heavy rain all throughout the morning and afternoon, setting a new single-day rainfall record for the Windy City.

These conditions pushed the start of the race back about an hour and a half from the previously scheduled 5:05 p.m. green flag. The late start and impending sunset at 8:29 p.m. local time led NASCAR to make the call to shorten the race to 75 laps.  

The door opened for a split strategy up and down pit road on lap 42, as eight drivers running toward the back came down for their final pit service, including Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Austin Cindric. Four laps later, the caution flew for Alex Bowman’s engine failure. The race was shortened at this time, and most of the field pitted for tires and fuel, allowing the drivers that pitted under the prior caution to take the lead.

The trio of Justin Haley, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott, all of whom pitted on lap 30, opted to stay out to try and stretch their fuel to the race’s newly established conclusion on lap 75. This put Haley out front for the lap 49 restart, followed by Dillon in second and Elliott in third, all drivers seeking a win to lock up a playoff spot.

See also
Shane van Gisbergen Shocks the World with NASCAR Chicago Street Race Win

On a street course where passing was difficult, the gamble paid off for Haley, nearly leading to the race win. He held off Dillon – who collided with the turn 12 wall to finish 36th – and Elliott for several laps, but he could not keep Shane Van Gisbergen at bay. Nonetheless, Haley brought his No. 31 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet home second for a great points day after starting dead last in the field. Elliott also held his track position to place third.

As for the group that pitted on lap 41, the strategy call proved to be a bit of a mixed bag. Busch fared the best out of those eight drivers, crossing the finish line in fifth. Cindric also benefited, finishing sixth for only his third top 10 of the season and his first since Circuit of the Americas back in March. Others in that lap 41 group, such as William Byron and Corey LaJoie, failed to hold their track position, falling to 13th and 14th, respectively, in the final running order.

But arguably the biggest loser in the strategy plot twist was Christopher Bell. After leading the most laps and winning stages one and two, Bell restarted in 12th on lap 49. Seven laps later, the situation went from bad to worse for Bell, who hit a tire barrier and plummeted to 18th at the finish. After the race, Bell was clearly disappointed with the turn of events.

“Well, when you’re racing to lap 100, you can’t pit that early and make it on fuel,” Bell told Frontstretch’s Michael Massie postrace. “I don’t know if the guys that pitted if they were just trying to add a stop or if they were gambling on it going dark, and it worked out for them.”

Pit Road Police

The pit road police must have taken the week off because there were no pit road penalties issued in the Grant Park 220.

Look Ahead to Next Week

Next Sunday night, the Cup Series drivers and teams will take on a completely different challenge with a superspeedway race under the lights at Atlanta Motor Speedway. With a racing surface that is only two years old, there is a good chance that crew chiefs up and down pit road will dial up some two-tire or no tire calls to help their drivers gain positions on pit road.  Given the new superspeedway style of racing at Atlanta, track position will be paramount throughout the Quaker State 400.

About the author

Andrew Stoddard joined Frontstretch in May of 2022 as an iRacing contributor. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, the University of Richmond, and VCU. He has a new day job as an athletic communications specialist at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

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