Ty Gibbs has put together a strong rookie campaign in the 2023 Cup Series season. He came that close to making the playoffs. But he didn’t and was the lone driver from Joe Gibbs Racing not to advance to the postseason.
As a result, the organization made a move similar to what it did last season with Kyle Busch, announcing that the No. 54 team would be swapping pit crews with Christopher Bell ahead of the playoffs, which start on Sept. 3 at Darlington.
Why the No. 54 team? Gibbs’ crew has been one of the best on pit road all season and demonstrated that in May at North Wilkesboro during All-Star Weekend, winning the Pit Crew Challenge.
For the season, the No. 54 crew ranks third in average time on a four-tire stop at 11.254 seconds, according to Racing Insights (via NBC sports), which times pit stops from when the car enters the stall to when it exits. The No. 20 team ranks 20th.
Kyle Busch team swapped with Denny Hamlin last year
Swapping pit crews isn’t anything new at JGR. It happened a year ago after the first round of the playoffs when Kyle Busch was eliminated from contention. The organization swapped Busch’s crew with Denny Hamlin’s for the remainder of the postseason.
While switching individual members or entire pit crews comes with the territory of being a team sport, it doesn’t come without disappointment for those members who’ve ridden with a driver for the entire season. Hamlin talked about it last year before the September 22 race at Texas.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s certainly tough for those guys,” Hamlin said. “And I hate it because I love their attitude, swagger, all that about my 11 team. And, you know, certainly, they’re as important to this championship run as anyone, but, you know, we had to do something different.
“Certainly the results at the end of the day, you know, the inconsistencies were tough, but this is kind of a JGR decision and they felt like this was the best avenue to getting the quickest results in the shortest amount of time was just replacing an entire team versus one person or the other.”
Interestingly, in that final stretch of seven races, the No. 11 team finished ahead of the No. 18 four times and advanced to the Round of 8, but Hamlin failed to reach the championship race for the first time since 2018.
Christopher Bell has endured pit crew swaps in consecutive seasons
Unfortunately, when a pit crew swap happens, it indicates there are issues on pit road. For Bell, he’s quite familiar with the process as this is his second swap of members in as many seasons.
Last July, the organization made a partial swap of two members with Bubba Wallace and his 23XI Racing team, which had its roster supplied by JGR. Bell admitted then that he was withholding judgment on the move until he had more information.
“I haven’t studied the data too close, but I know that both of us have had our struggles for sure,” he said before the July 10 race at Atlanta. “And it’s cost both of us a lot of potential good finishes. So, I think mixing up the teams was their goal to try and obviously produce better pit stops and fewer mistakes. We’ll see how that turns out.”
The second week after the change, Bell won at New Hampshire and advanced to the playoffs. He then recorded a pair of walk-off wins in the postseason and advanced to the NASCAR championship race in Phoenix.
The JGR driver was the closest pursuer to frontrunner Joey Logano in the final stage, but any chances of claiming the title went out the window on the race’s final caution when the crew put down a lengthy pit stop just shy of 20 seconds.
Bell hopes his new crew can put together a similar run this postseason, minus that final disastrous stop.
Kyle Dalton covers NASCAR for Heavy.com. He has more than 30 years of experience covering high school, college and professional sports, including stories for the Austin American-Statesman, San Antonio-Express News, Detroit News and Sportscasting.com. More about Kyle Dalton
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