Hello and welcome in to another edition of Monday Morning Pit Box following the conclusion of the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington 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.
Darlington is famous for its old, abrasive surface that eats away at tires. Therefore, the was left no doubt that every driver would be taking four tires every trip to their pit stall. That made execution a higher priority on pit road than creative strategy, and The Track Too Tough To Tame bit many of the 16 playoff drivers in that regard.
Joe Gibbs Racing Fumbles a Dominant Day
Early on, it looked as if everything was coming up JGR. Christopher Bell sat on the pole and led the opening 33 laps. Denny Hamlin won both stages one and two and looked like the car to beat in his No. 11 Toyota.
However, the race slowly but surely came unraveled in pit road for JGR. It started on lap 32 when Bell came down for his first service of the race, but the No. 20 crew had a slow 15-second pit stop when the jack dropped trying to change right side tires. While Bell would find his way back to the front later in stage one, the bad stop set a negative tone for the No. 20 team’s evening. Hard contact with the turn 4 wall caused significant damage to the No. 20 Toyota, and Bell never fully recovered, finishing one lap down in 23rd.
In stage two, it was the No. 19 team’s turn to commit a pit road error. On lap 153, Martin Truex Jr. had no choice but to pit a second time under green to replace a loose right-rear wheel. The mistake left Truex Jr. one lap down, and while he was able to get back on the lead lap, Truex was never really in contention, settling for 18th place on the evening.
Then there was Hamlin, the dominant car of the night. That is until lap 273 when like Truex Jr. before him, Hamlin came back to the service of his crew under green for a loose wheel — or so it seemed. After the pit stop, the No. 11 crew examined the wheels they took off and did not notice any issues. Regardless, Hamlin’s chances at the win were done, relegated to a 25th-place finish, one lap down.
The silver lining for Hamlin and Truex Jr. is that even with the off nights, both still have decent gaps on the playoff cutline at 27 and 25 points, respectively. Bell is not so lucky, as he will go into Kansas next week just one point above the cutline.
Other Playoff Driver Pit Road Mishaps
JGR was far from the only playoff team to run into pit road peril at Darlington. Here is a rundown of other playoff drivers and teams who made mistakes and how they fared in the final running order:
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got pegged for speeding on pit road on lap 32. Stenhouse Jr. somewhat recovered to get back on the lead lap, get a stage point and finish 16th.
- On that same lap, Ross Chastain slid the No. 1 Chevrolet through his pit stall and had to back up before getting service from his crew. Chastain bounced back well, finishing fifth for his first top-five since his win at Nashville back in June.
- Like Chastain, Bubba Wallace slid through his pit stall and then stopped on the front tire changer’s hose. Also like Chastain, Wallace salvaged a solid finish, taking the checkered flag in seventh.
- On lap 310, Kevin Harvick was about to pit his No. 4 Ford from second place when the caution came out just before Harvick reached the commitment line. It was too late for Harvick to stay on the race track, and Harvick got sent to the rear of the field for getting service on a closed pit road. Harvick fell to 19th, and he heads to Kansas two points below the cutline.
All told, that amounts to almost half the 16-team playoff field having a significant issue on pit road at some point during the 367-lap Southern 500.
Look Ahead to Next Week
Next Sunday, the Round of 16 in the Cup Series Playoffs continues with the Hollywood Casino 400 in Kansas Speedway. Racing at a 1.5-mile track with a newer racing surface means that fuel-only and two-tire strategy calls should be back in play depending on the scenario.
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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