Race Weekend Central

Tuesday Morning Pit Box: Track Position, Execution the Keys to Success at Michigan

Welcome to a special Tuesday edition of Monday Morning Pit Box after the completion of the rain postponed FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International 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 the race in the Irish Hills of Michigan:

See also
Chris Buescher Goes Back to Back With Michigan Win

Track Position Above All

Last week at Richmond, when the time came to pit, four tires was the call every time. At Michigan, pit strategy looked dramatically different, with many teams opting for two tires or fuel-only calls on their pit stops. This strategy proved to be effective because of the fresher surface at Michigan making tires less of a priority, and the draft-heavy style of racing making track position a bigger priority.

This was evident on the first round of pit stops under caution on lap 17. Eleven cars stayed out while the rest of the field came down for service. By the time the next caution came out on lap 35, nine of the top 10 cars on track had stayed out under the previous caution. The lone exception was Ross Chastain in the No. 1 Chevrolet, who only moved up three spots from 12th to ninth during that green-flag run.

Frequent cautions during the first half of the race afforded multiple opportunities for split pit strategy and the flip-flopping of track position. This opened the door for drivers that started further back, such as Alex Bowman, Erik Jones and Corey Lajoie, to roll the dice, stay out, and acquire stage points that they would not have received otherwise had they followed others onto pit road.

Pit Road Mishaps

  • Execution proved to be just as important as track position at Michigan, and there were several teams that failed to have a clean day on pit road.
    • Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and his No. 47 team committed two penalties on one pit stop, getting called for speeding on pit road and an uncontrolled tire. Coincidentally, the infractions occurred on lap 47. Stenhouse finished mid-pack in 21st.
    • Joey Logano did not get a penalty on lap 66, but the No. 22 crew had a considerably slow stop of 24.6 seconds. Logano plummeted from 15th to 30th in the running order, but he partially recovered for a 14th-place finish.
    • Following an early crash, Christopher Bell’s day went from bad to worse on lap 122 due to a penalty for the No. 20 crew being over the wall too soon. Despite the adversity, Bell rebounded for a respectable 13th-place finish.
    • On lap 128, Austin Dillon went too fast exiting pit road under caution, restarting from the rear. Dillon brought the No. 3 Chevrolet home 19th.
    • The biggest pit road mistake of the race came on lap 156. The No. 45 pit crew had a fast pit stop to help their driver Tyler Reddick pass Chris Buescher during the final green-flag pit cycle, putting Reddick in position to cycle through to the lead. Unfortunately for Reddick, the pit stop was maybe a little too fast, as the right-rear wheel was loose. Three laps later, a frustrated Reddick had no choice but to come back to the No. 45 pit stall for new right-side tires. Reddick dropped to a 30th-place finish.
    • A.J. Allmendinger also had a loose wheel on his final pit stop and had to bring his No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet back to his stall to get the wheel tightened up. Allmendinger fell to 28th in the final running order, a big blow for a driver and team around the playoff cutline.  
See also
Martin Truex Jr. Settles For 2nd With Dominant Car at Michigan

Look Ahead to Next Week

On Sunday, Aug. 13, the drivers of the NASCAR Cup Series will go road course racing with the running of the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The elimination of stage cautions at road courses has significantly altered pit strategy at those tracks this season. Rather than having to choose between staying out for stage points or working toward the race win, crew chiefs can now focus more on the latter, knowing that the race will stay green from one stage to the next. Expect drivers around the playoff cutline to gear their game plan around maximizing stage points while others will take big risks for the race win.

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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