Race Weekend Central

Monday Morning Pit Box: Strategy Winners, Losers at Sonoma

In a race that proved to be as windy as the 11-turn road course, it was Kyle Larson who emerged victorious in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway for his third NASCAR Cup Series win of 2024.

Sunday’s (June 9) race featured eight cautions, just one shy of the record for most yellow flags in a Cup Series race at Sonoma, set way back in 1990. Furthermore, all eight cautions took place within the first 60 laps of the 110-lap race, which led to shake ups in pit strategy.

Here are the drivers who were on the right side and wrong side of that strategy in wine country.

See also
Kyle Larson Snags Sonoma Win

Winners

Kyle Larson

Larson won not only with a fast No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, but also thanks to a well-planned pit strategy by his crew chief Cliff Daniels.

Taking advantage of the numerous caution laps in the race’s first half, Larson was one of seven drivers who did not make their first stop until late in stage two, coming down for service on lap 52. Larson was also among the final drivers to make their last pit stop, getting tires and fuel on lap 80.

Larson came off pit road in eighth place after that last stop, but he possessed about 13-lap fresher tires than the drivers in front of him. Larson used that fresh rubber to reel in the leaders and take the top spot for good on lap 102.

Michael McDowell & Chris Buescher

Michael McDowell and Chris Buescher made their final trip to their pit stalls slightly earlier than Larson, getting fuel and tires on lap 68.

By pitting earlier, the two Ford drivers reaped the benefits of great track position as Buescher inherited the lead at the end of the green flag pit cycle, with McDowell not far behind. When the dust settled, McDowell and Buescher finished second and third, respectively.

Both blue oval representatives overcame adversity for their great finishes. Buescher started at the rear in a backup while McDowell got involved in a lap 40 incident, sustaining some right-front damage. The early problems required the No. 34 and No. 17 teams to take some chances on pit strategy, and it definitely paid off.

Losers

Martin Truex Jr.

For the second week in a row, a previous Cup Series champion ran out of fuel on the final lap to lose out on a great finish.

Martin Truex Jr., the 2017 Cup Series champion took the white flag in second place after losing the lead to Larson. However, his fuel tank sputtered, forcing Truex to limp the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to the checkered flag. Truex inched his way across the finish line in 27th, receiving quite the ovation from the fans in attendance.

Fuel mileage has become a more prominent theme in the Cup Series over the past couple of weeks. Recent events may cause Cup Series teams to re-evaluate how they calculate fuel mileage, especially on newer tracks like Gateway or those with significant changes like Sonoma and its repaved surface.

See also
Sonoma: The Race JGR Would Like to Forget

Tyler Reddick

It might seem odd to have Tyler Reddick listed here, considering that he did finish eighth on the day.

But here’s the thing. When all of those cautions flew early on, it was Reddick who showed the way, leading the most laps with 35 circuits out front. Reddick won stage one, joining the group of drivers who waited until stage two to make his first pit stop, going down pit road on lap 53. Reddick then made his final pit stop on lap 68, just 15 laps after his previous stop.

As the laps wound down, Reddick was a non-factor in the battle for the win. Would Reddick have fared better if he pitted around lap 80 with Larson? It was still a good day for Reddick but it could have been a better day for him and the No. 45 team.  

Look Ahead to Next Week

The drivers of the NASCAR Cup Series go back to oval racing next Sunday, June 16, with the running of the Iowa Corn 350 Powered by Ethanol at the Iowa Speedway. As it’s the inaugural Cup Series race at Iowa, there will be a lot of unknowns in terms of fuel mileage and tire wear. The partial repave of Iowa’s surface only adds to the uncertainty.

Whichever team figures out the strategy first will have a great chance to reach victory lane.

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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