HAMPTON, Ga. — When it was announced, it seemed one-sided.
The pit-crew unit for the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was being separated, sending front tire changer Houston Stamper and tire carrier Joe Crossen from Christopher Bell’s crew to provide support to the No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota of Bubba Wallace.
Wallace’s prevalent pit-crew struggles throughout the season have contributed to placing him in an insurmountable position from a points perspective. Not to say that his season has been perfect behind the wheel, but the late-race mishaps have been well documented.
“We’re trying to improve on all aspects of our race team,” Wallace told NASCAR.com. “[The changes are] out of my control, so I look at the vision we have as a team. We’re all trying to push the needle to be better and if this is a step in that direction, then I’m all for it.”
Wallace’s former front changer Jackson Gibbs and tire carrier Nick McBeath headed to Bell’s crew. And initially, the changes appeared to be favoring Wallace’s needs at the expense of Bell and the No. 20 team’s performance.
But Bell has a different take on the situation.
“I don’t wanna throw anybody under the bus, but it hasn’t been working what we’ve had,” Bell said in an interview Saturday. “Anybody that has paid attention to the 20 car this year would understand that the 20 car has not been amazing on pit road either.
“We have had pit-crew issues on the No. 20 as well. It hasn’t been all fun and games for us on the 20 group either. So, I think that both of us, the 23 and the 20 are looking for improvements and we have been saying what we’ve been looking for improvements … and this is a step to hopefully improve both teams.”
Bell sits eighth in the points standings, but without a win and with 13 different winners, he is the driver on the bubble and only 20 points above the cutline. The pressure to be more consistent and get the elusive win is rapidly increasing.
“Both of us have had our struggles for sure,” Bell said. “And [pit-road mishaps] cost both of us a lot of potential good finishes. I think mixing up the teams was their goal to try and obviously produce better pit stops, fewer mistakes and we’ll see if that turns out.”
Although Bell is comfortable on points, for now, Wallace is almost certainly in a must-win situation with eight races remaining in the regular season. But two of those feature superspeedway-style racing, a positive for the 2021 Talladega Superspeedway winner.
And as for his opinion on the chances at the revamped Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend, Wallace said: “It’s different. I struggled here at the old surface but it was a lot of fun to slip and slide around. It had a lot of character. But there’s two sides to it. We’re good here now, so I look at that as a good thing.”
Both restructured crews will have their first challenge Sunday (3 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).