Good Monday morning, and thank you for starting your week with another edition of Monday Morning Pit Box after the 4EVER 400 Presented by Mobil 1 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In MMPB, we break down the previous NASCAR Cup Series race from the perspective of the crew chief by analyzing race-changing pit calls, pit stops, and pit road penalties.
The tires wore quickly, leaving no room for creative pit strategy in South Florida. Just eight laps into the race, times fell off a full second from the start. Therefore, crew chiefs called for four tires every time down pit road. On the whole, playoff pit crews executed their four-tire stops well, with no pit road penalties among the final eight. But that doesn’t mean there was a lack of pit road drama at Homestead.
Kyle Larson Barrels into Pit Entry
With his spot in the Championship 4 already secure, Kyle Larson was on a mission for back-to-back wins at Homestead to firmly establish himself as the championship favorite. He was in contention for the first two-thirds of the race, winning stage one, placing third in stage two and leading a race-high 96 laps.
That all changed on lap 213 when Larson overcooked his pit entry trying to catch up to Ryan Blaney. Larson then swerved to avoid Blaney and hit the barrels at the beginning of the pit wall with his No. 5 Chevrolet.
The crash was a race-changing moment, knocking Larson out of the race, prompting a 12-minute red flag, and bunching the field back up. This set the stage for Christopher Bell to move up and win to punch his ticket to the Championship 4.
Pitting a Little Later Goes a Long Way for Denny Hamlin
While the race ended with a crash for Denny Hamlin, his crew chief Chris Gabehart dialed up unique strategy to help him gain spots, pitting later than anyone else during the first two green-flag pit cycles.
On lap 40, Hamlin brought the No. 11 Toyota to the service of his crew, entering seventh and leaving 14th. He then used his slightly fresher rubber to move up to sixth at the end of stage one, ultimately a net gain from where he was before the pit stop. The No. 11 team repeated the strategy in stage two, going from 15th at the start of the stage to fourth at the end of stage two.
The strategy netted Hamlin some valuable stage points. After his crash, Hamlin sits 17 points behind the cutline going to Martinsville, but it could have been much worse for the driver of the No. 11 car.
Truex Fed Up with No. 19 Crew
Martin Truex Jr. expressed frustration with his pit crew after multiple slow pit stops, including a bobble changing the left-rear tire that vaulted him out of the top 10 on lap 168.
This continues a disturbing trend for the No. 19 crew, who have consistently been among the worst performing playoff crews over the past several weeks. Between the poor stops and the Larson caution that trapped him a lap down, Truex seems fed up on his radio. At 17 points below the cutline, Truex will likely need to put the Martin in Martinsville once again to race for a championship in Phoenix.
Look Ahead to Next Week
Next Sunday, eight playoff drivers will be narrowed down to the Championship 4 with the running of the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway. It is notoriously difficult to pass at Martinsville, and the Next Gen’s underwhelming performance on short tracks makes it even harder to move up at The Paper Clip. Expect several teams, especially playoff teams below the cutline, to gamble on two or no tires stops to gain track position.
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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