This Week in Ford Racing 2010-01-16 A year ago at this time, Drew Blickensderfer was preparing for Speedweeks as the new crew chief for Matt Kenseth and the No. 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team. With the 2010 season rapidly approaching, ...
This Week in Ford Racing
A year ago at this time, Drew Blickensderfer was preparing for Speedweeks as the new crew chief for Matt Kenseth and the No. 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team. With the 2010 season rapidly approaching, Blickensderfer recounted some of the key moments that led to Roush Fenway Racing's first Daytona 500 victory.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE A YEAR AGO AT THIS TIME AS A ROOKIE CREW CHIEF FOR A CHAMPION DRIVER? "A year ago I definitely wasn't expecting to win the race. I was expecting to run for a championship and get prepared for that. I was so new to the car of tomorrow and everything going on with Cup racing because I hadn't been in it for a couple of years and I was overwhelmed. Leading into the race itself, I actually told my wife (Candice) the night before I said, 'You know what? I think we're gonna win this race.' That was the first time when I kind of realized, 'Hey, I'm the leader of this team. We have a good race car. We have Matt. Jack is our owner. We're gonna win this race.' And then after you win the race it's kind of a feeling like, 'It wasn't that hard.' Then you go the next week and win at California, but six months later I kept thinking to myself, 'I wish I could have Daytona back again.' You want to grasp Victory Lane and winning the biggest race of your life over again. This year, I'm looking at Daytona differently. It's bigger than it was last year for me. It's an event that I'll definitely put more hard work and look forward to more because I realized how quick that went by and how you want to win it again. It's like you got to taste a little bit of that sweetness and you want more and more and more, so I'm definitely addicted to winning at Daytona and I definitely hope I get that chance again."
WAS THERE A DEFINING MOMENT DURING SPEEDWEEKS LAST YEAR WHERE IT HIT YOU THAT YOU WERE THE CREW CHIEF OF THE 17 TEAM? "I'm leading in the Bud Shootout and it's kind of a low-pressure situation because it's not a points race, so you go through that and we ran pretty good. We were actually running second with one to go, got booted out of the way and kind of shuffled back and ended up wrecking our race car, so that was wreck number one. We went out and qualified mediocre. Then we were running about sixth or seventh in the 150 towards the end of the race and I thought, 'OK, we're gonna get a top-15 starting spot for the 500,' and wreck. So we're down two cars. We had the back-up car or you have the option to come out with your Bud Shootout car, and that was the point when I knew I was the leader. No matter what Matt said, I was the one that was gonna have to make this decision, and I remember standing with Matt after the 150 looking at our wrecked race car. He said, 'You're bringing down the Bud Shootout car to be our 500 primary car, right?' And I said, 'No, I'm pulling the one off the truck that's our back-up. It'll be ready to go tomorrow for practice. That's the car we're racing.' And he said, 'That's a terrible decision. That car hasn't been on the race track. Our Shootout car was just fine. Get it fixed and bring it back up here.' And I said, 'Matt, we just got it fixed. It's coming back up here, but it's gonna be the back-up. We're gonna take the car on the truck.' I don't think he liked that decision, but he didn't know all the information I did. That car was just as good as every car we had and we had done everything to that car we had done to the previous two, and I wasn't sure the Bud Shootout car got fixed the way I wanted it to get fixed since we weren't there, so just looking at it from an outsider he was trying to make a decision and I didn't think it was the right one. So I made that decision, but I remember going home that evening saying, 'Oh no, I just made Matt mad. He's a superstar in the sport and a champion, and I'm this rookie crew chief that just put his foot down the first week of the year. This might be a long year.' But, fortunately, it turned out OK. So that was probably the moment - that Thursday afternoon as soon as we wrecked that 150 car - where I thought, 'OK, whatever I say goes, so I'm gonna have to make sure I know what's going on.'"
WHAT'S RACE DAY LIKE FOR YOUR FIRST DAYTONA 500 AS A CREW CHIEF? "It was never-wracking, but I don't think I was as nervous as I expected mainly because I was so new to it. This Cup thing, it consumes you, so you don't have time to sit back and realize, 'I might get overwhelmed or what could be or this could happen.' You don't get to focus on that because you're looking over notes and you're talking to your engineers and you're talking to the driver and you're talking to other crew chiefs. You're so consumed with your race car that you don't think about the grand scheme of things, so before the race I was a little nervous. I don't want to have an opportunity to win the race and make a bad decision on pit road or run out of fuel or do something like that, so those things cross your mind, but I think the aspect of Sunday Cup racing being so big and so consuming, it doesn't give you time to think about other things to get nervous, so it probably wasn't as bad then as what it probably looked like from the outside."
AS AN ATHLETE YOURSELF, IS IT LIKE OTHER SPORTS IN A SENSE THAT AS SOON AS THE RACE STARTS, THE BUTTERFLIES GO AWAY AND IT'S ALL BUSINESS? "Yeah. When you walk from your trailer with your radio and your notebook and you get to pit road, and you see all the fans around and the celebrities or superstars on pit road - you see the grandstands are packed and then you see your idols like a David Pearson or Cale Yarborough walking on pit road and you think, 'Oh man, that's pretty neat,' and you've got jitters. You think, 'OK, this is what I'm gonna do. We're gonna make these adjustments first,' so you get a little jittery, but as soon as they start doing pace laps and you're talking on the radio and getting into things, you forget about making mistakes or all the things you worried about, or being hyped up for the event. As soon as that car comes by, even on the pace laps, it's game face on and you're focused on one thing, so you lose that aspect. I don't know if it's my athletic background, but as soon as the match or game started, I forgot about things. I used to get real hyped up and nervous and sick to my stomach before big matches when I was a wrestler, but as soon as it would start it kind of just went right out the window, so I think that's probably similar."
TAKE US THROUGH LAST YEAR'S RACE AND WHAT YOU WERE THINKING AT KEY MOMENTS? "Because we had a back-up car we had to start last, so by the first pit stop I think we were up into the top 20 and it was early in the race. That gave us an opportunity, since we weren't one of the leaders, we could go off and do what we wanted to - take two tires, take four - so it really played into our hands. We ended up coming fairly early and got some tires and other people didn't, and got back out there in roughly the same spot we came in because everybody came behind us and followed us, and then we went right to the front. From early in the race on we ran in the top 10 and there were three or four cars where I thought, 'OK, we're gonna have to contend with these three or four cars at the end of the race,' and all three or four of them got wiped out in the big wreck that we barely missed. So late in the race when we were running in the top three, the cars around us weren't as fast as we were and I knew it. I knew it was just a matter of time before we could take off. They were kind of holding us up and with the rain coming I thought, 'OK, we're gonna get to the front if the rain holds off just long enough for us to get there.' I believed at the end of the race we were faster than every other car that was still running out there, so it was just a matter of time to get there. The race just opened up for us. We had a fast race car and got to the front. It was a speedway race with five or six cars that could win the race, but the ones I thought that were as fast as us were out of the race, so it was in our hands to take it."
IF THE RAIN COMES A LITTLE BIT SOONER, THEN YOU DON'T WIN. HOW DID YOU PLAY THE RAIN GAME? "We came and got tires towards the end of the race because we knew the rain was coming. The last two or three cautions we stayed out knowing it was coming. They were quick cautions. The 19 was leading the race. The 29 was behind us. The 29 was in the pit stall next to us and we went and talked to them and (Todd) Berrier said, 'Harvick is gonna go with you guys whenever you make a move. He knows you're a lot faster than the 19.' So with a single-file restart it was just up to Matt to make the right move on Sadler. We were faster than the next five or six cars behind us, so once we got out front we were gonna be OK, but towards the end of the race when we knew the rain was coming it was definitely like, 'OK Matt, you've got to get to the front,' and he knew it. He was concentrating and knew he was faster than those guys and just had to figure out what it was gonna take to get the 19 out of the way."
WHAT WERE YOU THINKING AS THE RAIN WAS COMING DOWN AND YOU'RE JUST WAITING? "When they stopped the race I was 99 percent sure they were gonna call it. There was enough rain for long enough that I was like, 'Hey, there's no way we're gonna restart this with the moisture in the air.' In Daytona at that time of year it was gonna be hard to dry that track, so when they stopped the race and you're out there on pit road you're cautiously optimistic that, hey, this is it. We were waiting there forever it seemed like and when they called the race I remember standing next to Matt and telling him, 'Hey, they just called the race. You just won the Daytona 500.' And he kind of looked at me like, 'Are you serious?' Being the quiet conservative guy he is, he didn't want to say too much and wanted to make sure it was done. That was pretty special to have guys like Jon Howland from DeWalt, Jack, Doug Yates sprinting across the infield to come see us. That was really neat. Doug tells the stories of how special that race is to him. A lot of people don't realize how special it is for an engine builder and walking with him to Victory Lane brings goose bumps to me now just thinking about that moment. Walking to Victory Lane was so special. It was more special than standing there getting your picture taken in Victory Lane. That walk and seeing everybody congratulate you was a neat time."
THE BEST PART ABOUT IT IS YOU COULD TELL YOUR WIFE, CANDICE, THAT YOU WERE RIGHT. "Exactly. She told me that she actually drove back to North Carolina that day and listened on the radio. She said she sped the last two hours of the trip to make sure she got to see the end on TV and the whole time she was thinking, 'He told me that. I should have stayed.'"
-source: ford racing