Race Weekend Central

Monday Morning Pit Box: No. 11 Crew Comes up Clutch in Richmond

The return of night racing to Richmond Raceway produced a first in NASCAR Cup Series history and a dramatic overtime finish. Denny Hamlin came away with his fifth career win at his home racetrack, restarting from the lead in overtime and holding off Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. Here is how pit road and pit strategy shaped the outcome at The Action Track.

See also
Denny Hamlin Wins in Overtime Finish at Richmond

No. 11 Pit Crew Comes up Clutch

The pit crew of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team consistently ranks among the best on pit road in terms of four-tire pit stops. Per Bozi Tatarevic of Road & Track, Hamlin is ranked first in his pit crew index, which takes fastest, average and median four-tire pit stops into account.

The No. 11 crew showed why they are one of the best when it mattered most. Prior to overtime, all of the lead lap cars came down pit road, with Hamlin entering third. But Hamlin left pit road out front, leapfrogging Truex and Logano with an impressive 8.99-second four-tire stop from his over the wall guys. By comparison, Truex and Logano each spent 10.29 seconds in their pit stalls.

By taking the lead on pit road, Hamlin controlled the final restart and managed to clear Truex and drive away for the checkered flag. If the No. 11 crew keeps executing like they did Sunday night, then Hamlin could be a contender to capture that elusive Cup Series championship.

Mother Nature Throws a Curveball at Crew Chiefs

In the hours leading up to the scheduled 7:15 p.m. green flag, rain began to fall in the Richmond area. The damp track conditions prompted NASCAR to make an unprecedented decision. For the first time in Cup Series history, teams equipped their cars with wet weather tires at a short track.

Randall Burdett, crew chief for the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet driven by Kyle Busch, predicted the possibility of wet weather tires in a pre-race meeting with his crew.

“We’ll kind of be up in the air,” Burdett said in the team meeting filmed by FOX Sports. “They’re allowing us to put on wet weather tires right now. It sounds like they would possibly go green.”

Indeed, NASCAR did wave the green as the 36-car field ran on wet weather tires until a competition caution on lap 30. At that point, NASCAR deemed the track dry enough for a return to slicks, though the pit stops were non-competitive due to lingering dampness on pit road. Under those pit stops, crew chiefs up and down pit road made adjustments to account for the slick tires, with many teams adding wedge to tighten up their machines.

Along with the wet weather, the first Richmond night race in the Next Gen car added another layer of unfamiliarity since the crew chiefs’ notes were from day races. As the race progressed, it became apparent that some teams adjusted well while others missed the setup and chased the racetrack all night.

Based on the final running order, drivers and teams with prior success at Richmond adapted the best to all of the unknowns. The top four finishers on Sunday night were all previous Richmond winners.

Bell Gets Rung up for Late Speeding Penalty

Richmond is a racetrack that is notorious for its pit penalties. Teams got tagged for a combined 18 pit road penalties across the two Richmond races in 2023.

Christopher Bell came into the night on a mission to capture his first checkered flag at Richmond, running as high as third after passing Logano. But then, after a clean stop under green on lap 294, Bell got posted by NASCAR for speeding while exiting pit road, serving a pass-through penalty under green that sent him tumbling down the running order.

Bell pitted later than everyone else on the final pit cycle, using those fresher tires and the final restart to climb back up to a sixth-place finish. On the other hand, Bell will probably leave Richmond thinking what could have been without that speeding penalty.

Look Ahead to Next Week

The Cup Series will stay in Virginia next Sunday, April 7, with the running of the Cook Out 400 at Martinsville Speedway. With the tighter corners of Martinsville, fans should anticipate more cautions, putting the pit crews center stage to try and get their drivers better track position with fast stops.

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.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via