Show Me the Money Series
How Hunter Robbins Scored an Alabama 200 Upset
Mar 6, 2022
It appeared as if Kyle Busch was two laps away from a hard-earned victory over Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. when fortune shined elsewhere. Erik Jones and Bubba Wallace crashed on Lap 265 and decisions needed to be made atop the pit box.
Two tires or four.
Hendrick Motorsports drivers Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and William Byron left pit road with two tires ahead of Busch, Ross Chastain and Truex on four tires.
The prevailing opinion was that four would beat two, even on a fairly smooth racing surface, but the Hendrick drivers boxed Busch in during the choose rule selection:
Larson; Outside Row 1
Bowman; Inside Row 2
Byron; Outside Row 3
Busch took the inside second row but couldn’t clear Byron and get to the outside by the white flag. That left the battle to Bowman and Larson with the No. 48 team emerging victorious after a green-white-checkered finish.
No. 48 crew chief Greg Ives said the Hendrick Motorsports blockade wasn’t even a plan. It just happened.
"In that moment you don't have any plans with anybody but yourself," Ives said. "You get as selfish as you possibly can to win a race in the last three laps, green-white-checkered.
"Ultimately when it came out that way, you try to figure out who you can work with and who you can't. Ultimately for me it was the front row. If we didn't get the front row, we weren't going to win. We might have finished second to outside the top-20 -- that was my mindset."
Ives said he didn't have time to plan anything with fellow crew chiefs Cliff Daniels and Rudy Fugle, but he does know how they think.
"He's already got a win," Ives said of Daniels. "He's going to gamble. He's going to either take two tires or stay out. He pitted. I knew two tires were coming. Same with Rudy. Trying to win the race. We have great cars. We have the speed capable of giving us a front row and winning the thing.
"Ultimately, like I said, we came out on top, but there was no plan between all of us, that's for sure."
Bowman, for this part, was more concerned about Larson to his outside than the Gibbs cars on fresh tires. He knows the resume across various disciplines and the task ahead of him over the ensuing two laps.
"Well, restarting on the front row second to arguably the greatest race car driver of our generation is a tall task," Bowman said. "Greg made a great call. I was a bit worried we were going to be way too tight.
"But racing Kyle is hard. He's so good. I just felt like when he took the top, I was way more confident. The bottom was where I wanted to be. It was where my car worked the best. I thought that gave me my best shot.
"I'm glad it worked out, but I was definitely nervous."
Busch, meanwhile, just chalked it all to bad luck. He gave his over-the-wall pit crew credit for getting him off pit road first amongst those who took four tires, but he just couldn’t get past that unintended Hendrick blockade.
"The Hendrick cars all took two tires and that plugged up the front row for the green-white-checkered," Busch said. "They had the right strategy. They did the right thing to block out the competition behind them."
Behind Busch, Chastain thought Busch was going to get by all of them if he had just fired off better on the final restart.
"I still feel like four tires was the right call, but when you have teammates blocking up the front row, it was just hard to get around that," Chastain said. "Kyle tried to get up by (Byron) on the last lap, and if he had done that, I think he would have had something for them.
"He just couldn’t quite get by. One or two more laps would have been the difference, but that’s what teammates are for."
Even though it wasn’t Ives plan to have his teammates surrounding him, he did know exactly what he wanted to do. For two years, Ives wanted a do-over from the 2020 race at Las Vegas when he chose to pit before a green-white-checkered from what would have been a front row restarting position.
That decision backfired that afternoon, and Ives opted for track position this time, and reaped the benefits.
"We’ve talked about this redemption for a long time," Ives said. "It’s something that never goes away. I may get the years messed up, the time messed up, but I know 10 years from now it’s going to be the same. I made a bad call, redeemed myself a couple years later on it."