Race Weekend Central

Monday Morning Pit Box: Four Tires All Around at Richmond

Hello, and thank you for starting your week with the latest edition of Monday Morning Pit Box after the Cook Out 400 from Richmond Raceway. 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 a recap of the pit road action from the Action Track.

Four Tires All Day

With a nearly two-decade old asphalt surface and significant braking, there was never a doubt that each team would put on four fresh Goodyear tires on every pit stop. It was only a question of when and how often they would change tires. With only eight sets of tire available, crew chiefs had to be selective about when to call their drivers into the pit stall, making sure to save tires for the end.

The lack of cautions opened the door for teams to decide how to manage their tires during the longer second and third stages. Do you split the stages into thirds with two pit stops, or do you try to make through on just one pit stop around the middle of the stage?

See also
Chris Buescher Gets 1st Win of Season at Richmond

During the final stage, the vast majority of teams chose the first strategy, including race winner Chris Buescher, who brought his No. 17 Ford down pit road on lap 284 and then again with 61 laps remaining for fresh rubber. Martin Truex Jr. in the No. 19 Toyota was the only main contender on the latter strategy, attempting to split the final stage almost exactly down the middle with pit stop at 88 laps to go.

The call by No. 19 crew chief James Small was no match for the No. 17 car, as once Buescher had his last set of tires, it only took him eight laps to catch Truex and recapture the lead on lap 347. A late caution for Daniel Suarez’s spin on lap 392 brought the whole field down pit road one last time, but Buescher and the team retained the top spot and sailed away on the final restart to the checkered flag.

See also
RFK Shines at Richmond With Chris Buescher Victory, Brad Keselowski Top 10

Despite missing out on the race win, Truex finished seventh and had climbed into the top 10 with the alternate pit strategy after running in the 20s early in the race. Afterwards, Small expressed no regrets deviating from the rest of the field on tire strategy.

“Definitely a net gain,” Small told Frontstretch. “Before we did that in the second stage, I think we were running 24th. We were kind of stuck. As the runs unfolded, we started getting better and better. Originally, it was just a plan to stay on the lead lap as long as we could to try and catch caution. But the way it panned out, it actually played into our hands.”

Randall Burnett and No. 8 Crew Fuel Rowdy’s Bounce Back

Kyle Busch took the green flag on the front row alongside polesitter Tyler Reddick. However, Busch did not stay there long, as he fell like a rock in the opening laps, finishing stage one back in 12th.

From there, crew chief Randall Burnett went to work on the No. 8 Chevrolet, making adjustments to improve the long-run speed. In particular, changes to the air pressure in the tires helped Busch maintain more speed later in the long green-flag runs that defined the race.

The No. 8 pit crew also shined in the hot Virginia sun at Richmond. There were only three pit stops under yellow flag conditions, but Busch gained a combined five positions on those stops. Under the final caution, another quick pit stop helped Busch pick up one spot, restarting and finishing in third. On pit road post-race, Busch gave plenty of credit to his crew for the podium finish.

“Just a great day with good pit stops and good adjustments to keep ourselves in the top five, in the hunt there during the last two-thirds [of the race],” Busch said.

Pit Road Mishaps

  • During the first round of pit stops following stage one, Ryan Preece ran over the line of his pit stall and had to back it up before his crew could service the car. Preece fell from sixth to 18th, but he would bounce back to bring his No. 41 Ford home in fifth.
  • On lap 123, Aric Almirola drove his right-side tires over the orange box at pit entry, which is a commitment line violation. Almirola served a pass-through penalty, but like his teammate Preece, he rebounded for a top-10 finish in eighth.
  • In the same sequence of green-flag pit stops, Christopher Bell got caught speeding and had to come back in for a pass-through penalty. The penalty compounded a rough day in Richmond for Bell, finishing one lap down in 20th.
  • Reddick put himself in position to contend for the win, but that all changed when he had a commitment line violation with only 63 laps remaining. A once promising run for Reddick ended with a disappointing 16th-place finish.

Look Ahead to Next Week

Next Sunday, the NASCAR Cup Series moves on to the two-mile Michigan International Speedway for the Firekeepers Casino 400. Historically, fuel mileage has played a role in many of Michigan’s most iconic finishes, including Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s victory in 2008 and Mark Martin’s win in 2009. With that in mind, do not be surprised if multiple teams try to stretch their fuel tanks to the limit next week. The relatively newer surface (repaved in 2012) leaves the door open for two-tire or fuel only pit calls to gain track position. It should make for an intriguing race in the Irish Hills of Michigan.   

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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