Race Weekend Central

Monday Morning Pit Box: Christopher Bell, Ty Gibbs Overcome Slow Stops at Phoenix

Christopher Bell brought his best stuff to the desert, leading 50 laps for his first career Phoenix Raceway victory. With Phoenix once again hosting the championship race, collecting this checkered flag is a big boost to Bell’s confidence. On the other hand, the win did not come without adversity, particularly in the pit box.  Let’s examine the biggest pit road plotlines from Phoenix.

See also
Christopher Bell Dominant in the Desert, Wins at Phoenix

Stage Three Cautions Mix Up Pit Strategy

Through the first two stages, the color yellow rarely made an appearance. In the first 185 laps, there were only three cautions, just one of them for incident way back on lap 5.

But there is a saying in racing: Cautions breed cautions. That is exactly what happened early in the final stage, with three cautions over the course of just 19 laps. This led to a split in strategy, featuring three rounds of pit stops: the first on lap 199, the second on lap 209, and the last group getting service on lap 217. Two teams benefited greatly from the shakeup.

Joe Gibbs Racing

Both Bell and Ty Gibbs experienced pit stop setbacks prior to stage three. Gibbs led the opening 57 laps and ran consistently in the top five before a 17-second pit stop under green on lap 117 sent the sophomore driver of the No. 54 Toyota spiraling outside the top 10. A little later, on the yellow flag pit stops following stage two, the No. 20 crew had trouble changing the right rear tire, pushing Bell back to 10th after winning stage two.

The JGR teams needed an opportunity to regain their track position, and the string of stage three cautions gave them that chance. Bell took on four fresh tires on lap 217, while No. 54 crew chief Chris Gayle dialed up a two-tire call to get Gibbs back in contention.

JGR reaped the benefits in the final running order with Bell’s win and Gibbs’ third-place finish. Even Martin Truex Jr., who initially stayed out before pitting with 41 laps left, made the most of his fresh rubber at the end to navigate back to seventh.

A great crew chief can make all the difference, and pit calls like these prove that JGR’s drivers and teams are in good hands atop the pit box.

Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing

Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher made little noise early on in the desert, practicing and qualifying outside the top 10 and not scoring any stage one points.

After finishing ninth and 10th in stage two, respectively, Keselowski and Buescher utilized pit strategy to leap their way to top-five finishes. Buescher took on four tires on lap 209 and drove his way to the runner-up spot, while Keselowski and crew chief Matt McCall gambled with two right-side tires on lap 217 to come away with a fourth-place finish.

Phoenix turned out be a strong race for the two RFK teams, and they desperately needed them after a slow start to the season.  

Erik Jones’ Weekend Derailed by Slow Stop

For Erik Jones, it looked as though the stars were aligning for a big weekend in the desert. The No. 43 Legacy Motor Club Toyota ranked sixth in the practice charts, and Jones backed it up by qualifying in the fourth position. Jones and his team participated in a December tire test at Phoenix, putting them ahead of the game compared to other teams.

The No. 43 team’s performance in practice and qualifying carried over to the race, at least in the early going. Jones maintained a top-five spot throughout the 60-lap opening stage, even battling side-by-side with Gibbs for the lead on lap 43 before ending the stage in fourth.

See also
Erik Jones Frustrated with Chase Briscoe After Late-Race Phoenix Tangle

However, Jones’ day went sideways during their pit stop on lap 65. The pit crew needed a little more time to get the left front tire tight, costing Jones six spots on the racetrack. Jones did not sniff the top five the rest of the day.

The Byron, Mich., native got dealt one final blow on lap 222 when he hit the turn 2 wall after contact with Bubba Wallace thanks to Chase Briscoe. He sustained significant damage, and just like that, a potential breakthrough day turned into a 31st-place finish for Jones and the No. 43 team.

Jones’ wayward journey serves as a cautionary tale of just how important track position and execution on pit road are at a track where passing under green is no small task.  

Look Ahead to Next Week

The short track theme continues for the NASCAR Cup Series next Sunday, March 17, with the running of the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn. The Bristol spring race returns to the regular concrete surface after three years on dirt. Fans should anticipate a similar strategy to Phoenix, with a premium on track position due to the tight quarters of Bristol and the Next Gen short track package.  

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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I hope someone, anyone, investigates why so many teams were having problems on the right rear at Phoenix. Several teams seemed to have problems with slow stops, thread issues (or so it was speculated), but no answers or even pit reporters asking the questions. I guess the Nascar audience cares more about a driver’s new dog than they do about what causes several drivers to go from the front to the back. Frontstretch, why not take that one on?


They actually did ask the tire changer of the 20 car what happened on the pit stop with the right rear. He said he noticed it wasn’t seated and fixed it. Weird that he was able to fix it without the car being jacked up but it worked.

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