Calm call sparked victory
What a great couple of weeks of racing we have enjoyed. We had great racing at Daytona and I felt we had some of the best racing ever at Auto Club Speedway last Sunday. There were a lot of stories that unfolded there.
One of the key issues was that even though the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team had a less than perfect car, it had a perfect world created for them. It couldn’t have been any closer the way the team cut it, but it was very pivotal for them winning the race.
Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle and Kyle Busch all hit pit road at the same time for their green-flag pit stops. Once they were on pit road, the caution came out and all three completed their stops, but only the No. 48 car of Johnson was able to get back out on the track in front of race leader Jeff Burton. Johnson only beat him by the slimmest of amounts, but it was enough to keep him on the lead lap.
When the cars came back around, everyone else pitted under yellow. Not only did Johnson stay on the lead lap, but he also inherited the lead with four fresh tires. He and his team never faltered from there. For a driver, a crew chief and a team, it was the most perfect-world scenario than you could ever imagine. Additionally, the No. 48 bunch proved for about the fourth consecutive year that running well at Daytona is not pivotal to starting your year off right.
Now I know that a lot was made of Kevin Harvick’s post-race comment about the No. 48 team having a lucky horseshoe someplace, but really it’s all about being smart. To me, that is where Jimmie and crew chief Chad Knaus shine. No matter what gets thrown at them, they never panic nor get off their game plan.
When they were on pit road and the caution came out, Chad gambled and banked on not only a solid stop, but that they could still get back in front of the leader. Sure, it was close, but they pulled it off. Now luck is a big part of winning races and winning championships, but I am a firm believer in not only making your own luck but capitalizing on it as well.
Early in the season you can afford to take more risks than you might even imagine doing later in the season. You can afford maybe to be more aggressive. You can be looser with your calls and strategy.
Last year we saw issues in Fontana between Greg Biffle and Joey Logano. You saw it resurface last Saturday in the Nationwide race and then a little bit in the Cup race. You also saw issues between Brad Keselowski and David Reutimann. See, the thing I keep promoting hard is that rivalries are great, but you have to keep them outside the race car.
Look what happened to Brad. He took his rivalry out on the race track, cut a tire down because of it and it made for a really bad day at the office. You have to pick and choose where you handle your rivalries. On the race track is not necessarily the place to do it.
Your rivalries normally put you on the losing end of the stick, but the guys that suffer are the crew. They are the ones that have to fix and repair the car after you try to take out your personal vendetta. Trust me, I speak from experience. When I was crew chief for Ernie Irvan we had this same issue. Ernie was known to get into a few altercations with folks on the race track. I finally had to tell him that our fab shop couldn’t afford for him to continue to settle old scores.
We have a lot of positive momentum in NASCAR right now. It’s a combination of rule changes by NASCAR and great on-track competition that is making racing fun and exciting again. Look at the great finishes we had in Daytona. Look at last Saturday’s thriller at the end of the Nationwide race. Look at the gutsy roll of the dice on Sunday by the No. 48.
Based on our first two weeks of the 2010 season, I can’t wait for the green flag to wave Sunday in Las Vegas. This will be the third race of the season on our third completely different style race track. It should be yet another great day of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing.