CAR PREPARATION KEY FOR WINNING 3M PERFORMANCE 400 VETERAN CREW CHIEF HAS SEEN MANY THINGS GO WRONG WHEN TEAMS FAILED TO PREPARE ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When 43 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race teams get the green flag to start the 3M Performance 400...
CAR PREPARATION KEY FOR WINNING 3M PERFORMANCE 400
VETERAN CREW CHIEF HAS SEEN MANY THINGS GO WRONG WHEN TEAMS FAILED TO PREPARE
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When 43 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race teams get the green flag to start the 3M Performance 400 presented by Post-It Picture Paper at Michigan International Speedway on June 18, it's almost certain that at least a few of them won't make it to the end of the race.
While unforeseen things such as crashes occur in the heat of battle, many times it's something small that creates a mechanical issue that either sidelines a car or puts it many miles behind. And very often poor preparation is to blame.
That's why race teams have detailed checklists that they utilize when preparing their cars to compete for 400 grueling miles on the two-mile Michigan track. They know that with the competition as close as it is, and with speeds reaching more than 190 mph, there is no margin for error.
"I can't begin to explain the importance of pre-race prep," said Mike Kelley, a crew chief in the Roush Racing organization that has won eight times in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competition at MIS. "It's unlike football where if you fumble, you send the defense out and if they can hold them from scoring it's really not that big of a loss.
"If you leave something loose, or put the wrong spring in, your day will be done. I'm not saying you can't overcome some issues but most likely it's going to ruin your shot at a good finish," said Kelley.
Race preparation begins before the team even leaves its headquarters and continues right up until the time that the car is pushed to the starting lineup on pit road prior to the race. Though NASCAR regulations limit what can be done with the car after qualifying, teams still do all that they can to ensure the car is ready to start and finish the race.
"I rely a lot on my guys to make sure the car is assembled, and everything is tight," said Kelley. "You have to believe in your people and the job they do. I have enough worries with meetings and race day items that I'm pretty hands off on race day. I watch over and check with them just so nothing is missed but they are professionals also and do a great job."
Kelly, who is now crew chief for the 3M Ford Fusion driven by Todd Kluever, has been in racing for more than 10 years and has seen things go wrong when a car wasn't properly prepared. Sometimes things are obvious, but sometimes they are not.
"I was on a team where they were in a hurry and they forgot to check the length of the rear chains, between the chassis and the rear end housing," he said. "During a pit stop the left rear wouldn't come off the ground. We had to attempt to fix it during the race and it just made for a long afternoon."
Race day preparation is so intricate that even details, such as making sure there are enough Post-It Notes on hand during the event are crucial. "It's amazing how such a small item can become such a high demand tool when you're under race-day pressure," he said. "We use Post-It Notes regularly on race day. The team passes notes to me, and my engineer. We use them for reminders. The hectic schedule of the race doesn't allow us to fill out paper work so on Mondays the first thing on my list of things to do is go through all my Post-It Notes and organize them."
MIS has a long history in NASCAR, dating back to 1969, and Kelley said race teams look forward to events in the Irish Hills of Michigan.
"Michigan is one of the greatest tracks we go to," said Kelley. "It's a very high speed two-mile oval so aero plays a big part in it. We try to take the very best car every week but if you have a really good aero car I would rather take it to Michigan than say Richmond. The set up is important also because if you are tight at all and can't stay in the gas you will lose a lot of straightaway speed and that will kill you there."
Kelley said that race fans and other consumers can learn from the preparation that race teams do and translate the knowledge into their everyday lives.
"Consumers should treat their street cars in the same manor we treat our race cars," he said. "Whether you're doing regular maintenance or planning to go on a long, you should have a checklist to go over. Check your tires air pressure, check your oil level. Make sure your engine coolant level is where the manufacturer's specs are. There are a lot of similarities between our cars and the consumer's street vehicle. If they're not ready to run, a lot of painful memories can be created -- I'd rather have good memories from my weekends at the track--I think everyone would. Attention to detail applies in a lot of areas of life. But in our case it's really our way of life."
Ticket information for the 3M Performance 400 is available online at www.mispeedway.com or by calling the track ticket office at 1-800-354-1010.