We have been seeing the action on pit road play a pivotal role in the outcome of some of these NASCAR Sprint Cup races lately and sometimes, not in a good way.
I believe we are seeing a combination of the pressure as the Chase for the Sprint Cup nears, the hot weather and the effects of a very aggressive race schedule.
As a former crew chief, believe me when I tell you that every team and team member is thankful to have this week off. What I think you will see at the Brickyard in the next race is fewer mistakes on pit road as the guys will be more rested, fresher and recharged.
As we go forward to the Chase cutoff race at Richmond International Raceway, however, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see more mistakes creeping back into the picture. The pressure to perform on pit road these days is intense. You can help your driver out immensely and allow him to gain positions with a perfect stop.
We saw Kyle Busch slide through his pit Sunday at Loudon and it cost him big time. I think when you see veteran teams and veteran drivers make mistakes like this it simply highlights that where the races are won and lost is not just on the racetrack. The race on and off pit road is just as important. It falls to the driver and the pit crew to perform flawlessly.
Veteran teams have to have the ability to have a short memory. Let’s use an NFL analogy – it’s like an offensive lineman being called for holding with the ball on the goal-line. One person has dug the team into a deeper hole, but the veteran teams will rally behind that person and work as a unit to bounce back the very next play.
The good teams recover, the bad ones don’t. The bad ones will sit there and point fingers. That doesn’t help make the situation any better; it actually helps dig their hole deeper. The good ones will make a perfect pit stop the next time and the mistake is then forgotten.
The action on pit road is more critical than it ever has been because the competition is more equal than ever before. The main stage, of course, is the battle on the track, but there is just as an intense secondary battle going on when the cars come to pit road. You can’t let your guard down and expect to win.
Track position these days is so important. You have to take advantage of what is given you. Whether it is taking the gamble on just two tires on a green-flag stop to get out and pick up position or pit out of sequence, grab four fresh tires and try to make up ground that way. It’s a gamblers' paradise right now out there. The guys that can play the game the best, obviously, are those that usually come out on top.
After this much-needed break, there is a seven-race sprint to the Chase. Guys like Carl Edwards came out of it behind. We’ve now seen the effects of that as crew chief Bob Osborne has been replaced by Chad Norris. Bob and Carl have been together since 2004. That’s a big move because they are one of the few teams without a win that still have a mathematical shot of making the Chase.
The other interesting storyline is the guys with one win who are on the edge of making or not making this year's Chase. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, I don’t want to be the leader coming to the white flag with Kyle Busch, Joey Logano or Ryan Newman running a close second behind me. Those three are desperate to make the Chase and they aren’t going to play nice. If I am the leader, they are going to rough me up to get that win away from me.
This is down-and-dirty time. That’s part of the drama we need to be watching for because it will happen.
I also see that No. 24 team of Jeff Gordon being one of the biggest gamblers we’ll ever see in these next seven races. They’ve had very fast race cars but still are winless. They don’t have the points to fall back on.
That makes them desperate and a desperate race team is a dangerous race team.
With a four-time champion the caliber of Jeff Gordon who can win at any track we go to, that team is going to roll the dice in a big way. Points no longer matter to Gordon's team.
Now, it’s all about winning races.