Charlotte: Ford owners comment on COT 2008

Earlier this week, NASCAR announced that it will accelerate the phase-in of the new car of tomorrow to next season for all tracks. Ford owners spoke about the issue on Thursday before Friday practice starts at Lowe's Motor Speedway. In...

Earlier this week, NASCAR announced that it will accelerate the phase-in of the new car of tomorrow to next season for all tracks. Ford owners spoke about the issue on Thursday before Friday practice starts at Lowe's Motor Speedway. In addition, Jack Roush spoke about his crew chief change on the No. 16 Ford Fusion with Greg Erwin replacing Pat Tryson.

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JACK ROUSH, Car Owner -- Roush Racing Ford Fusions

DID THE PERFORMANCE OF SATURDAY NIGHT PRECIPITATE THE CHANGE WITH THE 16? "The short answer to that is 'no', it didn't precipitate it. I had been having conversations with other crew chiefs that would be willing to step in and help me that were available and it was a matter of my finding somebody that I thought would be the right match to go forward. Pat Tryson has done a great job for the company. He's been good for NASCAR. He's been good for me for the last, I'm gonna say 10 years -- it was closer to 10 than five -- and in that time frame he helped me out with one tour with the Wood Brothers. He was with Mark's program and did other things, all of which he did very well. As we approached the end of Mark's tenure last year, Pat asked me if I would release him. He had one year left on his contract. To make these programs work it takes a manufacturer like Ford that does a great job giving you the technologies; it takes a driver that can stand on the wheel like Greg Biffle or Carl Edwards or any of our other guys that obviously have the tools to stand on the wheel; and it takes team that can prepare the car with the technology that's available within the framework of NASCAR's rules for the race track that's in front of them in a competitive way. More today than ever, that's required a relationship between the engineering side of the company and the mechanical side, as well as the pit crews and all the other things that you have to do. We probably had more of a failing within Roush of bringing Pat along and immersing him in the unimpeachable wisdom of some of our engineering than we did with anything else. The thing that has happened to us this year, we've had streaks of brilliance from the 99, streaks of brilliance from the 6, streaks of brilliance from the 26. The 17 has been really consistent in being a top five car everywhere, and the engineering things that were responsible as seen by me for the things that were allowing those drivers and those crews to do a great job, I was not able to get incorporated in the 16 car. So for that reason, it was more of a breakdown from the inter-relationship between Pat and the engineering side than it was Pat and me, or Pat and the crew, or Pat and Greg. But you've got to have everything to make it work. I've had conversations with Pat along the way and we just couldn't seem to get the car turned to where it would incorporate things that were in the 17 car that were occasionally part of the other cars when they worked well. We will have all of our cars either more consistently aligned from an engineering point of view at the 600 here than we've had this entire year. If that means that all the cars run around the back of the field, it will certainly be my fault, and if we manage to be as competitive as we've been intermittently on all of our cars throughout the early part of the year -- if we can bring that here -- it'll be because the engineering strengths that Chris Andrews and Max Jones and everybody else that has struggled to make part of our program will be because we finally got all that stuff in the car."

YOU'VE PROMOTED FROM WITHIN A LOT. ANY REASON WHY YOU DIDN'T DO THAT THIS TIME? "Chip Bolin was certainly a candidate for that, but when I looked at the 17 car -- Chip is the engineer for the 17 car and he was the crew chief who stepped in when Robbie Reiser was quarantined, banished from the island for the first four races of the year, and he certainly stands in line, but, right now, the 17 is providing such leadership that I dared not break that down. I've got a number of other engineers that are on the top of their game and they're on the brink of being able to be ready for that, but they've also got jobs right now. We've got a seven-post machine that's coming on in the middle of the year.

"We've got to K & C machines that we're using for every car before every race, and we've got a testing program that we just initiated now to go out and try to catch-up on the lack of testing that we had -- off NASCAR track testing that we hadn't had for the car of tomorrow, so we've got so many engineering jobs that requires the engineering strengths of our managers, I just didn't think it was the right time. I think it's been announced that Greg Erwin will be the crew chief. He's a Clemson graduate -- a mechanical engineer. He's worked with Chris Andrews, our engineering manager, in the Childress organization and we intend to get a better relationship between the engineering with Chris and Greg Erwin than we've been able to achieve than the recent past."

