I understand that Stewart-Haas Racing utilizes Hendrick motors. Is it just engines or is there a total information exchange? And do you get data from them? Is Hendrick a six-car team? And doesn't that make your rivals pissed?
I can honestly say I don't know – I'm not privy to that. But I do know that although Stewart-Haas not only utilizes our engine program but also has a technical alliance, Hendrick certainly isn't a six-car team. We don't manage them or have any say in the financial side of Stewart-Haas Racing, and they're not in our debriefs or included in our company meetings. So it's not a complete technical exchange of data, although there are aspects that we've agreed to share to increase the strength of both teams. There are things that we feel need to be shared and things we feel need to be kept within our four walls, and I'm sure the same applies the other way around. For example, if we found something during a race weekend that boosted the performance of the 24, we'd absolutely share that with our teammates – the 48, the 5 and the 88 – but not necessarily the Stewart-Haas teams, unless they asked about it specifically. Now, a week or month down the road, if there's a technical meeting and they ask about a certain race weekend or style of car, it will be determined at that point whether or not that covers an area included in our agreement, and at that point the answer will or will not be given.
It's not just a Hendrick and Stewart-Haas agreement: I know RCR has similar type agreements with other teams and JGR does, too. It's quite common in NASCAR.I love all forms of auto racing, but I find the wall-to-wall coverage of NASCAR is a bit embarrassing. There's only so much to discuss, even with 43 cars in 36 races – especially as it's pretty rare to find any secrets being revealed. I don't see much insight: a lot of the so-called experts just state the obvious. Reading Ask Letarte each month is 10 times more useful. Anyway, I wanted to ask if you ever watch NASCAR on TV or whether you just want to get away from it all when you don't have to actually be trackside? Or whether it annoys you when the commentators get stuff wrong?
Hmmm, multiple aspects to this questions, Anna. I can tell you that before I go to any racetrack, I watch the broadcasts of the last two races; during the race weekend I watch the broadcast of practice. But I can tell you I do all of this with the volume off! I actually listen to Jeff and my radio communication from every race, but don't listen to the commentator coverage. That's there for entertainment purposes and I don't really need to be entertained because that's about opinion, not necessarily facts. For example, in my motor home, I have ABC East and ABC West, and although I loved watching the NBA Finals, of course the East is all Boston this, Boston that, and the West is all about the Lakers. On one channel the broadcasters are saying how good the refereeing is, the other side is saying the officiating is just awful, and I think, “Hang on, is it the same game that everyone's watching here?”
So in watching a race, I don't want to hear opinion. I watch the race for some factual stuff that I need to see like pit strategy, car attitude or a driver's line, and so on. I try to pull as much out of a race as I can from watching it over again.
I think it's a struggle to promote NASCAR and show any secrets: there are very few secrets in NASCAR because the rules are so tight, so most of the cars are the same. If you're disappointed by what you hear on a race broadcast, well my feelings are this: the NASCAR coverage is in so much detail now that it's almost exhausted topics to talk about, technically. The broadcaster has to promote the sport and I think they do that very well, and it makes the programs great to watch. Simple question: do you need more than one spotter on the big tracks like Indianapolis for the Brickyard 400, and also how many do you need for Sonoma and Watkins Glen? And do you need an extra one? I'll be at The Glen!
The tracks we use multiple spotters are Watkins Glen and Sonoma and that's it. At Sonoma, one spotter handles the entire track except for the exit of Turn 11 which I handle from the pit box. At Watkins Glen we use multiple spotters – one going into Turn 1 and up the Esses, one going up the back straight into the Bus Stop, and sometimes we put another one in what I call Turns 10 and 11 – everyone numbers them differently – but basically the left and right before the start-finish line. So three spotters there.
For The Brickyard, the spotters basically have to criss-cross around on top of The Pagoda. Our spotter there can do Turns 2, 3 and 4, and from pit road I do the entry to Turn 1. It can be hard to get all the details from that distance, but, of course, Jeff will be fully aware of where the spotters can and can't see, and while it would seem obvious to get someone else to clear up the blind spots, sometimes adding another person on the radio will cause confusion.
Have you noticed any particular strengths and weaknesses between the Chevy and Toyota engines this year? Does one have more top end, does one have better torque out of corners. What should we look for in the coming races? And also, why do you think Ford has sucked so bad?
Fred, that's a bad question to ask me, because I think that Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports have a great handle on our engines. When you ask who has better top end or better torque, that changes according to the cam packages from track to track and while you can't directly compare track to track, if you gave motor programs batting averages, I'd put Hendrick Motorsports at No. 1. We don't always have the most power, we don't always have the best everything, but if you took power, reliability, tune-ability and fuel mileage and averaged it out, I'd say we're at No. 1. There's no engine I'd rather have, so I can't help but be biased.
Regarding Ford being behind, I'd say it's because there's only one team running Fords, and that's the Petty-Roush camp. When you don't have a wide variety of teams, it's hard to develop a car. At Chevy, there's Hendrick, Earnhardt Ganassi, Stewart-Haas and Childress – three complete separate entities giving feedback to Chevrolet – “this is better, that is worse” sort of stuff. If you only have one team telling you information, that's a big burden to try and keep a manufacturer ahead. Because of Logano's rude remarks about Mrs. Harvick, there's been a lot of chat about fire suits recently. And someone noticed that Chad Knaus wears one and you don't. Is it because you've lost so much weight you can't find one that fits?
Simple: I carried tires for a long time in my career, and I've sat on pit road in Indianapolis in 105degF and was just so uncomfortable I could hardly think! In my opinion, there's not a safety issue where I sit, and the 24's sponsors like the appearance of the uniform shirt I wear. There's no reason I'd ever go over pit wall, so I just choose the most comfortable thing I can to keep my mind cool and ready to work. Chad wears a fire suit because he thinks that looks more professional, whereas I want myself and my two engineers to wear the same uniform. Different opinions, that's all.