Tire wear and pit strategy could determine race, championship
HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Crew chief Todd Gordon feels strategy cost Joey Logano a win two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway. Gordon hopes to avoid the same issue in today’s championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway (2:30 p.m., NBC).
Tire wear and short-pitting — pitting before a fuel run ends — could determine who wins today’s race and the championship. Chad Knaus, crew chief for Jimmie Johnson, says lap times will fall by two seconds after only about 20 laps (a fuel run is about 55 laps).
“I think it’s awesome because I think that definitely provides opportunity for strategy, and definitely activity on pit road,’’ Knaus said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out.’’
Teams are using the same tire this weekend that was run at both Texas races and at Chicagoland Speedway this season. The Texas race saw teams pit early because it was an advantage to get new tires ahead of the rest of the field.
“I feel like we got beat by it,’’ Gordon said of short pitting in the Texas race for Logano. “Martin Truex ran us down a little bit there in the middle of the race and actually got to our inside and pitted, and that short pit sequence only being a lap … got us from the lead to third and took us a while to recover from it. It’ll definitely play on this tire.’’
Dave Rogers, crew chief for Carl Edwards, admits short pitting will be “tempting” today.
“If you’re the leader and you have a five-second lead, you’re probably going to stay out and let a few people hit pit road first just to make sure everyone gets onto pit road cleanly,’’ Rogers said. “Once they do, then you’ll come down pit road.
“On the other hand, if you’re running sixth and you’ve got to make up lap time, you’re probably going to gamble and short pit as much as you can. Everyone is going to be playing the strategy. All these crew chiefs know the game.’’
Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch, admits that short pitting “bit us’’ last weekend at Phoenix.
“We tried to come a little bit early and two cars got together coming onto pit road and we had to take the wave around as we were a lap down during that pit cycle,’’ he said. “The outcome of the race can change in a hurry and sometimes that risk is rewarded and sometimes it’s not.’’