Race Weekend Central

Monday Morning Pit Box: Martin Truex Jr., No. 19 Crew Complete Playoff Collapse

Good Monday morning, and thank you for starting your week with another edition of Monday Morning Pit Box following the running of the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville 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.

Pit strategy on Sunday circulated around two words: track position. Between the narrow layout of Martinsville and the Next Gen car’s short track package, passing cars was no small task, leading many teams to either stay out or take two or no tires in an attempt to move up the grid. The strategy paid off for some, but not for others. In particular, one playoff team had such a hard time on pit road that it cost them a shot at a championship.

See also
Ryan Blaney Collects Walk-Off Win at Martinsville

Truex Jr., No. 19 Crew Fumble Win-and-In Opportunity

When the Cup Series playoffs started at Darlington, Martin Truex Jr. said that 2023 felt a lot like 2017, his championship year with Furniture Row Racing.

However, from the moment the green flag waved at Darlington, subpar speed, poor execution and bad luck befell the regular season champion No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team. After squeaking through the first two rounds, Truex found himself 17 points below the cutline going into Martinsville. At first, it looked as though Truex may redeem his championship bid, winning the pole and leading 47 laps in the early going.

But then Truex’s day turned sour on lap 219. Pitting under caution, Truex launched from the first pit stall to exit pit road second behind teammate Denny Hamlin, only to find out that he sped in his No. 19 Toyota. This sent Truex to the tail of the field.

“It’s completely different,” Truex said when asked about how the speeding penalty changed his race. “If we couldn’t find a way to flip track position pit stop-wise, we were never going to get there. Your car just drives so much worse in traffic.”

It only got worse for Truex, as on lap 265, the No. 19 pit crew that struggled all postseason long had problems again, dropping the jack when trying to change left-side tires. With only two cautions after that poor pit stop, Truex and the No. 19 team could not find an opportunity to regain track position, settling for a 12th-place finish and falling short of the Championship 4.

“I think it just shows how tough this sport is,” Truex reflected when asked by Marty Snider of NBC Sports about his playoff elimination. “We’ve been fast at times, but execution hasn’t been consistent. We’ve had some bad luck. We’ve had a little bit of everything.”

Call to Stay Out Doesn’t Pay Off for Almirola, Elliott and Others

On lap 325, under what turned out to be the final caution of the day, the field splintered on pit strategy. Three drivers — Chase Elliott, Corey LaJoie and Erik Jones — stayed out to lead the field, while Aric Almirola won the race off of pit road by taking fuel only. Eventual race winner Ryan Blaney was among those who took four tires.

The trio that stayed out didn’t get the caution they needed to maintain track position and had to pit for fuel in the waning laps. While Almirola could make it on fuel, his hopes of winning in his next-to-last race with Stewart-Haas Racing faded when Blaney passed him for the lead with 23 laps remaining. Almirola held on to finish second ahead of Hamlin in third.

See also
Aric Almirola Departing SHR After 2023

Look Ahead to Next Week

The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season culminates with the championship race at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, Nov. 5. All eyes will be the Championship 4 of Blaney, Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell and William Byron. We have seen pit road play a key part in determining championships in the playoff era, including the No. 5 team’s clutch pit stop in 2021 and pit road gaffes costing Hamlin and Truex in 2019. With so little separation between the championship-contending teams, execution on the racetrack and pit road will be that much more important.

About the author

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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 works as an athletic communications specialist at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

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8 Comments
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Marc

Did the jackman inadvertently drop the jack on that stop or did the jack break? It was clear from the replay that the jackman switched jacks after the car first fell. Of course, no mention of that on the broadcast. I don’t know if the jack broke or the practiced routine is to switch jacks if the car falls regardless of what they think happened, just in case it was a jack failure. But, we don’t know from the broadcast. That has to be on the director and producers to note and tell the announcers and the appropriate pit reporter, since there is a lot going on and it can easily be missed on the monitors.

Kevin L

Didn’t break.
Switched jacks just in case it did (I asked)

Kevin L

Name even one sport in the entire world where the Season Champion does not automatically qualify for The Championship Final Game [Race].

I’m waiting……??

Dan

Major League Baseball…..2 wild card teams playing in the World Series.
3 100+ game season winners watching.

Bill B

Can you name one where all the teams participate in the The Championship Final Game?
Obviously we can’t pick and choose how attributes of our sport lines up against typical scenarios in stick and ball sports. Apples and oranges. With that said, I wouldn’t mind if the regular season champion had an automatic entry into the final race.

RCFX1

How long are we going to hear drivers say “Your car just drives so much worse in traffic” before it’s addressed?

JT

I watched the race on NASCAR.com’s in-car feed. This week, it happened to be on Truex’s car.

The fateful speeding penalty was strange. How can you speed on pit road leaving the last stall? If anyone sped off of pit road it had to be Hamlin and Blaney who pitted behind Truex and hit the timing stripe at the roughly the same time as Truex. This penalty pretty much ended Truex’s chances to win the race and advance. Afterward, Truex did a good job picking off traffic and it was fun to watch, but by the time he got near a straightaway behind the lead, his tires were shot.

The later jack screw-up was just Murphy’s Law at work on Truex.

C Stewart

Fire the whole crew especially the crew chief

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