NASCAR Winston Cup For the second straight season, the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway will mark the beginning of a 20-week stretch that will culminate with the season-ending race in Homestead (Fla.) on Nov. 17. Ford Racing spoke to...
NASCAR Winston Cup
For the second straight season, the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway will mark the beginning of a 20-week stretch that will culminate with the season-ending race in Homestead (Fla.) on Nov. 17. Ford Racing spoke to some of its crew chiefs and asked what they had learned from last year and how they plan on managing the final five months of the year.
BILL WILBURN, Crew Chief --2-- Miller Lite Taurus
HOW DO YOU FEEL GOING INTO THIS SUSTAINED STRETCH OF RACES WITH NO WEEKENDS OFF?
"This starts the last big stretch of the year and whoever is the most prepared and actually has a break or two will probably come out on top, especially the guys in the top five or six places in the points. We're not in too bad of shape. Fortunately, we haven't really had any problems throughout the year as far as tearing cars up. The two places we've torn up our race car was at Talladega and Daytona, which are probably the two places you want to get out of without any damage, but our fab shop and aerodynamic department have been able to get the car back pretty close to what we feel is good, so starting at Daytona there's gonna be a pretty big push the rest of the year to stay caught up and be prepared enough to give the guys a chance to catch their breath once in a while because 20 weeks in a row to do anything is gonna be pretty hectic. Right now we're pretty well prepared for the month of July, so I think we're going to start off on the right foot. Now if we can get a break or two and maybe win one of these races, it'll help us get started and help us through this stretch in better shape than some of the other guys."
THIS WILL BE YOUR FIRST TIME THROUGH THIS AS A CREW CHIEF. HOW ARE YOU GOING TO MANAGE YOUR CREW?
"We try to give our road guys at least one or two days off a week. Mondays are normally a day off and then we try to get at least three-quarters of a day off on Thursday. That depends on our schedule and testing and the way the workload falls at the shop, but the main thing is that everybody keeps a pretty open mind. They know this is the deal going in and they're prepared for the fact that if they have to put in a little extra time, they do. But whenever I see the opportunity, I do my best to get everybody out the door and give them a day off, or try to give them a little notice when we can take a day off so they can make plans."
IS THAT THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR YOU INSTEAD OF THINGS THAT HAPPEN AT THE TRACK?
"Yeah. Besides all the challenges involved with trying to get the car better and be prepared to go to the race track and perform, you've got all of the people issues. Anytime you've got 100 people to deal with, there's always something going on. Whether it's something unexpected or a family emergency, you have to just try and deal with it the best you can. You can't plan for some of the things that happen, so you have to have yourself an escape route or somebody to cover for you. That can work on people's nerves because a lot of times the guy that ends up covering for one ends up being the same guy that covers for everybody, so you've got to try and spread it around. You need to try to be prepared enough so when those things do come up, you can work your way through it without causing too much discord in the whole group."
WILL YOU TAKE ANY TIME OFF DURING THIS STRETCH?
"I took a couple of days right before the off weekend. We're gaining on our preparation. The guys in the shop do a great job keeping the cars together and the fab shop has come a long way since February in terms of getting ahead. We took a couple days off because 20 weeks is a long time for anybody. Maybe there are some of these hardcore guys in here that work straight through seven days a week, 365 days a year, but I took a couple days off. Once we get into this stretch, though, I'm gonna be there every day because I've got to be there to take care of the issues and answer some of the questions that come up so we can keep going."
THE TAURUS GOT AN EIGHTH-INCH REDUCTION ON ITS REAR SPOILER FOR DAYTONA THIS WEEK. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT?
"It's a band-aid on an amputation as far as I'm concerned. A quarter of an inch would have been the way to go, but I think there are other areas they could look into as far as helping us, but an eighth is better than nothing. We'll take it and we'll go to Daytona and try to be as prepared as we can to win that race."
ROBBIE REISER, Crew Chief --17-- DEWALT Power Tools Taurus
DID YOU LEARN ANYTHING FROM THIS STRETCH LAST YEAR THAT WILL HELP THIS SEASON?
