Decision to pit or not dramatically altered Las Vegas Cup race

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Crew chief Todd Gordon apologized to Ryan Blaney for pitting from the lead before the final restart in Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I should have left you out,” Gordon radioed Blaney after the race. “My gut told me to. I didn’t. My bad.”

Instead of celebrating a victory, Blaney walked away with an 11th-place finish. It was his teammate, Joey Logano, who celebrated after not pitting.

A caution on Lap 262 for Ross Chastain created consternation among crew chiefs on pit road and dramatically altered the finish of the season’s second race.

With a two-lap shootout for the win expected once the caution car collected the field and cars pitted, crew chiefs were left to decide if to pit for tires or stay out and gain track position.

For some, the crew chief’s decision worked brilliantly.

  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who did not pit, finished third for his best result at Las Vegas and JTG Daugherty Racing’s best performance at Las Vegas.
  • Austin Dillon, who did not pit, placed fourth for his best result at Las Vegas.
  • Jimmie Johnson, who pitted for two tires, was fifth, scoring his first top five since the rain-shortened race at Daytona in July.
  • Bubba Wallace, who did not pit, placed sixth, marking his best result on a 1.5-mile track.
  • Ty Dillon, who pitted for four tires, was 10th for his first top-10 on a 1.5-mile track.

Here is how the results changed in the final five laps:

When the caution waved for Chastain’s spin, Blaney led.

This was the running order:

  1. Ryan Blaney
  2. Alex Bowman
  3. Joey Logano
  4. William Byron
  5. Kevin Harvick
  6. Brad Keselowski
  7. Matt DiBenedetto
  8. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  9. Kyle Larson
  10. Jimmie Johnson
  11. Kyle Busch
  12. John Hunter Nemechek
  13. Tyler Reddick
  14. Denny Hamlin
  15. Austin Dillon
  16. Martin Truex Jr.
  17. Chris Buescher
  18. Erik Jones
  19. Ty Dillon
  20. Bubba Wallace

Blaney and Bowman both relinquished their spots at the front of the field to pit.

Logano stayed out and moved from third to first.

Crew chief Paul Wolfe said he understood why some pitted but felt the decision not to pit was worth it for he and his team.

“The tires were wearing some,” Wolfe said. “Obviously, that’s why we saw a lot of guys pit from the lead. It seemed like the left-side wear was more accelerated than what we we’ve seen in the past. I think that was making guys favor wanting tires, but really, still, the falloff, if you looked at the start of a run to the end, it wasn’t extreme.

“In practice we were out there on older tires … and seemed to re-fire and have decent speed. It was kind of what we talked about. If you can get to the front row and get the clean air, it’s worth the gamble. Obviously we had a lot of cars behind us. I felt pretty good as long as he executed the restart. The guys on [new] tires weren’t going to catch you in two laps. There just wasn’t enough time.”

Byron also stayed out and moved from fourth to second.

Harvick gave up fifth to pit for four tires, Keselowski relinquished sixth to pit for two tires.

DiBenedetto stayed out and moved from seventh to third. Stenhouse also did not pit, going from eighth to fourth for the restart. Larson gave up ninth to pit for four tires. Johnson gave up 10th place to pit for two tires.

As the field lined up to take the green with two laps to go, the lineup was (with the top seven cars not pitting):

  1. Joey Logano
  2. William Byron
  3. Matt DiBenedetto
  4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  5. Tyler Reddick
  6. Austin Dillon
  7. Bubba Wallace
  8. Brad Keselowski (first car to pit; two tires)
  9. Jimmie Johnson (two tires)
  10. Martin Truex Jr. (two tires)
  11. Erik Jones (two tires)
  12. Ryan Blaney (four tires)
  13. Kevin Harvick (four tires)
  14. Alex Bowman (four tires)
  15. Kyle Busch (four tires)
  16. Kyle Larson (four tires)

Having six cars between he and the first car that had stopped for tires helped Logano.

“A lot of cars stayed out and that was key to that move,” Logano said.

A crash after the leaders took the white flag to begin the last lap, ended the race and left many of those who had pitted seeing their hopes for a strong finish end.

Blaney was stuck and couldn’t move up before the crash, finishing outside the top 10 in a race he looked as if he’d win before Chastain’s caution.

“It was just a crappy situation,” Blaney said. “We fight our butts off to get the lead there from third and get it.  I had a good shot of holding the 88 off. I thought we could have once we got in clean air I thought our car was pretty decent. The caution came out and we pitted, some guys didn’t, some guys took two and we just end up getting absolutely destroyed with people not knowing how many cars were to the outside of them.  It’s easy to look back on it and say we should have stayed out.  That’s a tough call for Todd Gordon in his position, but I’ve got to thank him for giving me a really good car.”

Bowman also placed outside the top 10 after he appeared to be headed for a runner-up finish and maybe a chance to challenge Blaney for the lead.

“Dang it,” Bowman said in a video he posted on social media after the race. “Man, we had such a good car there at the end. Obviously running down (Blaney) pretty quickly, at least looking at a second-place finish, if not battling for a win there.

“Our car was so good and caution came out and we read it just a little bit wrong, so bummer that we didn’t get the finish that we probably deserved, but, at the same time, I’m just so proud of my guys. We had such a good race car today. We made it better all day. Obviously had it rolling there at the end. … Obviously bummed out to finish 13th after staring at a second place or a win, but it’s part of it.”

While Blaney and Bowman lamented their results, others were more fortunate.

“Luckily, we got the outside (on the final restart),” Austin Dillon said. “Our teammate (Reddick) was doomed on the bottom. The bottom (lane) just seemed to lose spots all day unless you were the leader.”

Said Wallace of the decision not to pit: “It was just a good gamble.”

This is how they finished (and if they pitted before the final restart/positions gained or lost from final restart):

  1. Joey Logano (did not pit/maintained lead)
  2. Matt DiBenedetto (did not pit/gained one spot)
  3. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (did not pit/gained one spot)
  4. Austin Dillon (did not pit/gained two spots)
  5. Jimmie Johnson (pitted for two tires/gained four spots)
  6. Bubba Wallace (did not pit/gained one spot)
  7. Brad Keselowski (pitted for two tires/gained one spot)
  8. Kevin Harvick (pitted for four tires/gained five spots)
  9. Kyle Larson (pitted for four tires/gained seven spots)
  10. Ty Dillon (pitted for four tires/gained 10 spots)