The No. 24's first run at Loudon was very good, but things went terrible after that and it may have been one of the worst-called races of Jeff's career, it appeared to me. How can most of the Chase competitors, including your teammates, continually improve during the race and you guys get worse? And, what's with the 19-second pit stop? Stewart has a 50-second stop and he still finishes ahead of you.
Hope things improve for you. Thanks for listening.
I think you're accurate, Jan, as far as the pit stops are concerned. And it was not the best-called race. The No. 5 was on the strategy to win the race, but I know we were on the same strategy as Montoya's No. 42, which went on to finish in the top three. We just didn't have a good enough car and our pit stops really took us out of that race. I'm not blaming the pit crew, because they do a good job, and I can make mistakes or Jeff can make mistakes, but we had a slow two-tire stop that put us right in front of the four-tire stoppers where we needed to be higher up than that. And then when we short-pitted under green to try and make up the time, we then had a 19-second stop that really just eliminated us from contention.
It's hard to compare Tony Stewart's performance: yes, he had a 50-second stop and beat us, but he had a yellow-flag stop, and he had a good green-flag stop, too. There's a lot of things that make it hard to compare.
I'm disappointed with the job I did calling the race. I will say that Loudon is one of the hardest races to call because it's very track-position dependent, and the fuel window is very tough. Loudon and Phoenix are the hardest, and Alan Gustafson on the No. 5 car hit it out of the park. You saw the No. 42 recover from the strategy we were on, but we had two bad pit stops and a car that wasn't good on new tires, so combined, that didn't allow us to recover.
Have you been surprised at the fairly consistent pace of Montoya and the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team? What's suddenly changed there? Do you think it was just the switch from Dodge to Chevy?
This leads on nicely, and the short answer to your question, Alan, is “No!” The longer answer is this: I'm not surprised by Montoya's pace because he has shown that he's in an elite group of talented drivers around the world, be it in Formula 1 or Indy cars, so I felt it was just a matter of time until he found his stride in NASCAR. I also think people underestimate how much the No. 42 team was driving for points earlier in the season to ensure they got into the Chase. I scan them on Sundays, and I hear the conversations and knew how pleased they were with eighth or 10th-place finishes. Now it's time for them to go for it, they're doing that and Brian Pattie is a very smart crew chief and he has saved some equipment for the Chase.
Montoya's a champion – he knows how to win, and he's proving it. That is the difference between good drivers and great drivers. Good drivers can drive a racecar fast but great drivers put an entire race together, an entire season together and an entire career together. That's what Montoya's doing.
As far as the switch from Dodge to Chevrolet…. Well, I don't think I'm an impartial judge! I'm a big fan of Chevrolet – they have a humungous hand in our success here at Hendrick Motorsports, so I'm not a good guy to ask. But I know it won't have hurt: Chevy is reliable, creates good power and offers a lot of support to its teams.
Do you think it's time NASCAR allowed the data acquisition that you guys run at tests to be used during a race weekend? What are the pros and cons?
Well, Dan, that's a great discussion and that issue has come up a lot. But it really depends on what you're looking for. If you're looking for Gibbs, Roush, Hendrick, Childress – all the big teams – to be more competitive, then possibly. But I honestly don't think it will change the finishing order: it's just going to cost a lot more money. So the pros would be that we could get the cars to drive better, but the cons would be that, even if we did, I don't think that would improve the competition. So it's not really necessary. It would cost a lot more money to race, because if you wreck, that gets very expensive with a Pi system on the car!
I like data acquisition – I'm a car guy. But the manager and realist side of me says I honestly don't think it's needed. It's the same for everyone, and if you allowed acquisition, I don't think it would be the same for everyone: I think the resources we have here at Hendrick, for example, we could go next week and have the correct data, the best people to look at it, the correct sensors and so on. Whereas if you got down to the teams that are running 25th, 30th and 35th in points, I don't feel they could cover the same ground so fast, so we'd have a bigger lead on them.
Without a doubt, it would make a difference when it came to say, comparing ourselves to the No. 48 car – we could see what Jeff's inputs were, what Jimmie Johnson's inputs were, and know that we were comparing apples with apples. Data acquisition allows a multi-car organization to get four cars closer to running the same, and it's useful to the drivers, too. Jeff would be able to see something in Jimmie's input that he wants to try – using the brakes a different way, for example – or I might see that we're putting different loads on the bumpstops, or getting tire slip at different points in the corner. Then we could all adjust according to whoever's car is quicker. Right now, we just feel the bottom of the splitter to see how it hit the racetrack. With data acquisition, we could measure to thousands of an inch where that splitter is. So we could get the whole car far more fine-tuned on a race weekend.
The reason the other series have data acquisition is that they run 18-20 races a year. We couldn't have just one system per car number: we'd need three or four or five systems because we have a lot of races and therefore a lot of cars per car number. We went from Kansas to California to Charlotte and now we're working on our Martinsville chassis. We don't have weeks off where we could transfer the Pi system from one chassis to the next. Look for more of Steve's answers later this week. Got a question for Steve? Email him at email@example.com.