Two-stop or three-stop strategy? That is the question

SONOMA, CA - JUNE 20: Brian Vickers, driver of the #55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 20, 2014 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
SONOMA, CA - JUNE 20:  Brian Vickers, driver of the #55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 20, 2014 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
SONOMA, CA – JUNE 20: Brian Vickers, driver of the #55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 20, 2014 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

SONOMA, Calif. – Road courses pose a different sort of challenge to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers, but they also give crew chiefs the opportunity to try strategies that simply aren’t viable at oval tracks.

The length of Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway—110 laps (218.9 miles at the 1.99-mile road course)—makes it possible for a driver to finish the event using either two or three pit stops.

In the latter case, a driver must start the racing saving fuel and hope for a few well-timed cautions to assist in the process.

Brian Vickers, driver of the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, said qualifying position was a major criterion in determine which strategy a team might use. There’s only one problem with that approach: qualifying at Sonoma is on Saturday, meaning the bulk of a team’s practice –two long sessions on Friday—will take place before a driver knows where on the grid he’ll start.

At most oval tracks, qualifying takes place on Friday after one practice session, with two more practices on Saturday to dial in the car and develop strategy.

To Vickers, Saturday qualifying at Sonoma is “a little bit of a curveball thrown into it.”

“To a certain extent, you have to know what you’re doing going in,” Vickers told the NASCAR Wire Service on Thursday at a track luncheon in San Francisco. “This year… you can always change it, but you kind of have to commit to practice what you’re going to race, even before you know where you qualify.”

Further complicating the equation, crew chiefs must set the Electronic Fuel Injection fuel mapping either for a two-stop or three-stop strategy. Once the race begins, that can’t be adjusted.

About Greg Engle 7420 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for Examiner.com and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.