Race Weekend Central

Monday Morning Pit Box: Team Penske’s Near-Perfect Pit Strategy at Gateway

In the closing laps at the World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, the Enjoy Illinois 300 was shaping up to be a duel to the finish between Christopher Bell and Ryan Blaney before Bell fell back due to engine issues.

With Bell out of the picture, it looked as though Blaney would set sail to victory lane. However, coming to the white flag, Blaney slowed and ran out of fuel, opening the door for his Team Penske teammate Austin Cindric to take the lead and then the checkered for his second career NASCAR Cup Series win, snapping an 85-race winless streak going back to the 2022 Daytona 500.

See also
Austin Cindric Wins at Gateway

Several different strategies played out throughout the 240-lap race at WWTR, with teams either taking two tires or staying out to advance their track position. Here are the major pit road plotlines from the eastern banks of the Mississippi River.

Pit Strategy Goes Mostly Team Penske’s Way

“Team Penske had a handle on the strategy,” Larry McReynolds said on the FOX Sports postrace show.

Indeed, out of wide array of strategies, it is clear that the three Penske teams, led by crew chiefs Brian Wilson (No. 2), Jonathan Hassler (No. 12) and Paul Wolfe (No. 22), got it the most right. The Penske trio stood out by making only three trips down pit road while most of the other drivers came down pit road four times.

On their second stop under caution on lap 115, Blaney, Cindric, and Joey Logano all took four tires, with Cindric leaving pit road second behind Kyle Busch, who took two right-side tires.

This call benefited the Penske guys in two ways. One, they used their fresh rubber to move up through the field, placing second, third and sixth in stage two. Then, under the subsequent yellow-flag pit stops, all three Penske cars stayed on the racetrack to maximize their track position.

Then came the final round of stops. Blaney was the first Penske driver down pit road with 64 laps remaining, followed by Cindric one lap later and Logano the lap after that.

As the final green flag pit stops continued, it became clear that Blaney would cycle to a battle for the race lead, while Cindric and Logano would be in position for top-five finishes. With a fuel window of 70-75 laps, all three Penske drivers held more than enough fuel to make it to the end — or so it seemed.

So what happened to Blaney at the end? It was not an issue of pit strategy, but rather pit execution. While Cindric’s No. 2 crew put in a second can of fuel to ensure they make it to the end, Blaney’s No. 12 team only took in one can of fuel.

See also
Austin Cindric Takes Advantage As Ryan Blaney's Misfortune Continues

That little extra bit of fuel proved to be the difference between victory for Cindric and Blaney falling to a 24th-place finish after running out just prior to the white flag. Logano, meanwhile, took home a fifth-place finish, his first top five in eight races.

“No, I didn’t think so,” Blaney said afterwards when asked if he thought there was a chance of running out fuel. “Yeah, I never thought we were short. One of those things. I don’t know what I got to do to get some luck on our side.”

Speeding Penalty Summary

The pit road police assessed three speeding penalties throughout the race:

  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got sent to the rear for speeding on pit entry under the second caution of the day. Stenhouse finished in the middle of the pack in 20th.
  • On lap 93, Josh Berry got pegged for going too fast exiting the pit lane. Berry hoped to regain track position through strategy, but 20 laps later, Berry got a flat tire and smacked the wall in turns 3 and 4, ending his day with a last-place finish.
  • Ty Gibbs got the final speeding penalty of the day on lap 144. Unlike Stenhouse and Berry, Gibbs recovered for a decent finish of 11th.  

Look Ahead to Next Week

The drivers of the NASCAR Cup Series will go road course racing next Sunday, June 9 with the running of the Toyota Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.  Green flag is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET, and coverage will be provided by FOX Sports.

Whenever NASCAR races in California wine country, fuel strategy and track position tend to be key factors. With stage cautions, expect drivers and crew chiefs to weigh the costs and benefits of staying out for stage points versus looking ahead to the race win.

About the author

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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 works as an athletic communications specialist at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

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