Clever Pit Strategy Lands Armstrong a NCWTS Career Best 3rd Place Finish at Michigan
Armstrong came to Michigan International Speedway (MIS) expecting the newly paved track to handle much differently than when he had visited before, and he was right. Dakoda and his No. 98 EverFi Toyota team brought the very same truck that he raced last at Pocono, but they style of racing could not have been more different.
"I knew coming into the race that the track would have a lot more grip than it did before, and after three practices, I knew it was going to be like an old-style Daytona race where we would run in big packs nose to tail."
And that is exactly what happened. After gaining track position by taking only two tires instead of four, and crew chief Dan Stillman making the call to pit on lap 59 for fuel to make it to the end, Armstrong finished in the VFW 200 with his career best NCWTS finish of third.
The No. 98 EverFi crew, conducted by crew chief Dan Stillman, utilized all three of the practice sessions for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS)to make sure Armstrong's truck handled well. After the first practice, Armstrong was 20th, but he hadn't drafted as most of the field had. By the time the second practice rolled around, Armstrong was confident that once they were in traffic they would see that the truck was just as fast as the rest of the field.
"It was all about the draft. We were able to go out and see how the truck handled in traffic, and I was pretty happy with it. We just weren't quick enough on our own. We didn't know exactly what was wrong, but the speed just wasn't there."
Stillman made all the adjustments that he could during the final practice to try to help Armstrong when he was away from the draft. This gave Armstrong an extra 3 tenths during his qualifying run to start in the 20th position for the VFW 200.
Just three laps after the drop of the green flag, Armstrong had gained four positions and was quickly continuing to move up in the field. Just 13 laps in, a caution was thrown and Armstrong and his crew elected to come in for fuel only. This decision gained Armstrong 3 additional spots, and he would restart 14th. Armstrong continued to climb up the charts peaking in position 9, before falling back to 15th.
Armstrong told Stillman, "on longer runs, the truck starts getting free especially when I'm next to someone." Stillman relayed back, "we have about 20 laps before we need to come back in, just try to stay in line and stay up with the draft; do what you can."
A caution came back out on lap 38 for debris, and Armstrong and his No. 98 EverFi crew elected to come in for two right side tires and fuel. There was a miscommunication, and this stalled their hopes of gaining a lot of positions during the pit stop, but they were still able to gain a few.
Unfortunately, when the green flag dropped on lap 42, Armstrong was less than pleased with the way his truck was handling.
Armstrong relayed that to his crew. "It feels like it is more loose than before, and it is terrible in traffic."Stillman told his driver to "keep messing around with the lines and the aero when other drivers are around, and just let it come to you."
Armstrong would catch a break just under 10 laps later with yet another caution. On lap 52, Stillman made the call for Armstrong to come in to pit for four tires and gas with the notion of finishing out the race without stopping again.
With only 41 laps to go, Armstrong and his crew knew they were going to try to conserve fuel and make it to the end. The crew knew that lmost everyone else in the field had to stop at some point before the race ended which would give Armstrong back the positions he had lost while pitting.
Fortunately for Armstrong, the rest of the race went green and his EverFi Tundra team's plan to make it to the end paid off. Dakoda was able to conserve fuel in the draft, and he ended the race with a 3rd place finish.
"My EverFi crew really rallied back from a not-so-good day in the pits to give us a good finish. I have to apologize to my team for slowing us down on that 2 tire pit stop, but we found our way back to the front from Dan's good call on the pit strategy," explained Armstrong. "They worked really hard to get me a truck that was able to handle pretty well in the draft, and they never gave up. I have to give a big thanks to TRD for getting us a great engine and fuel milage that allowed us to finish in the top 3. Our Tundra handled pretty good all day I just wish we had a little more speed when we were out on our own."