DW: Races are won and lost in the pits

You have heard it said many times over the years that races are won and lost in the pits. I know from firsthand experience it’s true. I think this past Sunday we saw the Formula One race, the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 all determined by the work in the pits.

So let’s start over at the Formula One race at Monaco. Lewis Hamilton had that race all but won. I mean, he had a 19-second lead over the field and the race was right there within his grasp. His team called him into the pits, and why I’ll never know. It was a really poor decision in the pits and it cost him the win at Monaco which is about as big as it gets in their sport.

So a decision in the pits cost Lewis the race. Now fast forward to the Indianapolis 500. What played a vital role in Juan Pablo Montoya winning his second Indy 500 and car owner Roger Penske his 16th Indy 500 race was the work of Juan’s pit crew. Juan had been involved in a wreck where the rear of his car was damaged by another car. Juan brought the car into the pits. They worked diligently and incredibly fast. They got Juan back out on the track in 30th place and over the remainder of the day, he worked his way to the front to take the checkered flag. So it was great work by the pit crew that played a vital role in helping the driver win the race.

Now you once again fast forward to the Coca-Cola 600 that was run in Charlotte Sunday night, and once again it was pit strategy that determined the winner. Crew chief Darian Grubb made the call to pit driver Carl Edwards for a final time and they rolled the dice to play a fuel-strategy game. Carl then saved fuel whenever and wherever he could to take home his first with his new team, his first Coca-Cola 600 victory and the 24th win of his career.

You’ve heard this repeatedly, but Sunday night was once again the case of the fastest car not winning the race. Kurt Busch led 110 laps and didn’t win the race. Martin Truex Jr. was far and away the fastest car all night long. He led the most laps Sunday night with 131, but didn’t win the race. Unfortunately it was another race that slipped through Martin and his No. 78 team’s fingers this year. If you had a chance to watch our FOX NASCAR post-race show, you could see despite a great fifth-place finish, how upset Martin was that another one got away.

Now I’m not faulting the strategy of the No. 78 because the strategy was good. The race trends show there is normally a caution in the last 20 to 30 laps of that race. That’s what most of the crew chiefs were banking on. The problem was, however, in this particular case it simply didn’t happen. So a lot of very fast cars got caught, had to pit under green and it shook up the running order.

By winning Sunday night, Carl also closed out a Joe Gibbs Racing sweep of the two weeks of racing in Charlotte. Two weeks ago Denny Hamlin won the pole and won his first Sprint-All Star Race. Oh by the way, it was Denny’s bad-fast pit crew that gave him the lead on the last pit stop of that race. Also don’t forget it was Brad Keselowski making a mistake on pit road and getting what I call a "million dollar speeding penalty" that cost him a chance at the win. Also as mentioned last week, it was the first All-Star win for JGR. Then last Thursday night teammate Matt Kenseth won the pole for the Coca-Cola 600 with Carl Edwards capping things off by winning the race.

This is a storyline we all will want to follow in the coming weeks. The Gibbs Toyotas had a lot of steam under the hoods these last two weeks. Plus, now don’t forget they have three of their four drivers qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The way Kyle Busch ran both in the Sprint All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600 returning from his February injury, I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes the fourth Gibbs driver to make it into the Chase before September. Remember that Kyle has to win a race and finish 30th or better by the time the checkered flag falls at Richmond in September to qualify for the 2015 Chase. I was really impressed with Kyle after being out of the car for 11 weeks. He finished sixth in the Sprint All-Star Race and finished 11th in the Coca-Cola 600.

Even brighter for Kyle than his return to the race car was the birth of his son last week. So congratulations to him and Samantha on that. I also want to congratulate Brad Keselowski and his girlfriend on the birth of their daughter last week, as well.

Photos: Charlotte Motor Speedway honors Memorial Day with large military tribute

I also want to tip my hat to track president Marcus Smith and his entire staff at Charlotte Motor Speedway for making the Memorial Day weekend really special. I have been coming to Charlotte for over 40 years and I’m hard-pressed to remember a better tribute to our military. I love the saying that "all gave some and some gave all." To me Memorial Day is about honoring those in uniform past, present and future. It was a real honor to be a part of it Sunday. I thought it was really touching that each of the drivers in the field had a name from someone in the military on their windshields.

Obviously Jeff Gordon had a great week. He got to drive the pace car for the Indianapolis 500, fly to Charlotte and then race in his last Coca-Cola 600. Earlier in the week it was announced that Jeff is joining our FOX NASCAR team starting in Daytona in 2016. I’m excited to have Jeff join Mike Joy and I in the booth next year.

So now we are off to concrete and crab cakes at Dover International Speedway for the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks. One of the storylines I am going to be following is the No. 48 car. They were less than stellar during both the Sprint All-Star week and the Coca-Cola 600. If you caught driver Jimmie Johnson’s interview from the garage following his second spin Sunday night, he admitted they are trying some things with the car. They have that luxury since they already have three wins and are locked into the Chase. Like Charlotte, Dover is a place where Jimmie simply has dominated in the past, having won there nine times, so I am curious to see how they approach this weekend.  

So the Coca-Cola 600 was our 12th race of the 2015 season. We’ve already had nine different winners. Two drivers — Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson — are the only one with multiple wins. Also Kevin and Martin Truex Jr. are the only two drivers with 11 top-10 finishes out of those 12 races. So I’m curious to see if Jimmie and crew chief Chad Knaus continue their science experiment of trying different things on their car this weekend at Dover, and if that will open the door for our 10th different winner this season.

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