Race Weekend Central

Monday Morning Pit Box: Loose Tires Take Out Contenders at Texas

Hendrick Motorsports continued its run as the team to beat in 2024 as Chase Elliott snapped his 42-race winless streak with a victory in the AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday. The flagman got a workout waving the yellow flag, with 16 cautions taking up 72 of the race’s 276 laps.

The cautions gave teams multiple opportunities to flip track position through pit strategy, which worked out for some but not so much for others. Here is how pit stops and strategy shaped the outcome in The Lone Star State.

See also
Chase Elliott Snaps 42-Race Winless Streak, Wins in Texas

Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr. Sidetracked by Loose Tires

After earning his third straight pole award, Kyle Larson established himself as a favorite to pick up his second checkered flag of 2024. Larson backed up his qualifying effort, leading 77 laps early in the race and winning stage one.

All of a sudden, the trajectory of Larson’s race changed on lap 116 when under caution, Larson’s right rear wheel fell off of his No. 5 Chevrolet. By rule, since the wheel came off on the racetrack, NASCAR assessed a two-lap penalty to Larson on pit road. While Larson got back on the lead lap, he never seriously contended the rest of the race, spinning late to fall to a 21st-place finish.

On the radio, Larson’s crew chief Cliff Daniels described what happened to the wheel as “super odd,” having something to do with the lug nut not being entirely tight. The loose wheel marks a rare lapse in execution by the No. 5 pit crew that will result in a two-week suspension for two No. 5 crew members per NASCAR’s rulebook. It will be interesting to see how the No. 5 team fares on pit road for the next two weeks without a couple of their primary members.

As the saying goes, misery loves company, and Larson was not alone on the list of contenders to have loose tire issues. Martin Truex Jr. appeared to be on his way to a solid top-10, if not top-five, finish when he had to come back down pit road under green on lap 219 to tighten up a loose left-rear wheel.

FOX Sports showed the replay on their broadcast, and it was clear that the rear tire changer did not get the left rear lug nut completely tight, forcing Truex to come back to the service of his crew a few laps later. Truex partially recovered from the loose wheel to finish on the lead lap in 14th.

The tribulations of Larson, Truex and their pit crews show how razor thin the margins are between an incredible pit stop and major mistake that can end a driver’s chances at the win. It is also a testament to how finely tuned the pit stops and pit crews are in the current era of Cup Series racing.

See also
Denny Hamlin Wipes Out with Texas Win in Sight

Caution Falls Right for Brad Keselowski’s Strategy

For most of the race at Texas, Brad Keselowski did not factor into the racing at the front of pack, running mostly in the teens and only picking up four stage points.

In the final stage, the No. 6 crew chief Matt McCall had Keselowski stay out as long as he could during the green flag pit cycle in stage three, with the hopes of catching a caution to gain track position. The No. 6 team’s prayers were answered on lap 229 when John Hunter Nemechek got into the wall, bringing out the yellow flag.

Keselowski had to pit, but he restarted in the top 10 and began surging upward on 13-lap fresher tires than the leaders. Keselowski got as high as third when the next caution came out on lap 254 for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s spin. Ultimately, Keselowski will finish second overall to Elliott, a finish that would not have been possible without the strategy call from McCall and a little luck with the yellow flag.

It was a finish that Keselowski and the No. 6 team really needed as they still find themselves 13 points below the playoff cutline, albeit with plenty of time left in the regular season.

Look Ahead to Next Week

The drivers of the NASCAR Cup Series will take to the high banks of Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama for the running of the GEICO 500 next Sunday, April 21. Getting on and off pit road cleanly as a group will be key to drivers and teams maintaining the draft and staying in contention.

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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Michael Latino

Time to go back to the five lug nut wheels

janice

this one lug deal with the full bodied cars just isn’t cutting it. open wheel cars are half as heavy. the brain trust really needs to look at the one lug. not like these teams are just using it this year.

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