Dr. Diandra: The potential impact of changing pit stop choreography


Richmond was our first chance to observe Joe Gibbs Racing’s new pit-stop choreography under race conditions. Let’s look at how much of an advantage this new approach offers now, and potentially in the future.

Just the facts

Three numbers made the rounds after the Richmond race:

  • Kyle Busch‘s team performed a four-tire-and-fuel pit stop in 9.1 seconds on Lap 234.
  • Denny Hamlin’s Lap 354 pit stop took only 9.4 seconds.
  • Kevin Harvick’s final stop at Lap 353 was 9.9 seconds.

JGR provided these numbers. Their measurement starts when the car stops in the pit stall and ends when the car starts moving again. That’s a standard training metric because it focuses on the pit crew’s execution.

NASCAR timing and scoring measures from when the car enters the pit box to when it leaves the pit box. Looking at the same three stops as above but using NASCAR’s numbers:

  • Kyle Busch’s Lap 234 pit stop took 10.0 seconds.
  • Hamlin’s Lap 354 stop was timed at 10.4 seconds.
  • Harvick’s last stop was 10.7 seconds.

NASCAR’s numbers account for drivers who get into the box faster or take off slower. Although Hamlin’s stop was 0.5 seconds faster than Harvick’s (using JGR’s measurement), it was only 0.3 seconds faster when we consider getting into and out of the box.

Although Kyle Busch’s stop was heralded for its speed, NASCAR reports William Byron‘s four-tire stop on lap 234 as 9.97 seconds — three-hundredths of a second faster than Busch’s fastest stop.

Outside the box

The pit stop per se is just one component of a trip down pit road. The driver must navigate traffic (if pitting under green) and not make a commitment line violation. Once on pit road, he must keep the car as close to the pit road speed limit as possible without going over. He has to locate his pit box and get to it without hitting other cars or crew members. He has to stop at the right place in the box, angling the car as best he can for a speedy departure.

After the crew changes tires and adds fuel, the driver must exit the box without hitting other cars or crew members. He again must go as fast as possible without incurring a speeding penalty.

Both coming in and going out, the driver also has to be aware of timing lines. Depending on the location of the lines relative to the pit box, a driver can briefly go faster than pit road speed without his average speed being over the limit.

There’s a lot more to pitting than just watching a row of colored dots on the dash.

If we now include time on and off pit road for the same three stops we’ve been discussing:

  • Kyle Busch’s Lap 234 total pit time was 38.6 seconds.
  • Hamlin’s Lap 354 total pit time was timed at 39.05 seconds.
  • Harvick’s total pit time was 39.14 seconds on his last stop.

Let’s compare the last two of these stops head to head:

 A table comparing different measurements for the last pit stop for Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick at the 2022 spring Richmond race

Harvick was 0.24 seconds faster getting to and from his pit box relative to Hamlin on their last stops. While Hamlin’s pit crew may have been 0.5 seconds faster, the overall difference in pit times was less than a tenth of a second.

But if Hamlin’s crew hadn’t earned him an advantage, Harvick might have gotten out ahead of Hamlin. NASCAR is a sport of tenths and hundredths of seconds. Every tenth of a second gained on pit road makes the gap between the driver and the car in front of him a tenth of a second smaller. Or gives him an additional tenth of a second gap between him and the car chasing him.

What we learned in Richmond

We gained only a fleeting glimpse of the technique last weekend. With a limited number of pit stops and the combination of different pitting strategies with green-flag pit stops, it’s hard to quantify the real advantage.

“I’m a little bit disappointed everything seemed like it was green-flag stops because I think some of the pit stop speed got lost in that,” Brian Haaland, pit coach for JGR told NBC Sports’ Dustin Long after the race. “If you were under caution and they were lined up one after another, you would have seen some big-time gains on pit road.”

These stops offered a trial-by-fire for the pit crews. Rear tire changers aren’t used to jumping out in front of a pitting racecar. Yes, they’ve practiced and practiced, but pit practice drivers don’t come in as hot as Denny Hamlin or Kyle Busch during a race.

The new pit stop choreography is a little more complicated than the traditional pit stop. That means more places for things to go wrong, and more practice required for everyone involved. Bubba Wallace‘s No. 23 team decided to stick with the old pit stops after its car chief was sent home. The car chief was supposed to have helped maneuver the air gun hoses behind the wall. The team didn’t feel confident subbing in someone else.

“These jobs behind the wall are just as important as what we’re doing on the other side of the wall,” Haaland noted.

That the process is more complicated may be a boon for JGR. Given that other teams will likely copy their choreography, JGR hopes that their eight months of practice will give them an advantage — at least for a little while.

