The competition in today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup series is just so tight. For instance, at the Brickyard 400 last Sunday we had two guys — Regan Smith and Jamie McMurray — who are outside the top 25 in points, finish in the top five of the race. I still maintain that we have 25 to 30 drivers and teams that can go to Victory Lane on any given Sunday. It’s that way week in and week out.
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Just look how tight qualifying is. The race is the same way. Last Sunday at Indy, Paul Menard had a good race car. His team also had great strategy. Actually one of the best race cars appeared to be Kasey Kahne’s, but he had an issue in the pits and then got caught up in that mess when Landon Cassill spun and Kasey was forced to go down through the grass.
The pressure continues to mount on these teams as we get closer and closer to Richmond in September, when the field will be set for the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase. We’ve had six crew chief changes since June 1. I don’t think we can say with any certainty that there won’t be more.
I think another contributing factor to the great racing is the tire that Goodyear is bringing to the track each week. Some people love it, some don’t, but I think it’s an awfully good tire that allows for this chess match on pit road. The competition on pit road is phenomenal this year. You simply can’t make a mistake there.
The common denominator that I see with these changes is these are teams that have won races in the past, but haven’t won this year. I think it would be safe to say it would be a stretch for any of them to get to the top 10 in points by Richmond.
I was talking with crew chief Chad Knaus and he was saying that now is the time to do it. Don’t wait until there are only five races to go in the season. Definitely don’t wait until the offseason, because then you head to Daytona in February with a lot of unknowns for 2012.
Remember it is all about chemistry between the driver and the crew chief. Knaus was quick to point out that in today’s NASCAR if you want to make it as a crew chief, naturally you have to perform, but you also have to stay tight with your driver. Now that doesn’t mean you roll over on him and bow down to him. You have to develop the chemistry and trust that is so necessary. If you don’t have it and things go wrong, trust me, nine and a half times out of 10, someone is going to have to go and it will be the crew chief first.
So I understand what these teams are trying to do making changes this early. They are trying to find a spark. They are trying to find a combination that will get the team pointed in the right direction.
In Greg Biffle’s case, he is the only Roush Fenway Racing driver who hasn’t won this year, so they made a change. Kevin Harvick has won three races, Paul Menard won last Sunday but Jeff Burton still hasn’t won a race. So a change was made there. Poor Burton is still looking for his first top-10 finish since October of 2010. So change was inevitable.
The bottom line is you can’t keep having team meeting every week saying “don’t worry guys, everything is going to be OK.” Sometimes you have to change things up to make it a reality that things will be better next week. Darrell Waltrip has a great line “nothing is going to change until something changes.” I think that speaks volumes.