Good morning and welcome to the final edition of Monday Morning Pit Box for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season. 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.
The NASCAR Cup Series capped its 75th season with the championship race at Phoenix Raceway, which saw Ryan Blaney earn his first title after a hard-fought, 312-lap duel in the desert. What role did pit road and pit strategy play in the outcome? Let’s take a look.
No. 5 Team’s Success on Pit Road Still Not Enough
One of the major plotlines going into the championship race at Phoenix was the 2021 championship experience of Kyle Larson and the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team, something the other three title contenders lacked. In particular, fans and prognosticators looked back at the No. 5 pit crew’s clutch final stop to secure the 2021 Cup Series championship.
Fast forward two years and the No. 5 crew was once again in peak form on pit road, gaining spots on all four pit stops under caution throughout the race. For comparison, here are the spots gained and lost on yellow-flag pit stops by all three championship contenders who finished the race (sorry Christopher Bell):
Note: All pit stops were for four tires
So it would seem that Blaney won the title in spite of his No. 12 Penske Racing pit crew. However, not all of their stops were duds. Blaney went up two spots on the first round of pit stops following stage one. Then, during the lone green-flag pit cycle of the race, the No. 12 crew came in clutch to keep Blaney in front of Larson and Byron until the race’s final caution came out with 37 laps remaining.
Blaney fell four spots on the last pit stop on lap 277, but that was due in part to Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones taking two tires to get out front. With a new tire compound that produced higher levels of wear, Hamlin and Jones faded quickly, setting the stage for Ross Chastain to sail away for the race win and for Blaney to outduel Larson and Byron for the championship.
The bottom line is that Larson and the No. 5 team did everything right in their quest for a second championship, executing on the track and in the pit stall. Blaney and the No. 12 team simply had a little more speed.
“Yeah, [Blaney’s] car was really fast the last few months, especially today,” Larson told NBC Sports postrace. “Our pit crew and pit road really kept us in the game. They did everything in their power to get the job done.”
Look Ahead to Next Week
The NASCAR Cup Series now heads into the 2023-24 offseason. Cars will be back on track for the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Feb. 4, followed by the 66th running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 18.
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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