Race Weekend Central

Monday Morning Pit Box: Flurry of Cautions Mix up Strategy at Kansas

In the closest finish in NASCAR history, Kyle Larson edged Chris Buescher by one one-thousandth of a second to win the AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway, his second win of the 2024 season and the 25th of his Cup Series career.

Before the overtime finish, a wide variety of pit strategy came into play to move drivers and teams up and down the running order. Here is how the crew chiefs and pit crews set the stage for an instant classic in Kansas.

See also
Kyle Larson Wins Kansas After Closest NASCAR Cup Series Finish In History

Series of Cautions Shakes up Strategy Early in Stage 3

It was a clean race through the first two stages, with only two cautions for the stage breaks at laps 80 and 165.

But as stage three began and the pay window drew close, drivers got more aggressive on restarts, and that led to four caution flags in the space of just 21 laps from lap 177 to lap 198. With each new caution, the field closed in on an opportunity to make it to the end on one tank of fuel. As a result, most teams split into one of two groups in hopes of gaining track position and hitting the strategy just right.

A small handful of lead-lap cars pitted for four tires and fuel on lap 194 during the fifth caution of the evening. This group was led by Buescher and Denny Hamlin, a duo of drivers who had faced their fair share of adversity on pit road in the early laps. Buescher and the No. 17 RFK Racing Ford team got penalized for the crew being over the wall too soon during their stop following stage two. Meanwhile, Hamlin lost several spots on his two previous yellow flag stops trying to get around Austin Hill, who was pitting in the stall in front of Hamlin from the tail of the lead lap.

Seven laps later, following Joey Logano’s spin to bring out the sixth caution, the leaders, including Kyle Busch and Larson, came down pit road for service. The vast majority of teams took four tires and fuel, but the No. 8 team affixed two right-side tires to Busch’s Chevrolet in an attempt to retain some track position.

What followed was a long green flag run that put Hamlin and Buescher back out front and sent teams up and down pit road into fuel mileage mode. Assuming the race stayed green until the scheduled distance, the lap 194 group led by Hamlin and Buescher would have had to go 73 laps on a tank of fuel, well beyond the projected fuel window of 62-66 laps. But one last plot twist ended the fuel conservation.

Busch’s Spin Sets Up 1 Last Round of Strategy

With seven laps remaining, Busch spun out from the fourth position to bring out the seventh — and final — caution of the night. Crew chiefs quickly went from stressing out about fuel mileage to anxiously trying to figure out what to do on pit road. For most, the call was two tires as the first nine cars off of pit road took just right-side tires, led by Hamlin, Buescher and Larson.

See also
'It's Getting Old,' Martin Truex Jr. Tired of Late Cautions Not Going His Way

However, there was one driver and team in the top 10 that went with a contrarian strategy: Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Pitting from the second position, No. 19 crew chief James Small dialed up a four-tire stop, opting for fresh rubber for the overtime restart. The downside is that Truex would have to restart from the fifth row.

“Yeah, there were a lot of two-tire cars,” Small told Frontstretch’s Michael Massie afterwards. “Didn’t expect that, obviously. You know, who knows what would have happened if we went the other way. Just one of those things.”

The difference in strategy almost paid off for the No. 19 team, as Truex picked up six spots over the two-lap overtime to finish fourth, just 75 thousandths of a second away from the win. Busch also carved his way through the field on four tires in overtime, rallying to an eighth-place finish despite being the reason for the final caution.

Look Ahead to Next Week

The NASCAR Cup Series will hit the track again next Sunday, May 12 for the running of the Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway. It will be NASCAR’s annual throwback weekend across all three national series. The Track Too Tough to Tame is known for its abrasive surface that eats away at tires quickly, so fans can expect four-tire stops all afternoon long in the Palmetto State.  

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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Echo

Hamlin held is teammate up just a second to long or true probably wins the race. I think if I was Martin I would be very tired of Denny’s continuous treatment of him and talk to him behind the woodshed.

Steve

So is anyone going to address the pretty suspicious caution brought out by Busch in the end and the ridiculous rule (or non rule) that doesn’t force they guy bringing out the caution to the rear of the field on the next restart? On the overtime restart I watched to see where Busch started. I believe it was 19th. He ended up finishing 8th, so basically no repercussions for bringing out the final caution and changing the outcome of the race.

Sorry, he did the same thing earlier in the season (can’t remember which track) so I don’t believe for a second that one of the best drivers of our generation “lost it” all by himself with a few laps to go not once but twice.

janice

he seems to spin out alot on his own lately.

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