Race Weekend Central

Monday Morning Pit Box: Weather Shakes Up Strategy at Atlanta

Welcome to another edition of Monday Morning Pit Box following an action-packed Quaker State 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. 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. Here is how pit road impacted Sunday’s race in the Peach State.

See also
William Byron Wins Rain-Shortened Cup Race at Atlanta

Racing to the Rain Splits Up Strategy

As the saying goes, if you need some rain in your city, just schedule a NASCAR race. Mother Nature has impacted several race weekends in 2023, most notably last week at Chicago and the Coca-Cola 600. It became evident even before the green flag that rain would arrive at Atlanta sometime during the race. Crew chiefs up and down pit road had to adjust their strategy with the radar in mind.

The first schism in strategy took place in stage one, when about half of the field pitted under the first caution on lap 19. The other half, led by Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson, waited until the end of the stage in order to acquire valuable stage points. Then, when the third caution came out for a William Byron spin, everyone except Bubba Wallace, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Preece came down pit road for a fuel only stop, putting most of the field on the same page.

That did not last long though, as business picked up in stage two with storms creeping closer and closer to Atlanta Motor Speedway. The teams divided up into three differing strategies. The first group stayed out from lap 81 to the end of stage two. This included Brad Keselowski, Blaney, Chris Buescher, Austin Cindric, Justin Haley and Joey Logano. Group two made their last trip to their pit stall on lap 95, with the trio of Michael McDowell, Chase Elliott and Aric Almirola.  Finally, the largest by far were those who pitted on lap 125 thinking that stage three would start before the rains arrived. This set up a top five of A.J. Allmendinger, McDowell, Erik Jones, Byron, and Daniel Suarez to begin stage three.

Ultimately, the lap 124 group won the day, as crew chief Rudy Fugle got Byron the track position he needed to get out front when the final caution flew for a spin between Preece and Wallace. The rain arrived minutes later, picked up after that and NASCAR called it a night with 75 laps remaining, locking up Byron’s series-leading fourth win of 2023.

Out of the drivers in the lap 81 group, Keselowski, Haley and Blaney were able to navigate their way through the pack and back to top-10 finishes of sixth, eighth and ninth, respectively. Running on fumes under the last caution, McDowell made his fuel from lap 95 last for a fourth-place finish. The gutsy gamble by crew chief Travis Peterson vaulted McDowell and the No. 34 team into the final playoff spot, three points above the cutline with seven regular season races remaining.

Alterations to Pit Road Speed Limit

In advance of the first race at Atlanta this season, NASCAR changed the pit entry procedures for the 1.5-mile superspeedway. In lieu of the traditional pit lane that began off of turn 4, NASCAR moved the pit road commitment line to the entry of turn 3, with a pit road speed limit of 45 mph all the way from there to pit exit.

This led to some issues with drivers going two laps down while pitting under green. In response, NASCAR opted to have a 90 mph speed from the entrance of turn three to the old pit entry, and then 45 mph along the traditional pit lane.

Despite the change, there were no pit road speeding penalties during the rain-shortened, 185-lap race at Atlanta.

Pit Road Police

The pit road police had nothing to do in Chicago, but they were much busier in Atlanta. Here is the summary of pit road penalties:

  • Three drivers got hit with penalties during round of pit stops following stage one.
    • Byron not only overcame a spin to win the race, but also a penalty for safety violation by his crew on lap 62.
    • The No. 20 and No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing teams both had tires go astray, sending Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin to the back on the ensuing restart. Hamlin’s tire interfered with a crew member on Corey LaJoie’s team as they were trying to pit the No. 7 Chevrolet.
  • On lap 81, Tyler Reddick and the No. 45 23XI team got called for crew members being over the wall too soon.

Look Ahead to Next Week

Next Sunday, the NASCAR Cup Series makes its annual trek to New England for the Crayon 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. NHMS is notorious as a track where it is tough to pass; therefore, track position should be king. Crew chiefs could call for two tire or no tires, but they do so at their own risk, as the older surface at NHMS lends itself to quicker tire wear.

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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