Recent NASCAR Crew Chief Changes Prove Premium Of Pit Strategy

As the Chase for the Sprint Cup approaches, a number of teams struggling to find solid results have opted to make a change atop the pit box.

Earlier in the year, Chad Johnston replaced Pat Tryson on Martin Truex Jr.'s No. 56 Toyota. Greg Erwin lost his post at Roush Fenway Racing, eventually finding a home at Richard Petty Motorsports, taking over for Mike Shiplett on the No. 43 team.

Recently, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing replaced Brian Pattie as Juan Pablo Montoya's crew chief, bringing in Jim Pohlman. On Monday, long-time crew chief Todd Berrier was replaced by Luke Lambert at Richard Childress Racing.

This recent trend of crew chief changes has shown the high premium now placed on pit strategy and track position in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

With competition at such a high level and the wild card giving teams from 11th to 20th in the standings a shot at the Chase, teams are taking more risks and gambling on fuel perhaps more than any other time in recent memory.

"It's just track position," crew chief Tony Gibson said following Ryan Newman's win at New Hampshire. "It forces you to do things you normally wouldn't do. Take two (tires), stay out on fuel and gamble. The reason we came to it today because we knew if we pitted like when the 14 (Tony Stewart) and those guys did, there were going to be two or three guys that stayed out, like the 2 (Brad Keselowski) car did at Kansas. Somebody is going to stay out and roll the dice on fuel mileage and win it."

At the beginning of the season, Tony Stewart suffered a number of disappointing finishes after the strategy of crew chief Darian Grubb failed to pay off. Had those calls gone their way and luck was on their side, the No. 14 team would be sitting in the catbird seat with a couple of wins. Instead, Stewart is now battling for a spot in the Chase with no wins.

For those teams struggling to find the results still this deep in the season, the decisions to change crew chiefs shows the need for fresh ideas atop the pit box and perhaps the willingness to take more gambles throughout the race.

With track position and clean air at such a premium these days, crew chiefs have to do all they can to put their car out front and keep it there. If they cannot accomplish that, not only will they fail to battle for the championship in the final 10 races of the year, they may find themselves searching for a new job.

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