Good Monday morning and thank you for starting your week with another edition of Monday Morning Pit Box after the Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte 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.
Stage Caution Return to Road Racing to Shape Outcome
Going into the 2023 season, NASCAR introduced a rule change getting rid for stage cautions at road courses, a popular move among fans. However, at the beginning of the Cup Series Playoffs, NASCAR announced that stage cautions would return for the Charlotte ROVAL race. According to NASCAR Senior VP of Competition Elton Sawyer, the logic behind the adjustment was to make officiating uniform across all playoff races.
With stage cautions back in the equation, playoff teams had a tough choice to make: do they try to maximize stage points or do they focus solely on the race win?
Polesitter Tyler Reddick and the No. 45 team opted for the stage points. Did it work out for them? Yes and no. Reddick scored 17 stage points, more than any other driver, and that played a big part in the No. 45 team advancing to the Round of 8.
On the other hand, once the stage caution came out, Reddick had to pit for tires and fuel, surrendering a great amount of track position. After winning stage one, Reddick fell from the lead to 23th and he was not alone. Bubba Wallace went from second to 25th, Ross Chastain plummeted from third to 24th and Martin Truex Jr. restarted in 26th.
While Reddick finished fourth in stage two and sixth in the race, the other three never fully regained their track position from stage one. As for Chastain and Wallace, both were eliminated from the playoffs.
It begs the question: how would the race have played out without stage cautions? Does Reddick contend for the win in the closing laps? Based on his post-race interview with Frontstretch‘s Stephen Stumpf, Reddick’s answer to that question is yes.
Track Position is Greater Than Tires
Down the stretch, track position reigned supreme over fresh rubber. While several drivers pitted for four tires late, they failed to climb through the field for two reasons.
Secondly, frequent cautions in the final stage did not allow for a long green-flag run needed to navigate through the pack. In total, there five cautions in the 59-lap stage, including four in the final 30 laps.
As a result, the top-eight finishers all made their final stop during the last green-flag pit cycle between laps 69 and 70. Of the drivers who made their last pit stop on lap 90 or later, only Chastain cracked the top 10 in the 10th spot. Drivers and teams tweaked their pit strategy accordingly to maintain the best possible place in the running order.
Look Ahead to Next Week
The Round of 8 commences next Sunday, Oct. 15 with the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The traditional mile-and-a-half track pit strategy will be in play, with teams seeking to gain positions through two-tire and fuel-only stops. At the end, only one roll of the dice on pit strategy will land on snake eyes for a 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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