"I think we obviously learned quite a bit last year because we didn't run that well and we're running a lot better this year. The 20-race stretch is gonna be real tough on the people. I don't think it's as bad on the equipment and all the things that go around us, but the people are the key. Right now, we're structured to the point that we've got a bunch of guys we can rotate, if we need to, and I think that will make this stretch a lot easier than what it was last year."
HOW ARE YOU AS FAR AS CAR PREPARATION FOR THIS STRETCH?
Right now, as far as racing goes, I'm as prepared as I've ever been. We have cars done all the way through September, barring no rules changes, and we're pretty organized for the rest of the year with parts and equipment, so I think we're good to go and I'm looking forward to it."
DOES BEING IN THE POINTS CHAMPIONSHIP RACE HELP AS FAR AS MORALE DURING THIS STRETCH?
"I don't think your mindset changes whether you're 20th in points or leading the points championship. We go the track with our best piece every single weekend and we do the best job we can every weekend. We're always looking two months ahead as far as being organized and prepared when we show up at these race tracks. Our mindset is the same, no matter if it's last year or this year. We go to the race track to win."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE TAURUS RULE CHANGE?
"I don't know how you can go down to five-and-three-quarters in February and have trouble keeping up and then come back in July with five-and-seven-eighths and be any better. We haven't made any aero gains when it comes to speedway cars that will result in our cars going faster, so a larger spoiler is obviously going to slow our cars down. We struggle with the aero push down there quite a bit, too, so having the spoiler on the back isn't going to help our problem -- it's going to hurt us. I look for Daytona to be a struggle like it has been for our team. It's been a struggle for us this year and I don't think it's going to get any better."
BEN LESLIE, Crew Chief --6-- Viagra Taurus
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU LEARNED LAST YEAR DURING THE FINAL STRETCH THAT CAN HELP YOU THIS YEAR?
"The biggest thing will be trying to get the cars organized to where everybody gets a little bit of time off during the week and the road guys aren't working seven days a week. We want to try to keep the shop as organized as possible with the mayhem that's Winston Cup. We don't want people having to kill themselves just to get to the next week's race."
HOW ARE YOU AS FAR AS PREPARATION?
"We're OK right now, but it would only take about three weeks to turn that around and put you in tough shape. Right now, we've got a decent inventory of cars and they're good cars that Mark really likes, so we're OK."
DOES YOUR POSITION IN THE POINT STANDINGS MAKE A DIFFERENCE AS FAR AS HOW HARD YOU WORK DURING THIS STRETCH?
"Not really because you go at it with the same amount of enthusiasm no matter where you're at in the points. Sometimes it's disheartening that you're down as far as you are sometimes in points, but it does make things a little more gratifying when luck goes your way and you're able to be up in points. You don't work any harder at it, it's just that you have better luck and not as much heartache."
IF YOU GET TO WEEK 11 OF THIS STRETCH AND YOU'RE STILL IN THE POINTS CHAMPIONSHIP, WILL THAT BE A BENEFIT AS FAR AS MOTIVATION?
"Yeah, because if you're seeing something out of your hard work and you're getting a return out of all the hours you're putting in, that makes it easier to keep everybody pulling in the same direction. You want people pulling as hard as they did on week 12 or 15 or 18 as they did on week one. It's just human nature. If you can see some light at the end of the tunnel and you're getting something out of all the headaches and hard work, then it seems like the hard work isn't quite as hard."
WHAT ABOUT THE SPOILER REDUCTION ON THE TAURUS FOR DAYTONA? WILL THAT MAKE A MAJOR DIFFERENCE?
"I don't think so. That's still an eighth of an inch taller than where we were at Daytona in February when we raced. The race was OK, but it wasn't like Ford dominated anything. If you look back, there were a couple of really good Chevrolets and Pontiacs that went out real early (in accidents) and didn't get a chance to dominate, but they had all week. It's something, but I don't think it's gonna be a key to us running much better."