Good Monday morning, and thank you for starting your week with another edition of Monday Morning Pit Box after the YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. 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.
At Talladega, it’s critical that groups of drivers enter pit road cleanly, time their pit stops right, and exit together to stay in the draft and get back to speed as quickly as possible. Because of that, pit strategy followed similar patterns throughout Sunday’s race. Under green, cars came down pit road in groups mostly sorted by manufacturer to take fuel only. At the end of each stage, everybody parked it in their stalls for four tires and fuel on a racetrack where fresh rubber is not as important.
While fuel conservation was a constant theme, it did play a role in the race’s conclusion, as the frontstretch accident on lap 163 allowed everyone to pit under yellow and be good to the end on fuel.
Denny Hamlin Bounces Back From Speeding Penalty
Denny Hamlin arrived in Talladega with a comfortable gap of 35 points on the playoff cutline. However, on lap 105, Hamlin got caught speeding on pit road. To make matters worse, it happened under green-flag conditions, forcing Hamlin to do a pass-through penalty and go a lap down. Hamlin fought to get the free pass at the end of stage two, but it went to Carson Hocevar instead.
For a moment, it looked as if Hamlin would leave Talladega too close to the cutline for comfort. But Hamlin got his free pass on the lap 163 caution and began his rally through the field. Hamlin took the checkered flag in the third position, and he will now head to the Charlotte Roval 50 points above the cutline, a spot in the Round of 8 all but clinched.
“It was difficult,” Hamlin told NBC Sports post-race about trying to rebound from the speeding penalty. “I did not want to set us back with that penalty, but proud of our effort to get back to the top five.”
Goodness Gracious, Great Ball of Fire
Hamlin’s speeding penalty was not the only calamity that Joe Gibbs Racing faced on pit road on Sunday. During pit stops following stage two, Ty Gibbs took a fuel can with him out of his pit stall.
The fuel can then dislodged from the No. 54 Toyota, causing a big fire in the middle of pit road. While it made for a scary scene, nearby safety workers extinguished the fire without further incident. As for Gibbs, he went to the tail of the field for removing equipment and got caught up in the lap 163 wreck, placing 34th.
Other Pit Road Problems
- During his first pit stop on lap 40, Erik Jones’ pit crew went over the wall too soon, leading to a pass-through penalty for the No. 43 team. Jones finished on the lead lap in 26th.
- On lap 106, Austin Cindric was speeding in pit road, putting him a lap down after a pass-through penalty. Like Hamlin, Cindric rallied for a good finish, crossing the line in fifth position.
Look Ahead to Next Week
The Round of 12 in the Cup Series playoffs will conclude next Sunday, Oct. 8, with the running of the Bank of America ROVAL 400. With four teams facing elimination, expect to see some Hail Mary strategy calls from crew chiefs to try and get their driver out front for a walk-off win. The return of stage cautions to road course racing next week should also have a significant impact on strategy.
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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