Hello and welcome to another edition of Monday Morning Pit Box following the conclusion of the Autotrader Echopark Automotive 400 at Texas 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.
It was a hot and slick day in the Lone Star State, as temperatures reached triple digits with a high of 101 degrees. Between that and the layout of the 1.5-mile track, passing under green proved to be difficult. Consequently, teams looked to pit road for opportunities to gain track position and improve their chances of a good finish. It worked for some playoff drivers but not so much for others. Here’s the rundown of the key pit road plotlines out of Texas.
Ryan Blaney’s Up-and-Down Day
Ryan Blaney and the No. 12 Penske Racing team rolled off the grid back in 23rd position, dead last among the playoff drivers. With green-flag passes in short supply, crew chief Johnathan Hassler dialed up the pit strategy to move Blaney up in the running order.
First, on lap 76, Blaney stayed out for a one-lap shootout to end stage one, taking the green-white-checkered flag in seventh to acquire four stage points. Then, on lap 114, Blaney was the first off pit road after a two-tire stop. Blaney maintained the track position gained on that strategy to place fourth in stage two, gaining seven more stage points. All told, Blaney racked up the second-most stage points of all drivers with 11.
While pit road put Blaney in the top five, it was ultimately on pit road where Blaney’s race came undone. Under a round of yellow-flag pit stops on lap 211, Blaney got tagged for speeding on entry.
That miscue cost Blaney all of his track position, having to restart deep in the 20s. Blaney then got caught up in the final wreck on the frontstretch with 12 laps remaining, plummeting to a 28th-place finish.
“Yeah, up-and-down day definitely, and it ended with a down,” Blaney told Dave Burns of NBC Sports post-race. “Proud of the group for getting a little better all day. Good strategy, took rights and got track position, and then I sped. You put yourself back there, and then you get in a wreck.”
Blaney now goes to Talladega 11 points below the cutline, but it could have been worse for the No. 12 team without their strategy and the stage points that came with it.
Late Pit Call Costs Erik Jones
Erik Jones and the No. 43 Legacy Motor Club team have been one of the pleasant surprises in the Cup Series garage in recent weeks, racking up finishes of 10th at Darlington and third at Kansas after struggling in the regular season.
Jones appeared to be on his way to another great finish and maybe even a win at Texas. Starting 12th, Jones established himself as one of the fastest cars in the field, roaring all the way up to second at the conclusion of stage two.
But with just 23 laps left, No. 43 crew chief Dave Elenz brought Jones down pit road for a four-tire pit stop. While Jones got fresh rubber, he was forced to restart back in 18th since the top 14 stayed out and three other cars took just two tires.
Eleven laps later, Jones’ race came to an end after his No. 43 Chevrolet sustained heavy damage in the same frontstretch crash that ended Blaney’s day. After contending for the win, Jones settled for a disappointing finish of 30th, negating the momentum that the No. 43 team built in the past three races.
Look Ahead to Next Week
Next Sunday, the racing will have a completely different feel with the Cup Series’ second trip of the season to Talladega Superspeedway. With the nature of superspeedway racing, the onus will be on drivers to get on and off of pit road cleanly with plenty of reliable drafting partners. Any gaffes by the crew could result in their driver losing the draft and a shot to win, so execution on stops will be paramount.
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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