Teams face different scenarios now

BY Jeff Hammond • February 26, 2013

If you are on a NASCAR race team, when you went to bed Sunday night, hopefully it was in your own bed after 10 long days of the 2013 Daytona Speedweeks.

Monday morning would bring you back to the shop for the first time in a long time. There would be the usual Monday postrace meetings and then you would dive right into getting ready for racing at Phoenix this weekend.

The focus is simple. You need to give your driver the best-handling car possible so that he can get into the corner, get it to rotate through the center of the corner and then get that forward bite up off the corner.

In talking to a lot of crew chiefs that I know, they are excited because they know they can have more of an effect on their race cars than they ever could at restrictor-plate tracks. Now on these upcoming tracks they can take things to the limit and do a lot more things with different types of shocks and springs. You can do more with the balance of the car just to see what you can come up with. The goal, as always, is to make the car drive well and stay more consistent.

These are the kind of scenario’s that make most crew chiefs happy. They get to make changes and adjust on their race car. At the restrictor-plate tracks, you actually feel like you have one hand tied behind your back the entire time.

On those tracks, NASCAR creates the box and you know what your limitations are. There might be certain things you want to do on your race car, but at these restrictor-plate tracks you aren’t allowed to.

Now these teams are off those types of tracks. Now you feel like your hands have been untied and you can get back to doing what you do best – adjusting on that race car. Now you can do things to the car you want to work on and what the engineers are telling you need to be changed to hopefully make it drive well. So the window becomes wide open to try different combinations.

If you are Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and others, for example, who didn’t have the Daytona 500 outing they had planned for, redemption is on your mind.

Those drivers are already behind and have to already begin playing catch up in the standings. They want to minimize the damage from Daytona and get things pointed in the right direction. Obviously the best thing they can do is go win the race. If they can’t win the race, then the second best thing they can do is outrun and out-finish the folks leading the points right now.

The points leader going into Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway is Jimmie Johnson. So there’s your goal – outrun Jimmie Johnson. So that’s their mission to turn things around. If you are Jimmie Johnson, for example, you have a completely different agenda.

If you are Jimmie or any other of those high-finishing drivers, you want to keep the momentum going. Jimmie’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, will want one of his patented weekends he calls “max points.” That means being fast in practice, winning the pole or qualifying really high up and then leading the most laps plus winning the race – max points. If Jimmie does all that, he keeps the pressure on the guys who are behind him as they won’t be able to make up any ground.

Your ultimate goal is to be high enough in the points come the midseason mark where you feel very comfortable about making the 2013 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup and then that allows you to try different things. It gives you the freedom to attempt some experimentation in your setup or your engine combination.

Having that flexibility to allow you to try new things will give you a leg up when the Chase rolls around. You do that knowing you have the luxury of if a bad race were to happen and you fall back a bit, that it won’t affect your overall chances to make this year’s Chase.

Everybody in professional sports, be it the NFL, MLB, NBA or NASCAR, knows where you need to be at a certain point of the season and how that will affect your playoff/championship plans. Everybody studies and analyzes to try to answer the question, “How do we get there?”

Maybe it will take a trade for another player. Maybe it’s shaking up your pit crew and trying a different combination there.

Now that we have some history in this Chase format and history with the newer points system, teams know exactly where they want to be and when. The focus is simple – wins and points. If I can’t get the win, then I need to stack up all the points I can get. If I can get the wins, then the points will be there too.

Trust me, everyone started counting points the minute the checkered flag waved at Daytona last Sunday.

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