I really agree with Edd Galloway's earlier comments regarding the frustration of watching the No. 48 consistently beat the No. 24. If you say your team works on consistency, why is it that the No. 48 has more points at the end of the season leading into the Chase and more points to start the Chase because of his wins? It appears to me that they are more aggressive with their changes toward the end of the race and that gets them in a spot to win.
I have watched No. 24 for countless years, and if my memory serves me correctly, past experiences have proven that Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 team can be consistent and make the necessary changes throughout a race to consistently finish in the top 12 time and again. As a true No. 24 fan, I would really like to see your team become more aggressive and go for the wins! Just win, baby!
OK, this is a very valid point, James. The No. 24 has traditionally been a very consistent team over the 36-race haul, which is why we were strong in the old points system. I do feel we need to be more aggressive in the Chase, but at the same time, you've seen people make mistakes in the Chase and that's our fear. We have tried, but at the same time everyone is stubborn in this world, and it's very hard for us to change our ways. While it's disappointing that we haven't won more, we've put ourselves in position to win races and put ourselves in position to win the championship. We have had eight second-place finishes, and though without doubt I'd prefer some of them to be wins, I don't believe it shows a lack of aggression.
I understand why the fans are frustrated: I fight that same frustration, but we don't want to panic and eliminate ourselves from the championship hunt. And every time we finish second, it still means we've done a better job than 41 cars, and there is a lot of very strong teams out there. It's just frustrating when the car that beats you is the same one time after time!
I firmly believe that if you run in the top five, week on week, then you will get your share of wins. This year has been hard for my stomach because we've had eight second places, which goes against my theory, but I've seen the theory work for a lot of years and I don't think I'm ready to change it yet.
After watching Jeff, Jimmy and Mark this year, I am amazed at how poorly Dale Jr. has been driving. Is there, in your opinion, any difference in equipment, talent, crews, crew chiefs or intangibles that has kept him from running in the same zip code as the other Hendrick teams? I know Junior has the talent, but it makes me wonder if there is a something that is keeping him from showing what he is capable of. Please be as honest as you can because his fans would like to know.
- James Young, a life long Junior and Senior fa
I can honestly say that I know Dale has the same equipment as everyone else at the company. As far as talent, crew, crew chiefs and intangibles are concerned, those are things that are all managed within the team and I would be making stories up if I thought I knew what they were lacking. I can only say that last year we were lacking too, and we didn't change as much as people think we changed, and we've now had success.
I think the No. 88's situation is like quicksand – once you step in, it's very hard to get out, and Lance McGrew has done a good job and I think Tony Eury Jr. did a good job, too, but sometimes change is necessary. And for whatever reason, it seems when it rains it pours for that team. I think they did a good job at Loudon, but Dale got caught up in an accident that I don't feel was his fault. They also had a good car in Fontana but again got involved in a wreck. Somehow we have to have a breakthrough to get those guys going in the right direction, and I wish I knew what it was that was needed.
I feel they have all the items to go out and run well – but I know I can't give a straight answer to how we improved from 2008, so it's next to impossible for me to say how to help the No. 88. I promise you if I had the answer, I'd raise my hand and speak up, although it's also tough for the other Hendrick crews because we have to concentrate on our own cars. What I can promise you is that the 88 isn't running bad because the people involved don't care about it: everyone does, from Rick Hendrick and Dale Jr. all the way down.
During a race, we'll often hear that the car is good on long runs or short runs. Do you actually set the car up for long or short runs or is it just how it is? Also, if you can set the car up for long or short runs, why aren't all cars set for short runs at the ends of races now that the double-file restarts are in play and you know that there will be cautions? One last thing: what is the difference between a short- or long-run setup?
It's very difficult to switch back and forth during the race, Dan. On Fridays and Saturdays during practice, you can put certain shocks and springs on your car that you know will be faster on a short or long run, but air pressures are about the only thing you can change once the race starts. And air pressures are more like a crutch for if you've not got the ideal setup already.
You'd think it would be obvious that a car needed to be fast on a short run at the end, but I've had cars that are good on short runs but we'll be a lap down because we've had two green flag stints, so that's not quite so clear cut. Whenever you see cars coming in on the final pit stop and it's going to be a shorter run to the end, there are changes being made. At Charlotte the other night, the No. 24 car was too free to get going, so on the last pit stop we tightened it up because we couldn't be loose for the final restart. It hurt us a little, because we got too tight over the last 20 laps, but I don't think we'd have finished as high as fourth if we hadn't have been good on the restart.
So there's not as much you can do once the race starts, but there are things you can do to prepare and make allowances. At Martinsville, you will probably stay on your last set of tires for 80-100 laps, so you have to ask yourself if that's going to be 80-100 laps of green or broken down into 10-lap stints. What can you do to give your driver the best opportunity? Another important factor is driver feedback. A driver might say the car's loose at the start of the run, 10 laps later he'll say it's OK, then 20 laps in it will be tight, 40 laps in it could be tighter still. If you don't get information from him over the course of a run, then you can't step back and take a 50-lap picture of the car, so you might end up misadjusting it. If he screams “Loose!” at the beginning and you don't ask him how it is at lap 25, you might tighten the car up when it needed to be freer on old tires.
Regarding the double-file restarts, it seems like we've had a lot of races end with short runs, so yeah, we're leaning toward those in the Chase.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.