Race Weekend Central

Monday Morning Pit Box: Fuel Mileage Miscommunication Costs Chase Elliott

Hello and welcome to another edition of Monday Morning Pit Box following the conclusion of the Go Bowling at The Glen. 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.

This week’s race played out similarly to last week at the Indianapolis Road Course, with only one caution on track and two pit sequences under the green flag. That does not mean a lack of intrigue, as mistakes took big names out of contention. Here are the major pit road plotlines coming out of The Glen.

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William Byron Victorious at Watkins Glen for 5th Win of 2023

Chase Elliott’s Fuel Tank Runs Dry

Chase Elliott and the No. 9 team got off to a solid start on Sunday. After taking the green in 15th, Elliott quickly gained two spots on track. Then, on lap 17, Elliott short-pitted, coming down for four tires and fuel four laps before the leaders. As a result, Elliott had a few laps of open racetrack with fresh tires to run fast lap times. By the end of the pit cycle, Elliott had climbed up to seventh and seemed poised to make a bid for the front of the field.

However, Elliott’s day came unraveled on lap 56. The No. 9 Chevrolet began to sputter and ran out of fuel on the long straightaway between the esses and the bus stop. Elliott stopped his car in an out-of-bounds area by the bus stop, which brought out the race’s lone caution.

So how did Elliott run out of fuel? The issue seemed to come down to a miscommunication between him and crew chief Alan Gustafson about how much fuel they had in the reserve tank. Gustafson communicated to Elliott that they had three laps worth of fuel in the reserve, but it appears that he overestimated.

The miscalculation and dry fuel tank put Elliott a lap down, and with no more cautions the rest of the race, Elliott stayed a lap down, settling for a 32nd-place finish.

Michael McDowell Goes from Highest of Highs to Lowest of Lows

Racing can be a humbling sport. Last week at Indianapolis, Michael McDowell experienced one of the greatest moments of his NASCAR career with his second career Cup Series victory and a playoff berth.

In the early going, McDowell looked determined to take back-to-back checkered flags. On lap four, McDowell took the lead from polesitter Denny Hamlin and won stage one.

Then came McDowell’s first pit stop on lap 21. While the crew was clean in their service, McDowell passed through too many pit boxes on the way into his stall, resulting in a pass-through penalty. The confusion came from an empty pit box a few spots before the No. 34 team’s stall, but per NASCAR rules, that empty box was still considered in play for the purposes of pit road penalties.

McDowell came down to the service of his crew again on lap 53, but this time, the crew was over the wall too soon. McDowell and the No. 34 team got hit with a pass-through penalty once again.

McDowell was able to drive back into the top 10 after both of those penalties, a testament to his road course skills and a fast No. 34 Ford. It would be all for naught as an electrical problem with 15 laps to go proved to be the final nail in the coffin for McDowell’s race. One week after winning at Indianapolis, McDowell finished dead last at The Glen.

See also
Michael McDowell Smiles Despite Rollercoaster Day at Watkins Glen

Look Ahead to Next Week

The race for the playoffs comes down to the regular season finale this Saturday, Aug. 26, with the running of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway. With so many teams needing a win to make the playoffs, the potential exists for some off-the-wall pit strategy to gain track position. Tires are not as big a factor at Daytona as they are at most tracks, so two tires and fuel-only pit calls will definitely be in play. The right strategy could vault a surprise team into the 16th and final playoff spot.

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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