NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference with Mike Skinner, driver of the No. 4 Kodak MAX Chevrolet Monte Carlo for Morgan-McClure Motorsports, and crew chief, Chris Carrier. Part 2 of 2 Chris Carrier Crew Chief: On today's wind tunnel ...
NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference with Mike Skinner, driver of the No. 4 Kodak MAX Chevrolet Monte Carlo for Morgan-McClure Motorsports, and crew chief, Chris Carrier.
Part 2 of 2
Chris Carrier Crew Chief:
On today's wind tunnel test
Carrier: "I'm in Lansing, Michigan right now at the General Motors wind tunnel laboratory and we've got a couple of cars up here that we're doing some aerodynamic tests on. We're trying to make them better and trying to make it where we can be more competitive on the racetrack."
Have you learned anything so far?
"Yes. We've learned a couple of tidbits. We're finishing up on one car and start on another car - it's actually the one we think we're going to race at Indianapolis. So we're looking more for that (test) to be more productive."
When did you join Morgan-McClure Motorsports?
Carrier: "I actually joined the team the second week of March. I became the crew chief the week before the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte."
How was your test at Indianapolis last week?
Carrier: "We were pretty pleased. We took the same two cars that I've got in the wind tunnel today. One was the won we raced at Michigan and Charlotte, and the other one we've put a whole new body on. We're very pleased with them and satisfied with the way the cars drove - both in qualifying and in race trim. We're here trying to find a little bit more under the hood. We're looking forward to it (Brickyard 400). It's a pretty big race and the best paying race that we run all year long. There's a lot of prestige there. We're pumped up. We think we can go there and make a showing."
On the fines and point penalties that NASCAR has recently handed down
Carrier: "I think it's just a product of NASCAR's becoming more serious about deterring cheating. They know we're all just trying to do our job and to push the envelope and the gray area as much as we can to make our cars faster and more competitive. But they've got a job also. Maybe some of the penalties really didn't stop people and so now they're getting more serious. I think they're going the right way when they start taking championship and car owner points away. That's when it's going to start hurting. They've taken some steps to penalize people that go beyond where they think the gray limits should stop. And that means on the racetrack and in the shop and in the garage area and in the race. They're just making the penalties hurt a little bit more. When you start taking away championship points, that's when sponsors and car owners are going to step in and say they can't stand that. We're after that Winston Cup title and when we do something that knocks a hole in that effort, we're going to have to look in a different direction."
What's the secret to the set-up in New Hampshire?
Carrier: "It's going to be the same as a lot of the mile racetrack. It's a pretty flat racetrack. You're going to have to find a good balance for your racecar. You're going to have to take care of your tires and your brakes. It's important to keep your fenders on. Even though we call New Hampshire a short track, aerodynamics plays a big role there. We're looking forward to running in the quote 'new configuration' at Loudon for the first time. The Busch Series has raced there since they've widened the racetrack, but we haven't been there. From what I could see from the Busch race, it's going to make it a little more competitive with more racing room. It'll be better for the fans and that's what it's all about."
On adjusting to a new team mid-year
Carrier: "The biggest adjustment -- no matter what your job - is working with the people around you and finding out what makes them mad or what makes them satisfied or whatever. It's the same thing here. It's a lot different than it was. Years ago there were just three or four people that you worked with on a race team. Well now, you've got 50 or 60 employees for a single car team. That's a lot of personalities. Each and every one of them is there for a reason. Each is a productive part of the machine. We all have to interact and communicate and be productive. We have to learn to work together and with the other people around us. We (as leaders on a team) have to learn their abilities, their limitations, their hopes, and all that chemistry. It takes a while for everybody to figure out all that stuff. I think we've done a good job of that. We've got good people at Morgan-McClure. We get along very well. I think we're making headway. Mike (Skinner) and I worked together two years ago when I worked for Andy Petree's race team and was crew chief for his Busch team and Mike drove a handful of races for our Busch team. We kind of hit it off there. It seemed like we thought alike in what we needed to do to the racecar to make it drive good for him and that's a plus. That's a big key. We've multiplied that this year. We're learning Winston Cup racecars together. We're learning Morgan-McClure racecars and making changes to them. In the past three or four weeks, we both feel like we've found a lot of things we can do to our racecars that make him more comfortable in the cars and that drive better for him. That's going to pay dividends down the road.
"Without going into details that sound like excuses, we've had a lot of things happen that have prevented us from having good finishes on the racetrack. Some of those things might have been self-inflicted by the team. A lot of them weren't. In some of them, we were victims. Daytona was a good example of that in getting caught up in one of those restrictor-plate crashes that involved a lot of people. It wasn't anything Mike or our spotter could do anything about. We ended up on the rollback instead of finishing probably in the top five or better.
"We're going to take the progress we make and build on it. We have a lot of enthusiasm at our shop right now because the people on our race team know in our hearts that we're making progress and we're surging forward. There's going to be a time when we won't be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We won't be in that wreck. We won't have things happening like flat tires or bad parts during the race that keep us from having good finishes."
