Race Weekend Central

Tuesday Morning Pit Box: Kyle Busch Burnt by Pit Road Gaffes in Daytona 500

Good morning and welcome to a postponed Tuesday edition of Monday Morning Pit Box following the 66th running of the Daytona 500. 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.

They say good things come to those who wait. After being postponed a day due to rain, the 66th Daytona 500 delivered plenty of thrills and a new Daytona 500 champion in William Byron. There were also plenty of pit road mistakes and strategy shake-ups that shaped the outcome of the Great American Race. Here are the main pit road plotlines coming out of the World Center of Racing:

See also
William Byron Starts 2024 Off Right With 1st Daytona 500 Win

Kyle Busch Gets Burnt by Pit Road Errors

Kyle Busch entered Speedweeks on a mission to begin his 20th full-time Cup Series season by filling the one big hole left on his resume: a win in the Daytona 500. For Rowdy, Monday was his 19th (or 20th depending on whether or not you count 2015) attempt to capture the Harley J. Earl Trophy.

Busch proved he had the speed in his No. 8 Chevrolet, placing eighth in single-car qualifying on Wednesday (Feb. 14). However, racing is a team sport, and the No. 8 pit crew did not bring their “A” game to Daytona International Speedway.

Busch’s pit road woes began on lap 67 when he stopped for service following a sixth-place finish in stage one. The No. 8 team got pegged for a safety violation due to too many men over the wall, forcing Busch to restart at the tail of the field. Undeterred, Busch sliced and diced his way back through the pack to take the lead on lap 109. Busch stayed near the front to place fourth in stage two.

The ensuing pit stop on lap 133 proved disastrous when the crew had another lapse in execution. The front tire changer failed to get the lug nut tight on the left front, bringing Busch back down pit road to get the wheel tight. While Busch managed to stay on the lead lap, he once again had to restart towards the back, taking the lead on lap 149.

That set the stage for the third and final pit error for the No. 8 team, and this one arguably was on Busch. Instead of pitting with a pack, Busch came down for his final stop on lap 180 with only Denny Hamlin joining him. With only one other car to draft with coming off pit road, Busch and Hamlin lost a great deal of track position. This time, Busch did not fight back to the front, settling for a 12th-place finish and another missed chance at the Daytona 500.

The No. 8 pit crew will need to step its game up for Busch to establish himself as a championship contender in 2024. At one point, the poor execution of pit stops even drew the ire of owner Richard Childress over the radio. It will be interesting to see if the No. 8 crew can improve throughout the season or if changes will be made.

Playing the Fuel Game

During a media availability earlier in the week, Brad Keselowski discussed how fuel conservation has become a bigger factor in the racing at Daytona in recent years.

Keselowski’s statement turned out to be prophetic, as fuel strategy was on full display throughout the 500, especially in the early stages. After a round of pit stops on lap 10 following an early wreck, the race settled into a slower-than-usual pace. The leaders were turning laps around 51 seconds while AJ Allmendinger posted laps around 47 seconds trying to catch up with the pack following a penalty.

The further back in the pack, the more drivers were able to get off the gas and save fuel. At one point, the FOX Sports broadcast showed Ryan Blaney, who stayed out under the first caution, running at 65 percent throttle up front while Kyle Larson was at only 27 percent throttle back in the pack.

The importance of fuel conservation was on full display during the next round of pit stops. On lap 40, Blaney pitted with Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Austin Cindric, among others. Blaney took extra time in his pit stall for fuel compared to Logano and Cindric; as a result, Blaney lost the draft and went a lap down. Blaney got back on the lead lap before the end of stage one and eventually back into contention, but it was all for naught as he got caught in The Big One with eight laps left, beginning his Cup Series title defense with a 30th-place showing.

See also
Entry List: 2024 Ambetter Health 400

Look Ahead to Next Week

On Sunday, Feb. 25, the Cup Series will go superspeedway racing again with the running of the Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Expect a similar pit strategy to play out in the Peach State, with fuel conservation in the draft and execution getting onto and off of pit road being points of emphasis.

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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