An additional tool, not a replacement

Although the new technique is faster, it can’t be used everywhere — or even every time. NASCAR first allowed rear tire changers to move in front of the car at Atlanta, but most stops there were for two tires. COTA’s pit road was just too narrow. Richmond provided the first ‘just right’ location. At Richmond, all four JGR teams chose pit boxes with openings or unused stalls on one side.

But even at tracks where the technique is feasible, it might not be optimal in every pit stall. Martinsville’s small size requires situating some pit stalls in the turns. That can make it difficult for the crew to see the car coming in — and vice-versa. Dale Jarrett, in the NASCAR on NBC podcast, expressed concern about pit crew safety in general under the new choreography.

Finally, if the crew chief wants to make adjustments, the pit crew will use the traditional pit stop pattern. The new choreography is not a superior way to do pit stops. It is an alternative approach that potentially offers an advantage in some cases.

Pit stops depend on many factors. It’s rare for a team to get all of them perfect on a single stop. Teams try to save as much time as possible so that, when it really matters, they can be as close to perfect as possible.


Dr. Diandra: How level is the playing field after 50 Next Gen races?


Last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 marks 50 Next Gen races. The 2022 season produced 19 different winners, including a few first-career wins. Let’s see what the data say about how level the playing field is now.

I’m comparing the first 50 Next Gen races (the 2022 season plus the first 14 races of 2023) to the 2020 season and the first 14 races of 2021. I selected those two sets of races to produce roughly the same types of tracks. I focus on top-10 finishes as a metric for performance. Below, I show the top-10 finishes for the 13 drivers who ran for the same team over the periods in question.

A table comparing top-10 rates for drivers in the Gen-6 and Next Gen cars, limited to drivers who ran for the same team the entire time.

Because some drivers missed races, I compare top-10 rates: the number of top-10 finishes divided by the number of races run. The graph below shows changes in top-10 rates for the drivers who fared the worst with the Next Gen car.

A graph showing drivers who have done better in the next-gen car than the Gen-6 car.

Six drivers had double-digit losses in their top-10 rates. Kevin Harvick had the largest drop, with 74% top-10 finishes in the Gen-6 sample but only 46% top-10 finishes in the first 50 Next Gen races.

Kyle Larson didn’t qualify for the graph because he ran only four races in 2020. I thought it notable, however, that despite moving from the now-defunct Chip Ganassi NASCAR team to Hendrick Motorsports, Larson’s top-10 rate fell from 66.7% to 48.0%.

The next graph shows the corresponding data for drivers who improved their finishes in the Next Gen car. This graph again includes only drivers who stayed with the same team.

A graph showing the drivers who have fewer top-10 finishes in the Next Gen car than the Gen-6 car

Alex Bowman had a marginal gain, but he missed six races this year. Therefore, his percent change value is less robust than other drivers’ numbers.

Expanding the field

I added drivers who changed teams to the dataset and highlighted them in gray.

A table comparing top-10 rates for drivers in the Gen-6 and Next Gen cars

A couple notes on the new additions:

  • Brad Keselowski had the largest loss in top-10 rate of any driver, but that may be more attributable to his move from Team Penske to RFK Motorsports rather than to the Next Gen car.
  • Christopher Bell moved from Leavine Family Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021. His improvement is likely overestimated due to equipment quality differences.
  • Erik Jones stayed even, but that’s after moving from JGR (13 top-10 finishes in 2020) to Richard Petty Motorsports (six top 10s in 2021.) I view that change as a net positive.

At the end of last season, I presented the tentative hypothesis that older drivers had a harder time adapting to the Next Gen car. Less practice time mitigated their experience dialing in a car so that it was to their liking given specific track conditions.

But something else leaps out from this analysis.

Is the playing field tilting again?

Michael McDowell is not Harvick-level old, but he will turn 39 this year. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is 35. Both have improved with the Next Gen Car. Chase Elliott (27 years old) and William Byron (25) aren’t old, either, but their top-10 rates have gone down.

Drivers running for the best-funded teams earned fewer top-10 finishes while drivers from less-funded teams (mostly) gained those finishes.

Trackhouse Racing and 23XI — two of the newest teams — account for much of the gains in top-10 finishes. Ross Chastain isn’t listed in the table because he didn’t have full-time Cup Series rides in 2020 or 2021. His 9.1% top-10 rate in that period is with lower-level equipment. He earned 27 top-10 finishes in the first 50 races (54%) with the Next Gen car.

