Catch 22: Logano and team ran away from the pack in Texas
I really like the name of this week’s column because, quite honestly, that’s what 43 other drivers were trying to do Monday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway — catch Joey Logano in his No. 22 car. What an awesome run he and his team had. Joey and his crew chief Todd Gordon had the car just the way they needed it to be. When that last caution came out sending us into a green-white-checkered finish, they were able to put four tires on that Ford of Joey’s which is what he needed to get by Jeff Gordon on that restart to win the race.
I was thinking about what some of these young crew chiefs have been able to do in our sport in just a short period of time. Think about the pairing of Kurt Busch and Daniel Knost. Daniel has a doctorate in mechanical engineering. This is his seventh year working for the organization but first as a crew chief.
I think Kurt gained a lot of confidence in his rookie crew chief after their first win together at Martinsville a couple weeks ago. I think that will certainly play in their favor as they try to win some more races and make the Chase in 2014.
Going back a second to Joey’s crew chief, Todd Gordon. He has been very impressive. The pairing of Joey and Todd at the beginning of last year has been a good one. I really was impressed during the Bristol rain delay this year with Todd. Joey’s car had lost its power steering. They came up with the idea to practice taking the power steering pump off Joey’s backup car and putting it back on.
When the time came that the red flag was lifted and they could work on Joey’s race car, something that normally would take 20 to 25 minutes only took that team three or four minutes to complete. That’s a great execution of a well-thought-out plan.
If you were able to tune in Monday for our NASCAR on FOX race broadcast from Texas Motor Speedway, you heard Clint Bowyer, the driver of the No. 15 car, use that very word — execution. Unfortunately, his pit crew this year has cost Clint a chance to possibly win a couple races already this season. Clint was stressing to his team over the team radio that they had to "execute — execute — execute" if they were going to be successful. The reality is that every team — from the biggest to the smallest — has to live and die by that word. You have to execute in the good times, but more so when things aren’t going well. You have to keep your wits about you and simply execute your plan when hit with adversity.
Chris Heroy is young Kyle Larson’s crew chief. Chris became the crew chief in 2012 for Juan Pablo Montoya. You certainly can’t say that Kyle and Chris aren’t making the most of their pairing. Kyle’s teammate, Jamie McMurray, also has a new crew chief. Keith Rodden is an engineer who Ganassi Racing recruited away from Hendrick Motorsports. Keith also has a degree in mechanical engineering and continues the trend we are seeing in NASCAR of these engineers moving up and becoming crew chiefs.
In talking to the folks at Ganassi Racing, they believe they have hit a home run with both Chris and Keith. Those two have come in and revamped almost everything. They are getting both teams pointed in the right direction that everyone expects from a Chip Ganassi-owned organization. The results are already beginning to show. Jamie has won in the past, and I am one who won’t be the least bit surprised if this young kid, Kyle Larson, wins a race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series during his rookie season. The kid is just that good.
Kyle is just one of many in the great rookie class we have this season. We’ve talked about it before, but it’s probably one of the best rookie battles we’ve had in many a year in the Cup series. Obviously, the battle is shaping up for Rookie of the Year between Kyle and Austin Dillon in that No. 3 car. They’ll be the two to watch all year, but don’t be surprised if one of these other rookies steps up and makes some noise, too, before the season is out.
I know a lot of fans are scratching their heads about the ups and downs of Stewart-Haas Racing after only seven races. Sure, they have two wins between four cars, but some weeks, like we saw Monday, they have a lot of issues. I think two of the really bright spots over there are their new crew chiefs Rodney Childers and Chad Johnston who joined at the end of the 2013 season from Michael Waltrip Racing.
I think the marriage of their knowledge from working on the Toyotas with the strength of the Hendrick alliance that Stewart-Haas enjoys is going to mean many more Victory Lanes this year. I think it’s a classic example of one of my favorite sayings, "Your two and my two equal five!" By that I mean if you take what Rodney and Chad bring to the party combined with what Stewart-Haas and the Hendrick alliance brings to the party, well, the results are much greater than four.
Like I said, they’ve already won two races. Tony won the pole for the Texas race. Kevin Harvick just ran the fastest lap in the history of the sport at a mile-and-a-half track. They’ve done all this in just seven races. I can only imagine what they can do once they get all settled in and get a little more time under their belts together.
What makes the No. 48 and all the established powerhouse teams good? A tight-knit cohesive group with a lot of chemistry is the answer. It’s a group that puts the team first and not the individual accomplishment. I think Stewart-Haas is on the threshold of having just that. It takes time, though. It doesn’t happen overnight. There will be growing pains just like in any new combination. Once that is all worked through, then I think everyone better watch out for SHR.
Another good pairing I like is Ryan Newman and Luke Lambert. This is the first year these two have been together and they already have two top-10 finishes in the books, and I expect them to get stronger as the season goes along. Ricky Stenhouse, after a less-than-stellar rookie year last season, has been reunited with his Nationwide crew chief Mike Kelley. They already have a top-five finish and two top-10 finishes so far.
Billy Scott is another one of those engineers I was telling you about that has been promoted to the crew chief ranks. He is in his rookie season with Brian Vickers. They are ninth in the points. They’ve already put together one top-five and three top-10 finishes in only seven races.
Trent Owens actually used to drive in the Camping World Truck Series. After hanging up his racing helmet, he moved to the crew chief ranks. He’s worked with the likes of Clint Bowyer and helped Kyle Larson win the 2013 Nationwide Rookie of the Year award. Trent is now at Richard Petty Motorsports and is crew chief for Aric Almirola. They also have a top-five and two top-10s to their name so far this year.
These are all bright spots for our sport. They are making noise right now and I expect that to continue in the future. Again, I tell you that NASCAR is hitting on all cylinders right now. Boy, if we could just get Mother Nature to be more of a fan, it sure would help. Think about it, in only seven races, we’ve had two rain delays and one race postponement to the next day. It’s hard to believe that me and my NASCAR on FOX family only have seven more races this year. We are having so much fun together bringing you these great races. Just like a cohesive race team, our NASCAR on FOX family has a lot of chemistry and passion.
While everything is going great in the racing world, obviously, I can’t say the same about my Kentucky Wildcats. Monday night’s loss to UCONN in the championship game still hurts. Those young men sure played hard but they ran up against a much tougher team than they were. In addition to that, I lost my bet to Mike Joy and now owe him a hamburger steak at the Speedway Grille.
As the old cliche goes, "We’ll gettem’ next year!" In the NASCAR world it’s more like, "We’ll gettem’ next week!" Those race teams have a short week. They come out of Texas Monday evening and are racing again Saturday night at Darlington — The Track Too Tough To Tame. If you want a great song to explain a great track, well, look no further than Taylor Swift’s "Mean" song that she co-wrote. One of the lyrics in this Grammy Award-winning song explains Darlington to a "T" with "Why you gotta be so mean?"