Race Weekend Central

Monday Morning Pit Box: One Playoff Pit Crew Steps Up, Another Does Not

Good Monday morning, and thank you for starting your week with another edition of Monday Morning Pit Box after the South Point 400 at Las Vegas 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.

See also
Kyle Larson Wins Las Vegas, Secures Championship 4 Spot

Shades of 2021 from No. 5 Pit Crew

There is no doubt that Kyle Larson had the dominant car of the day, winning stages one and two as well as leading 133 laps on his way to the race win and a spot in the Championship 4.

But when the field came down pit road under caution on lap 212, it was not Larson but rather Christopher Bell leading the way. The ensuing round of four-tire pit stops would define the outcome of the race. Larson and the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports crew won the race off of pit road, while Bell dropped two spots to third.

For the No. 5 crew, the clutch late race stop brought back memories of the final pit stop in the 2021 championship-winning race in Phoenix. As for the No. 20 team, it looked as though Bell had trouble getting traction in the rear tires leaving his pit stall, which likely cost him time.

On the final green flag run, Larson took advantage of the clean air to pull away from the pack. Bell rallied to Larson’s rear bumper on the final lap but was just a little too late. One can imagine the race playing out differently if the roles were reserved and Bell beat Larson on pit road.

Slow Early Pit Stops Bite Chris Buescher

While the No. 5 crew rose to the occasion in the Round of 8, the same cannot be said of the No. 17 RFK Racing crew for Chris Buescher.

Buescher established himself as an early contender, moving up to fourth place halfway through stage one. On lap 34, Buescher parked it on pit road for his first stop under green, but the No. 17 team took 15 seconds to service the car. As a result, Buescher fell from fourth to ninth by the end of the green-flag pit cycle.

When the first caution came out on lap 66, The No. 17 crew had an opportunity to redeem itself with all the lead lap cars coming down pit road. Instead, they had another slow pit stop, and Buescher went from eighth to 17th in the running order.

At the end of stage one, Buescher was the only playoff driver not to acquire stage points. Buescher never regained his early track position, winding up with the second-lowest finish of all playoff drivers in 10th. He will now enter Homestead-Miami Speedway seventh in the playoff standings, 23 points below the playoff cutline. The No. 17 team will have to regroup quickly to revive its championship hopes.

Tire Failures End a Few Drivers’ Days

A series of right-side tire failures was a major topic of discussion throughout the South Point 400. Crew chiefs had to manage a delicate balance between lowering the tire pressure to improve downforce or raising the tire pressure a bit to improve reliability.

It started in practice with Chase Elliott and Daniel Suarez both having right rear tires go down, forcing both drivers to start at the rear in backup cars. The trend carried over to the race, with Carson Hocevar, Alex Bowman, Ty Gibbs and Chase Briscoe all experiencing a right-front or right-rear tire failure.

Look Ahead to Next Week

Next Sunday, the NASCAR Cup Series goes from one 1.5-mile track to another in Homestead-Miami Speedway for the 4EVER 400 Presented by Mobil 1. The pit strategy should be relatively the same as Vegas, with two-tire pit stops to gain track position a possibility.

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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