I'm a huge fan of the 24 since I was a baby in the early '90s. I was just wondering what is it that you guys are missing? I mean, you're fast, I'll give you that, and every week you have a top five car but it just seems like you guys are missing a little something extra and I don't know what it is. The 48 isn't beating you by much – I watch the lap times every weekend, and you guys seem to have the best car on long runs but can't seem to catch the 48 or whoever is leading. Why is that?
SL: The million-dollar question, huh? A couple of years ago, it was overall speed in the car, and this year I believe we have gained a large chunk of that back, especially on the long runs. I do agree we have one of the best long-run cars at almost every race, but I think to catch a team as successful as the 48 or the 11 or whoever is leading, you can't be good only on the long runs. We have to work on our short-run package and our restarts, and we can't give up time in the first three laps because track position means so much and double-file restarts are crazy – two- and three-wide – and some of the drivers aren't being as wise as they could be… But those excuses only go so far and, at some point, you have to get up and go with the rest of the field. And so I think in the Chase, you'll see the 24 car much more focused on getting going on cold tires.
The first fundamental thing we'll change is how we approach practice. Normally we'll go out and we'll look at the average lap time and not put so much weight on our first lap. Jeff's the kind of driver who likes to build his way up, work his way into practice sessions, but we need to put a priority on when we leave pit road, we need to be 100 percent, as hard as we can run. There are very few times you get to practice on cold sticker tires in practice and so you can't just assume you'll be OK. You need to go out and prove it to yourself, and that will simulate a short run to the checkers. At a track like Loudon, you keep getting quicker until lap five; at Dover you'll have your tires at operating temperature from your first flying lap, so that will be your fastest. We normally have zero fall-off in times from our first to second flying lap, whereas Jimmie will have three- or four-tenths fall-off. That's not because his second lap is slower than Jeff's; that's because his first lap is faster. That's how we need to be.
Thank you for reading and responding to my last statement/question. Since everything is becoming so much more aggressive, have you considered having your engine shop turn up the power even if it costs fuel? Oh, and I hope you get a better handle on those late-race adjustments and sorry if I offended you last time.
SL: Good question with a simple answer: We are at full cost of fuel right now! We have nothing built into our engine at any point during the season for fuel consumption – we're 100 percent horsepower. We work very hard on fuel consumption without hurting the horsepower; that doesn't mean we're wasteful by any means, but I can promise you that any quarter of a horsepower, we'll take it! We don't fuel-mileage race and never have: we leave it up to the driver if we need to make some mileage, and we put every bit of horsepower out there every week.
When Jeff makes a yellow flag pit stop, why don't you let him get passed to obtain the preferred lane? Sometimes even if he loses a spot or two, wouldn't it be worth it to start on the inside or outside rather than getting hung out in the wrong lane?
SL: To be honest, Michael, it's never quite that simple. The preferred lane is whichever one that the leader takes, because that's the one that will go first because he's the one setting the pace coming to the restart, and you never know which he'll choose. You might assume he'll choose the bottom or the top, depending on the track or how the leader's car's been handling so far in that race, but you can't be sure. As luck would have it, it does seem this year we've been in the wrong lane more often than the right one, but there's not much you can do about it other than race as hard as you can and try to get clear. To say you were in the wrong lane is just an excuse: Every team has the same opportunities and you just have to make the most of every one you get.
I was watching a race last year and Ray Evernham was in the broadcast box when Jeff was pitting, and Jeff was on the radio saying the car was tight. Ray made the comment that he would tighten the car up more, even though Jeff thought it was tight. He said it just felt tight because he was so loose he couldn't steer it. My question: Do you find that Jeff thinks he needs an adjustment but the car really is doing the opposite thing?
SL: I feel with this current car, it's not a case of Jeff needing the opposite adjustment from what he's asking, but that sometimes he asks for an adjustment when the car is fast. We tend not to adjust on fast racecars, because this isn't a ride contest: We're not looking for the smoothest-riding car or the easiest one to drive. It's a speed contest, and that's what we're all about. It's something we've learned over the past two years, from working too much on the cars when Jeff wasn't happy and that dialed speed out of the car. This year, we keep him fired up, keep him motivated and tend not to work on the car when it's quick enough.
I don't think it's a case of him becoming too fussy about his car's handling; I think it's a case of this current breed of car asking for something that doesn't always match his driving style. The old car – front coil bound, big front sway bars – you had to have it handling tight, and lead with the front tires and keep the rear tires on it – and that suited his style. The new car does not want to be tight at all; if it pushes, you'll be slow. Jeff hates a loose racecar but loose in and loose out of a corner and roll through the middle is what's fastest for this car at most of these tracks, and so he has to grin and bear it because there's no option.
What happened to the Pepsi Max (Vegas) National Guard (Texas) racecar after the wreck at Texas. Did you try and fix it or rebuild it? If you rebuilt the car, do you plan on racing it again and if you didn't will you build a new racecar just like that one with everything (setup) exactly the same since it was such a "dominant” racecar?
SL: Wow, we have some in-depth questions! Truth be told though, Anthony, the Vegas racecar and the Texas racecar were different cars – even though they performed the same! The Texas car was destroyed there – it wasn't repairable. As for the Pepsi racecar, we've run it a couple other times this year and it has run with quite a bit of speed, and we'll run it again in Kansas.