WAS THE CHANGE MADE BECAUSE HE WAS AVAILABLE OR WOULD IT HAVE BEEN MADE ANYWAY? "I was looking at more than one person. I had three people in the mix and Greg was actually the first person that I talked to, and then we pursued another course because he wasn't available at an earlier date. To give a little bit of an answer there was some urgency after last Saturday, so it was a matter of time. I preferred to go in and pull the trigger now for the longest race of the year, and with it being at home here, I preferred to do it now and went on and did that. It was my call."

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON RUNNING THE COT FULL TIME IN '08? "The '08 decision is something that I'd say I'm not a proponent of but I'm not in opposition for either way. There were trade offs there that work out just about even. We've got cars of today that are useful for 2008, which they were scheduled for, that are now useless. We've got to take the write-off for those cars now, so there's a cost there that was unplanned for. I won't say it was unanticipated, but certainly from a financial business planning point of view, it wasn't in the schedule and wasn't in the budget, so we're gonna have to take the write off for those cars. But the saving that will occur the other way is that we were gonna have to have two efforts being made in the body shops and in the chassis shops to work with two different kinds of cars. Now that we're able to focus on the car of tomorrow, we will have a savings there. Whether it's a wash or whether it would have been better the other way or better this way, it's so close that it really doesn't matter to me. It's not a happy circumstance to be obsoleting all the show cars. Roush Fenway Racing has 80 or 90 showcars that would also have been some use in 2008 that are now of no relevance in 2008 based on the fact that on the race track we've gone to the car of tomorrow, so it wasn't just about the car of tomorrow versus the car of today, it was also about the showcars and the rest of it. It's a huge undertaking. It's at great expense to the teams and the sponsors. It's unavoidable based on what NASCAR's done and I won't stand in the way of it. I'll enthusiastically work toward an introduction to the car of tomorrow and all the races next year and won't look back."

WHAT ABOUT YOUR PREPAREDNESS TO COMPETE AND WIN WITH THE COT FULL TIME? "I've talked about that some. There's the potential for a lot of editorials for you guys. I can't believe you're missing it, but NASCAR came back and with Goodyear decided that we couldn't own our tires. They were gonna stop us from taking tires home because they did not want us to test these cars. They were gonna start everybody on the car of tomorrow on an even basis saying there's four or five tests -- whatever it was -- that's what you get, that's what you've got. Well, the teams that have been successful and I'll name names -- the Hendrick organization, the Gibbs organization and the Childress organization have been testing these cars multiple times a week on race tracks that were outside of NASCAR's control with tires that were not Goodyears for the most part because they won't sell the tires. So Goodyear is sitting on top of millions of dollars worth of tires that are growing obsolete and hard in their warehouses and the teams were out going around NASCAR's policy and their intention by buying other people's tires and going to race tracks. I got behind on that. I didn't do that, but two weeks ago I hired six people and I dedicated a tractor-trailer and I've gone public and said, 'OK, I'm going to get in the testing game, too.' If you don't want us to test, then you need to have us sign something in the application that says, 'We agreed that we would not test our cars with Goodyear tires or anybody else's tires, except for the race tracks that NASCAR approved.' They didn't do that. They left the door open and we got behind, but we're going to catch up."

SHOULD THEY ADD TESTS NOW THAT '08 HAS BEEN SET? "It really doesn't matter what they do with testing. All the major teams -- the minor teams don't have test programs, which even made the difference between the haves and the have-nots greater, which was not NASCAR's intention -- the testing deal is wide open. Everybody is testing as much as they want that can afford to and whether they give us more tests or whether they don't give us more tests doesn't make any difference."

WHAT'S YOUR REACTION ABOUT BILL ELLIOTT COMING BACK AND WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT THE 21 AND FORD RIGHT NOW? "Bill was a Ford guy first. His career has been a little confused in the recent past, but Bill is a friend of Ford Motor Company. He's a friend to me and a friend to the Wood Brothers and when the Wood Brothers missed a couple of races because they dropped out of the top 35, and Dale Jarrett, our most recent championship winner was out of his tests (provisionals), that left an opening for Bill to come back in to try to help the guys -- Eddie and Lennie and Jon and Leonard and Glen -- to get their program back in the top 35. Certainly I'll do what I can to help. Bill has stepped in, I think, in a most magnanimous and unselfish way to come back and see if he could help some old friends and Ford Motor Company." HOW HARD IS IT TO SEE THE 21 IN THAT SITUATION? "It's not a happy circumstance to see any proud team that has been a pillar of NASCAR like the Wood Brothers not be as competitive as they were in their heyday. Unfortunately, that's the sign of the times. They have not managed to immerse themselves in the technological advances and the simulation routines. I don't know that any single car team can do that, but, certainly, they've suffered under that and try as we might, we haven't been able to help them with it. The reasons why they fell out of the top 35 wasn't any single thing. It was some wrecks. It was some bad luck and it was the way they were running at the time and they're gonna try to improve that."

