Do you think too much emphasis is placed on the crew chief when it's time for someone to carry the can? I'm thinking of Steve Addington over at JGR. Who's saying it's not Kyle Busch's fault or the Toyota engines? And does the fact that Hamlin won races during the Chase and Busch hasn't won forever put more pressure on a team to make changes?
I'll be honest, Aaron, this is how the world works when you become a crew chief. It's not a question of blame, it's a question of business. Kyle Busch is the face of the 18 car, the face of M&Ms, the face of Pedigree – he's not going anywhere. If you mentally or emotionally have a problem with that, don't become a crew chief. That sounds cold but those are the facts.
I think the outside world sees a crew chief change as blame: I see it as the need for team improvement, and the driver is not on the list. He will be eventually…but a driver change is never the first change you make because of financial implications. We want to say it's all sport, but there's business behind us and you have to have enough money to race. I don't know why they dropped Steve Addington, I'm not sure what their motivation was, but I'm sure they had it, they believed in it and I cannot question that without all the facts.
Some day I might not be the right guy here and so long as we can talk about it like adults, I'd accept it if Rick Hendrick said there needs to be a change, whether I agree or disagree. Sometimes change is for the better, sometimes it provokes new conversation – not necessarily better conversation – and sometimes it motivates guys. It's not a question of blame: it's a question of business.
A bit of a personal question this one, regarding Jeff. Is he the clean-cut, well-behaved gentleman off-track that his image has always been? Even when he first came into NASCAR back in the early 1990s, he never seemed like a brat, and always seemed better behaved than most of his rivals. I never hear of him getting involved in anything wrong. I'm not one of those who'd criticize him for this or accuse him of being boring. I think it's good when adults behave like adults. I just wonder if he's in the wrong sport!
Hard question to answer, this one, Liam. If you're asking my personal opinion, I think Jeff is a great guy. He is human like everyone else; he's gone through personal trials and tribulations like everyone else, and I can personally thank him for not only helping my professional career a tremendous amount – 95 percent of everything I have in life is because of our commitment to each other – but more than that, he has helped me deal with a whole personal side of my life regarding what it's like to be in the media, what it's like to have the stress of competition every day, what it's like to perform in the spotlight.
Is he a perfect person? No, no one is. Has he made mistakes and learned from them, and more than anything in the world, helped his friends, his team and his guys on the team, guiding them and keeping them on a correct path? Oh, yeah, I think so. Personally I hold him in very high regard.
He's also significant, I think, in NASCAR history and not just in terms of results. I think he forced NASCAR drivers to become mainstream athletes; he had success, his sponsors demanded a lot of him, and he committed himself to more than just driving a racecar. That, in turn, forced other drivers to do the same.
If you and Chad Knaus swapped teams and drivers for a year, what do you think the outcome would be over the course of a whole season…on track and off the track?!
I'll be honest, Amy: I think both the 24 and 48 teams would be less successful. Everything Chad and I do has our own individual signatures on it. I think the people I surround myself with and the way Jeff and I communicate – there's a lot of things built around me. On the 48 team, there are a lot of things built around Chad. That's natural: Chad and I hire our teams.
If you were really honest and sat down and wrote the 10 things you were best at and 10 things you were worst at, you can either manage to your strengths or manage to your weaknesses. You can either find what you're weakest at and learn that to make sure you improve, or you can focus on your strengths and hire people to overcome your weaknesses. I feel Chad and I have both done the latter and, with that said, I don't think my team would support him so well, and his wouldn't support me so well because, obviously, Chad and I have different strengths and weaknesses. So, while you see other team owners swap crew chiefs, swap engineers, swap drivers, and so on, I don't think that would ever induce more results. Do we swap team members sometimes? Yes.
Chad and I have a very interesting relationship: we can go in a room and shut the blinds and we will argue and tell each other what we really think and be brutally honest with each other. I respect him for that, I believe he respects me for that, and I think the success of the building has a lot to do with how honest we are with one another.
Drivers usually have heroes, usually from a different era. Do crew chiefs have heroes – other crew chiefs who you used to look at and say, “That's the way I want to be?” and is it all based on what they've achieved, or how they interacted with their drivers, or how they were as people?
-Reggie Jackson (no, not that one)
I have a few people I have been molded by, who I guess you could call my heroes. My father's in racing, and I learned a tremendous amount from him. Ray Evernham hired me and guided me early in my career. Robbie Loomis gave me some more direction later in my career. And I've had the opportunity to work for Jeff and Rick. Pile all those people together, and that's what has molded me into who I am today. What you see and hear is the product of them, so they're all sort of heroes to me. Rick is a hero of mine because of what he's come from and what he's accomplished. Ray is a hero for breaking the mold and what he's accomplished in the sport. And my dad has always been my hero because he raced when racing wasn't cool and provided for the family and worked really hard and made sacrifices. Without him and what he taught me, I couldn't come up here and do what I do each day.
With reference to Talladega and the fact that the 24 looked as likely a winner as anyone right up to the last few laps, can you tell us how accurate the fuel gauges are in the car, and how close to accurate your fuel calculations are up in the pit box?
Also, are NASCAR cars like open-wheel cars in terms of the guy behind being able to save more gas than the guy who's breaking the air at the front of a line? How much does that save and does it depend on the circuit?
OK Ashley, first half of the question: there are no fuel gauges in the racecar. The Talladega problem was purely a communication gap between driver and crew chief. When that car ran out of gas after the red flag, there was a gallon and a half of gas left in there and I didn't do my job in telling Jeff to run on the flat part of track, and he didn't take it on himself to do so, and so on the banking, the fuel fell away from the pick-up point in the fuel cell. So we ran out of fuel in the carburetor, but there was a gallon back in the trunk. Would we have finished the race? I don't know.
The second part of that question, regarding the accuracy of our calculations in the pits – I can tell you the engineers that day were much more accurate than the crew chief, because they had it figured exactly when we'd run out of gas, that's when we did run out of gas, and I didn't do my job and that's why we ran out of gas under that yellow.
Regarding saving gas, at Talladega the cars at the back actually don't save much gas, because the drivers back there are on and off the throttle – if they were flat-out the whole time, they'd just run over the guy in front. So you sometimes burn a little more fuel at the back of the pack, because you're squirting more gas into the carb every time you get back on the throttle. At a big, open track like Indianapolis or Pocono, yes, the cars in the back can get a little bit of a tow and there is an opportunity to save a little bit of fuel. However, having said that, it's nowhere near as big a saving as in open-wheel because in IndyCars, once they're in a tow, they can reduce the richness of their fuel, reduce the horsepower output. Of course, we don't have that facility, so it's up to the driver to manage – and it's very, very hard.
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