If You Want To Win a Sprint Cup Race, Avoid Pit Road

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If You Want To Win a Sprint Cup Race, Avoid Pit Road
(Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

There are two things that are common knowledge in NASCAR: It's a team sport, and races can be won and lost in the pits...by your team.

After Sunday's race at Texas Motor Speedway, that became painfully obvious for some drivers. And it just reinforced the point that so far the 2009 season has been full of surprises.

It started in the season-opening Daytona 500 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed his pit stall and then had a pit stall violation when his right-front tire was on the line.

Teammate Jimmie Johnson also had a pit road problem. He slid through his pit stall. Later, David Stremme would be busted for speeding on pit road.

One week later at California, Jeff Gordon was looking to snap his winless streak. He led parts of the race and was in contention all the way down to the final laps.

Until he made his pit stop.

Gordon's DuPont pit crew did nothing wrong on their stop, however, they just were not fast enough to beat Matt Kenseth off pit road, and in the end that allowed Kenseth to drive away from Gordon and take the victory.

A victory that Greg Biffle thought he could have taken, except he cost his team that shot when he ran over his air hose on his final stop.

When the series hit the strip in Vegas the first weekend of March, thoughts of drivers and crews being rusty (which was causing so many problems) were gone.

Race No.3 would be different. Race No.3 would begin the flow of the season and the top teams would rise up.

Things don't always go as planned.

On lap four, the Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth was already caught speeding on pit road after making a pit stop for an engine that was going sour. His penalty added to the 32 from Saturday's Nationwide Series race.

The newest driver at Richard Childress Racing, Casey Mears, was busted by the NASCAR police for entering pit road too fast.

Two laps later Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be caught for the same infraction.

Then three laps after that, Scott Speed also forgot the speed limit.

Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart added to the penalty column when they also let their lead feet hinder their performances.

But the biggest drama of the day came from three-time champion Jimmie Johnson and four-time champion Jeff Gordon.

First, Johnson slid through his pit stall for the second time this season.

Gordon, meanwhile, was trying to follow Johnson to pit road when he locked the breaks up and missed the left turn. In the process he blew his left front tire which tore apart his fender.

He was able to recover for a sixth place finish, but Johnson, who led the most laps, would spin out all by himself just laps from the finish.

Three races into the 2009 season and everyone was afraid of pit road. And for good reason—the season is a long way from over and more mistakes are bound to happen. Every weekend.

Going into Atlanta there were two drivers that had everyone's attention: Kyle Busch for winning again, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for not.

Leaving Atlanta, they were still the talk of NASCAR.

One week after his hometown win, Busch missed pit road and had a horrible day ending in an 18th place finish.

Earnhardt Jr. was once again caught speeding on pit road, but battled back for an 11th place finish.

Robby Gordon was penalized for leaving his pit stall with equipment. The catch can was still attached to the No. 7 machine.

Brian Vickers added his name to the list of speeding violators, along with Jimmie Johnson later in the race. For Vickers, though, the speeding penalty wouldn't be the worst part of his day.

He had worked his way up to second spot with a couple of laps remaining. The leaders came down pit road for their final stop and the Red Bull team had an extended stop that put Vickers back in the fifth position and out of win contention.

The Series left the big tracks behind and headed for the short tracks for some bumping and banging.

Kevin Harvick may have won the Saturday Nationwide Race at Bristol—ironically after Kyle Busch's team couldn't keep hold of one of their tires during their final stop—but on Sunday Harvick was his own worst enemy.

First, he ran into the back of a car that had slowed down in front of him, ruining his front bumper. 

Then he was caught with Aric Almirola going too fast on pit road.

Surprisingly, those would be the only problems on pit road that day and the next stop became Martinsville.

Jimmie Johnson finally had a mistake free-day to win, while two-time winner Matt Kenseth was black flagged for not answering NASCAR's penalty for having a tire roll away on his pit stop.

On lap 140, Kyle Busch was caught speeding on pit road along with Martin Truex Jr. 

With all the speeding penalties and tire penalties, there have also been some lost lug nuts on pit stops, something that would have an effect on the outcome of the race in Texas.

Once again, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch sped on pit road, and Earnhardt Jr. missed his pit stall.

Then, on the final pit stop, Carl Edwards went from leading to 11th after his team lost lug nuts during the stop.

His teammate Greg Biffle, who had led 93 laps, also had lug nuts get away on his stop and took away his shot at fighting for the victory.

There is no way that a team can find victory lane if they aren't on the same page. Speeding, missing pit stall, lose tires and lost lug nuts are not going to make anyone's day easy.

But NASCAR is a team sport.

Carl Edwards embraced that after his failed pit stop when addressing his team over the radio. He didn't curse or yell. Instead, he told them he had nothing to say, but after the race he told reporters that they win and lose as a team.

Last Sunday, they lost as one.

The driver needs to be on his game and be flawless driving, and each pit crew member needs to be absolutely perfect for 12 to 14 seconds.

Races are won and lost in the pits, and so far we've seen that in the first seven races of the year. 

And we'll continue to see it as the 2009 season rolls on.

 

Source: NASCAR.com

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