HOW HAS THE DEAL WITH JOHN HENRY HELPED THE COMPANY TO THIS POINT? "It's broadened the base and certainly without thinking about it gave me the courage to go back and say, 'Alright guys, go hire eight more people and get another tractor-trailer dedicated and go find some other tire companies that will sell us tires to go test and get caught up with where the other people are in testing.' I think I might have been more hesitant and less bullish about that if I was standing there by myself."

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LEN WOOD, Co-Owner -- No. 21 U.S. Air Force Ford Fusion

"I think it's in the best interest to tell us now so we can prepare for next year because things as simple as transmissions -- it takes a different transmission for a COT, so I don't want to keep rebuilding and keep a huge inventory of parts for the old car when we can be preparing for the future. I think we have six COT cars right now. We went to Bristol with one and then turned around and went to Martinsville and a road course test with that same car. It wasn't exactly right on the road course test, but we went so that's a case where one car did something that it took three cars last year to do. Actually, it would be six because you had to have spares, so I think it's a good thing. I think it's harder to maintain the body of the COT with as close as they want the templates. It's harder to get it ready each week to make sure the templates fit so you don't lose time, so it's more time consuming right now, but I'm glad they went ahead and made that decision. I was hoping if they were going to do it that they would have said so by the Fourth of July, so this is better if they're going to do it."

WOULD YOU HAVE PREFERRED THE THREE-YEAR PHASE-IN? "No, it's almost like we're trying to maintain two teams right now. It's like when you go to test at Charlotte, that's with the old-style car, and then you go to Richmond or a place like Rockingham, where we've been twice with the COT, and it's like we're doing double work and only getting half the benefit out of it. They asked us last week what we thought about it and Eddie and I were both in favor of it and told them they should go ahead and do it."

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ROBERT YATES, Car Owner -- No. 38 and No. 88 Ford Fusions

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE COT BEING IMPLEMENTED FULL TIME IN '08? "The sooner we know what our product needs to be, the better we can plan. These things take months if not a year or so ahead, so once we're into it and we've got time it's OK. It would have been a disaster to try to switch it all at one time. You couldn't even have a week off and we certainly have needed that because we're playing catch-up, but I think by the end of this year by staying with the same product it will help our cost. It will help much like engines over the weekend, the compression rule and other things that we originally thought were gonna kill us, but it really refined where you were gonna work and we didn't have much obsolescence. What they're doing is really just creating a box that we'll work in and what we'll do is spend all the energy we can get our hands on because that's racing and we'll just refine it. In another year, they'll be the most refined vehicles you can come up with inside of the dimensions they've given us. It's a good thing. What I still push hard, though, is they shouldn't have any tolerances. Don't give us tolerances because racers take tolerances and tolerances cause obsolescence. The only thing I'm asking them to do is to put in very big print that 'we're giving you some tolerances now, but we're gonna close that tolerance up to zero.' If they'll do that, then we won't obsolete ourselves. Otherwise, we'll move something 30-thousandths and if we didn't, then the crew chiefs will say that we're not racing because we're not taking advantage of that 30-thousandths. We can build to a given dimension or an intent of a given dimension. Certainly things expand and contract, but the intent has to be there. If they design a car that isn't fuzzy - x, y, and z, and not a two-dimensionally measured vehicle, then we won't ever catch ourselves obsoleting something. And the more they spell out the fuel cell area, the deck, then we're not moving rear clips up and down every week and we're not moving fuel cells around. There's a lot of time and energy that's gonna be saved, but we'll put that same energy into refining the rest of the car. The cars will become smarter, nicer looking and more intelligent because everybody wants to be here and wants to race, but yet you'll be able to build it like a Fusion and you can produce them more effectively, nicer, and you can afford to invest in making a mold or making a stamp. It's gonna take the trick of the week out every week, where the crew chief wants to move the nose an inch here or an inch there and that's gonna save us money in the long run."

-credit: ford racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Jarrett , Greg Biffle , Jack Roush , Max Jones , Greg Erwin
Teams Roush Fenway Racing , CIP