Was Mike Skinner and the fact that you'd worked with him before one of the reasons you went with Morgan-McClure?
Carrier: "Yes, it was a factor. It was kind of a timing thing. The Lord works in mysterious ways. The No. 33 team (Andy Petree Racing) lost sponsorship and didn't really have a direction. There was a lot of uncertainty there. There wasn't really anything anybody could do about it. At the same time, Mike went to work for the Morgan-McClure team. They wanted to bring somebody on that could help Mike along and get the cars better and help with organization. All this was happening at the same time. I was moving to an area where my family lives and I was already familiar with. I felt like I was supposed to do this (make the move). I'm very happy with what's happened. I feel very comfortable at Morgan-McClure. We've made progress and there's a lot of progress to be made. We're still looking to win a couple of races before the season is over."
Does the bad luck that Mike Skinner had while driving for RCR motivate you to be the crew chief to get him his first win?
Carrier: "Oh, that would be huge. Everybody at Morgan-McClure knows what Mike's capabilities are. We know how good a driver he is. We know that he's got a lot of experience. He still has that desire to win a race. Some guys kind of lose a little bit after they've been there so long. He has a lot of knowledge about racing and about racecars. Somewhere along the line, he missed the things that he deserves as far as winning races and success. But he's been right there - knocking on the door.
"Morgan-McClure is a good race team and has had a lot of success. The last couple of years the team has not been where Larry wants it to be. Both parties - the team and the driver - have a lot to prove. I think we're on the verge of proving that. We don't have a lot of records to show for it and a lot of people think we're having a bad year. But we know we're going forward. I think you'll see some good finishes that last half of this season."
Is Mike Skinner one of the most hard-luck drivers out there?
Carrier: "He's got to be close to the top of the list. He has a lot more talent and ability than his records and his stats show. I think Mike has a lot of time this season and in his career to turn things around. Our goal is to win a couple of races this year. We know it's a deal where you have to stair-step it. You have to become a consistent top 15 team and then a top 10 team. When you get to the point of being a top eight or a top six team, a win is right around the corner. Pretty soon your day is going to come. We know that as long as we work hard and move forward, we'll get to the point where we want to be."
With NASCAR's recent crackdown on fines and penalties for rules infractions, will a crew chief be afraid to use his creative mentality?
Carrier: "I don't know if that's exactly the way we look at it but there are all types of rules, measurements, patterns, templates, restrictions (etc.) that have numerical values and that have a 'go' or 'no-go' gauge (to them). There are all types of limitations. There are still areas on a racecar that are judgment calls by a NASCAR official. They still interpret the rules. You're got to remember that they're human beings. Yes, they have a rulebook and I think NASCAR has done an excellent job in the last few years of making that rulebook more precise and more detailed yet easier to understand. They've been able to draw clearer lines in the sand and make us see where the gray stops and where it's red and where it's green. Those (gray) areas are getting fewer and smaller. This division is getting more and more competitive. We have to look harder and harder at those (gray) areas. Before, we could maybe push it an eighth of an inch but now we can only push it a 16th of an inch. And we have to make sure that pushing that 16th of an inch in the right direction and that we're doing it in the right area.
"We look at other teams and we see that maybe they're going about it in a different way - especially in the aerodynamics -- and yet they still fit the templates. They might move a section of the body up or down or around something or square something, but it still makes the car legal as far as NASCAR's interpretations but it still give them an aerodynamic advantage. So we're still looking at all areas. We have to make our cars as competitive as possible given the rules we have to live by. Sometimes those guidelines change a little bit. They may get a little tighter or looser. We have to roll with that. Our business is about change. We just don't build cars the first year and load and unload every week. We keep on changing. That's why I'm at the wind tunnel right now. We have to look at ways to make these cars better and keep them within the limitations that NASCAR sets. When you know that the guy next to you just got a $20,000 fine for something that you're thinking about doing, you might change your mind."
Is that like how the empire reads the strike zone? Do you know how a particular NASCAR official might interpret something?
Carrier: "I think so and I don't think that's necessarily bad. NASCAR tries to move officials around to check different areas of the car so they will have a broader knowledge of the whole racecar instead of just concentrating on one area. I agree with that. If I were the technical director, I'd rotate my people so that everybody would know what the whole car is supposed to be like. But one might look at a template or a measurement in a different way than the guy next to them will. As long as it's fair for everybody, it's fair. Most crew chiefs feel that is part of our business. If you're a pitcher on the mound and you've got an umpire behind the plate that you know will call a strike on a ball that goes across the outer black of the plate, and you know the hitter ain't going to be able to hit that, you're pretty stupid if you don't throw it there. But if you know that guy is going to call it a ball every time, you've got to get it across the plate. That's how I look at it and I think that's part of our job. Actually, I think it makes it more interesting and makes it a little bit more fun."
Mike Skinner press conference, part I