This analysis suggests that age isn’t the only relevant variable. One interpretation of the data thus far is that the Next Gen (and its associated rules changes) eliminated the advantage well-funded teams built up over years of racing the Gen-5 and Gen-6 cars.

The question now is whether that leveling effect is wearing off. Even though parts are the same, more money means being able to hire the best people and buying more expensive computers for engineering simulations.

Compare the first 14 races of 2022 to the first 14 of 2023.

  • Last year at this time, 23XI and Trackhouse Racing had each won two races. This year, they combine for one win.
  • It took Byron eight races to win his second race of the year in 2022. This year, he won the third and fourth races of the year. Plus, he’s already won his third race this year.
  • Aside from Stenhouse’s Daytona 500 win, this year’s surprise winners — Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney — are both from major teams.

We’re only 14 races into the 2023 season. There’s not enough data to determine the relative importance of age versus building a notebook for predicting success in the Next Gen car.

But this is perhaps the most important question. The Next Gen car leveled the playing field last year.

Will it stay level?

NASCAR weekend schedule at World Wide Technology Raceway, Portland


NASCAR’s top three series are racing this weekend in two different locations. Cup and Craftsman Truck teams will compete at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, and the Xfinity Series will compete at Portland International Raceway.

World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (Cup and Trucks)

Weekend weather

Friday: Partly cloudy with a high of 87 degrees during Truck qualifying.

Saturday: Sunny. Temperatures will be around 80 degrees for the start of Cup practice and climb to 88 degrees by the end of Cup qualifying. Forecast calls for sunny skies and a high of 93 degrees around the start of the Truck race.

Sunday: Mostly sunny with a high of 92 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the Cup race.

Friday, June 2

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 1 – 8 p.m. Craftsman Truck Series
  • 4 – 9 p.m. Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 6:30 p.m. — Truck practice (FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. — Truck qualifying (FS1)

Saturday, June 3

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.  — Cup Series
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series

Track activity

  • 10 – 10:45 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 10:45 a.m. – 12 p.m. — Cup qualifying  (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (160 laps, 200 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, June 4

Garage open

  • 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (240 laps, 300 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)


Portland International Raceway (Xfinity Series)

Weekend weather

Friday: Mostly sunny with a high of 77 degrees.

Saturday: Mostly sunny with a high of 73 degrees and no chance of rain around the start of the Xfinity race.

Friday, June 2

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 6-11 p.m. Xfinity Series

Saturday, June 3

Garage open

  • 10 a.m.  — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. — Xfinity practice (No TV)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 4:30 p.m. — Xfinity race (75 laps, 147.75 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

NASCAR Cup playoff standings after Coca-Cola 600


The severe penalty to Chase Briscoe and his Stewart-Haas Racing team Wednesday for a counterfeit part dropped Briscoe from 17th to 31st in the season standings. Briscoe now must win a race to have a chance at the playoffs.

The penalty came a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for his retaliation in wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600. Elliott is 28th in the points. The 2020 Cup champion also needs to win to have a chance to make the playoffs.

Ten drivers have won races, including Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney. That leaves six playoff spots to be determined by points at this time. With 12 races left in the regular season, including unpredictable superspeedway races at Atlanta (July 9) and Daytona (Aug. 26), the playoff standings will change during the summer.

Among those without a win this season are points leader Ross Chastain and former champions Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Elliott.

Here’s a look at the Cup playoff standings heading into Sunday’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois. Drivers in yellow have won a race and are in a playoff position. Those below the red line after 16th place are outside a playoff spot in the graphic below.

NASCAR issues major penalties to Chase Briscoe team for Charlotte infraction


NASCAR fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him six races, along with penalizing Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team 120 points and 25 playoff points each for a counterfeit part on the car.

The issue was a counterfeit engine NACA duct, said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition. That is a single-source part.

MORE: Updated Cup playoff standings

The team stated that it accepts the L3 penalty.

“We had a quality control lapse and a part that never should’ve been on a car going to the racetrack ended up on the No. 14 car at Charlotte,” said Greg Zipadelli in a statement from the team. “We accept NASCAR’s decision and will not appeal.”

Asked how then piece could have aided performance, Sawyer said Wednesday: “Knowing the race team mentality, they don’t do things that would not be a benefit to them in some way, shape or form from a performance advantage.”

The penalty drops Briscoe from 17th in the season standings to 31st in the standings. Briscoe goes from having 292 points to having 172 points. He’ll have to win to make the playoffs. Briscoe has no playoff points at this time, so the penalty puts him at -25 playoff points should he make it.

Briscoe’s car was one of two taken to the R&D Center after Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 for additional tear down by series officials.

The penalty comes a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.