So there we were, my husband and I, all ready to christen you and Jeff the new “Texperts” and it all went horribly wrong from about lap 11…just when you could have taken advantage of the 48's smack-up. What happened? Was the 24 only set up to run in clean air? Was it too hard on the tires? Please explain. Appreciate it.
Katie, you bring up an excellent point: going into Texas, we had a lot of confidence, but what makes TMS so difficult to judge is the length of time between the races. We're there in the spring, in the very early part of the season and return in the very latter part. That gives teams a great amount of time to change and improve, and I think that's what you saw. At the first Texas race this year, we unloaded with a pretty big advantage on the competition and we were not successful at maintaining that through to the fall. We went from above average on speed to average on speed, from above average on car setup to average on car setup. We took there what we ran in the spring, for confidence sake, and it wasn't fast enough. As we adjusted the car we got it better but, in the race, it wasn't as good as it needed to be, communication between Jeff and I wasn't as good as it needed to be and we may have over-adjusted it early on. Then we struggled on one pit stop which lost us track position and we didn't have a car good enough to recover from that.
What was it that made it problematic? If I had the answer to that, I'd have the answer to the million-dollar question! I feel that was one of the races where Hendrick Motorsports as a whole didn't have the speed we'd had at other tracks. As a company we need to stay ahead, and this winter will be very important for us to find some more speed. That's very hard, of course, because of the restrictions on testing. We have to get our heads together and decide what direction we want to go in: Is it aerodynamics? Is it chassis? Is it shock and suspension testing on seven-post rigs? They're very important conversations to have, because if you choose wrong, you will be behind for a long, long period of time.
OK, we finished third in the championship, but what we pride ourselves on is that we'll consider that disastrous, we'll go to work as if we finished 4oth, because if you wait until you do finish 40th, it will be years or decades before you get a chance to win again. Regarding third as disastrous is what sets us apart.
If you weren't a race engineer in NASCAR, what would you want to be doing? Another branch of racing, or a completely different life? I'm not hinting: I think you're doing fine.
I think another branch of racing is probably right. If your dad's a golfer, you're a golfer; my dad's in racing so since I've been knee-high to a grasshopper, all I've ever wanted to do was be at a racetrack. Any memory I have since 5 years old is racetracks, and I don't really remember anything else! You hear about these drivers who have been groomed since birth to be a driver. Well, I wouldn't use the word “groomed” to apply to being a crew chief, but definitely I was persuaded and groomed to be in racing in some capacity.
So, if I wasn't in NASCAR, I'd definitely be in another branch of racing. The thing I learned is that I truly enjoy team building, truly enjoy that structure – the tough conversations, the hard boardroom meetings, and so on. One of my weaknesses is that I'm not a very good details guy, while that is one of Chad Knaus' strengths. But I'm a very good guy to come up with plans, goals and aspirations, and methods of achieving them. So, if I wasn't in racing, I think maybe I could be doing some consulting with different companies, regardless of what line of business they were in: I'm not afraid to lead people, motivate them and ask really tough questions.
Been a 24 fan since conception in '92…but when are you going to tell Jeff to race like days of old? Move the 48: this is for the dang championship. Break out the ''blocker'' and ''butthead'' paint schemes. The original rainbow colors had magic. Get back to this, please.
OK, for people who don't understand Cody's references to the “blocker” and “butthead” paint schemes, for a long time we named all of our cars and it seems like those cars we named had some personality to them – and they seemed to win a lot! The truth is, in today's sport, it's engineering-based. What happened in the 1990s is over, just like a lot of teams that were successful in the '80s then struggled in the '90s.
I wish it was as easy as just motivating Jeff or going back to our roots, but I think, in a strange way, that is the reason we are behind. For too long the team leaned on Jeff's talent and his ability to be a play-maker, and we need to put some weight on our shoulders and say as a team, it's our job to carry our end of the burden. Jeff is a phenomenal talent – although I think he could improve just like everyone else on the track – but the No. 1 concern is to make sure the 24 team provides Jeff the opportunity to go out and do what he can do.
I've been a 24 fan forever, and the past three years I've been listening to Track Pass, and now can't watch a race without it. I realize you guys probably have some "code talk" in things like "Watch your shift" (probably should get a new one for that) but I keep hearing the phrase "pull lefts" when you discuss pit stops and adjustments to be made. Is this code, or what do you mean?
Kevin brings up a good point, although it's not code in terms of trying to keep it from everyone else. It's just our communication within the team. “Watch your shift” is about when you only take on right-side tires, and is a command to Jeff to shift from neutral into gear, and the timing of that is very important.
The phrase “pull lefts” is very simple: when you have the opportunity to pit, when you take roughly less than eight gallons of gas, the fuelers have time to dump the fuel, return the can to pit wall, and then also remove the left-side tires for the tire changers, so they don't have to set their guns down. So it's just my job to communicate to all the team members what style of stop we're doing.
In your first article for RACER you briefly talked about Jeff's and Jimmie's driving styles; could you elaborate on that some?
The difference between steering and throttle control is hard for me to understand – what kind of setup changes would be made to accommodate that? I've heard the reference before but didn't understand then either. Been a fan of both these drivers since they started and hope to be for many years to come.
Fred, I've got to confess that driving style is one of the hardest things to discuss – fortunately for me, as that's one of the reasons I have my job! – and to be understood in the real world. But let's give it a go.
Very few people in their entire life have the opportunity to drive a vehicle on the edge of its performance, consistently. I can't do it. I get to the edge but then fall over the edge. If you consider a car's 100 percent potential, I can get it to 80-85 percent. Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson can run those cars at 97 or 98 percent. The real world can't fathom that: we have no concept of what that is, so it's very hard to understand a driving style.
The simplest way I can explain it is this: When we drive on the street, some people left-foot brake, some people right-foot brake. Some people drive with their hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel, some drive with one hand at 12 o'clock. That is a comfort-level at which you or I drive up and down the street. If you can transfer your thinking about that to the top level: a driver has senses that have to get feedback from the car, and he, like us, has a certain comfort level, whether that's the steering wheel talking through his hands to his brain, or in Jimmie's case it's his body and the lateral movement he feels in the car, and responding to that with the gas pedal.
It's hard to explain, because I can't explain what my driving style is – because I'm not good enough to have one. But I understand through dealing with Jeff for so many years that he describes a car through the steering wheel, and Jimmie describes his car through the gas pedal. And that's why you need crew chiefs, and I'm thankful for that! Otherwise, if everyone drove the same and described their car in the same way, even in a company this size, we could have one leader, he'd set up all the cars the same and then they'd go race! The lack of telemetry available on a race weekend, of course, focuses the team on the driver-crew chief communication: you have to have a very honest relationship because you have very little fact, and a lot of opinion, from driver and crew chief. The only fact you have is the stopwatch.