Jason Ratcliff is relieved to return to the pit box this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Ratcliff had a difficult time standing still last week while his Joe Gibbs Racing team with Kyle Busch competed — and won — at Darlington Raceway without him.
Ratcliff, the crew chief for Matt Kenseth and the No. 20 team, was sidelined by a suspension stemming from an illegal engine at Kansas Speedway
“The problem is you can’t sit down,” Ratcliff said. “You’re up, going, going, going. You’re anxious. You see this. You see that. Of course, me, you get to talking — then shouting — thinking that somebody can actually hear me. It’s interesting. Once you’re in that situation, you’re in it. There’s no sense in not being as optimistic as you can. There’s nothing you can do about it.
“So what I took away from it is there are a lot of things that we don’t see sitting on the pit box that the people on the couch see. I saw a lot of things and thought, ‘Wow. Boy, that was interesting. That was interesting.’ I would have never seen that from where I was at. You just take a different perspective but it was cool coming out of there with a win.”
Although Ratcliff has led the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team to two wins this season with Kenseth, it’s difficult for any competitor to miss racing at Darlington — one of the most prestigious tracks on the NASCAR circuit. But given the wealth of resources at JGR and the experience of former crew chief Wally Brown, who had worked with Kenseth at Roush Fenway Racing, Ratcliff could resign himself to the situation.
“It was disappointing,” Ratcliff said. “It was kind of bittersweet, but I’m proud of my guys and proud of my race team. Any time you have to step away, it’s always good to know that your guys can step in and keep the ball rolling.
“But to win, it’s a huge deal. To not be there was disappointing but I’m proud of Wally Brown. He stepped in and did a good job, which kind of shows you the depth of Joe Gibbs Racing. We just have to keep the ball rolling. It’s been a good season. We just have to keep it going.”
After 11 years as a crew chief in the Nationwide Series, Ratcliff is enjoying just his second season on the Sprint Cup tour. Ratcliff was promoted to crew chief of the No. 20 team with driver Joey Logano at the end of the 2011 season once Greg Zipadelli departed for Stewart-Haas Racing. Together, the pair won from the pole at Pocono in their 14th start together and barely missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
But the chance to be paired with championship-caliber driver Kenseth this season has not only benefitted Ratcliff’s team “but the whole organization."
And it’s not an opportunity that Ratcliff takes for granted.
“I just approach things a little differently than other people,” Ratcliff said. “I set goals just like everybody else — for myself and for my race team — and work really hard to meet those goals. But I’ve never been the type of person to try to kick doors down and make things happen. I take what’s in front of me, take it as a challenge and work on what I can get my hands on. So when opportunities like this happen, it’s a blessing. That’s the only word I can use for that. God has always blessed me in my career – put me in the right spot. Sometimes it didn’t look that way but in the end it works out.”
Kenseth shares a similar sentiment. Since making the decision last summer to join JGR, he’s never looked back. And his decision paid off. Kenseth is currently third in the points standings after posting three victories this season.
“Since the day I walked (in) at Joe Gibbs Racing I felt really good about everything that they had going on there — about the personnel and the whole company, certainly my respective team and Jason, certainly TRD (Toyota Racing Development) and the whole engineering support and their engines and all the stuff that they provide for us,” Kenseth said. “I felt good about everything I saw there and the more I got plugged into that probably the better I felt about it."