Do you think you and Jeff would benefit from doing the occasional Nationwide race? Would you be interested?
To be honest, right now, I feel the Nationwide races are a huge distraction to the Sprint Cup drivers and I feel it's unnecessary for a guy like Jeff, with so many years under his belt, to get more track time. There are rare occurrences when it might benefit – if we'd had a major change in tire compound or if we went to a new venue, then it would be good to get extra track time. But until the Nationwide cars get a little more similar to Cup cars, I don't see how it would benefit Jeff.
As far as I'm concerned, I'd love to! Given the choice, I'd work in the Trucks, Nationwide and Sprint Cup if I could – any weekend. Racing is what I love. We took Jimmie to Watkins Glen for the Nationwide race a few years ago and Chad Knaus ran him in practice, and he asked if I wanted to come up on the pit box and we had a blast calling that race: There weren't points involved, it was very relaxed and Jimmie had a good time, too. I love Nationwide racing, but it would be a distraction if it wasn't done correctly. It would be rare that it would benefit our Cup program.
What's happened to Mark Martin this year? The No. 24 has moved forward and No. 5 has gone backward, in my opinion.
David Vernon (longtime Mark Martin fan)
It's an interesting observation, David, and I'd say we should be careful setting opinions too early – we're only at race six of 36. A few years ago, people counted the No. 48 out at this stage, and the last time I checked, they'd won the last four championships… So I think what you're seeing from the No. 24 and No. 5 teams are two groups that are very, very aggressively trying to beat our teammate. We're doing that with new setups and new concepts, and the No. 24 has had some success with speed, but very little in terms of finishes, and the No. 5 is in the same boat. They know they need to make the Chase, and they don't want to get behind like they did last year, but at the same time, the No. 24 and No. 5 want to make sure we have enough speed come September to compete with the No. 48.
The current era No. 48 team has changed the sport's direction and intensity, just as the No. 3 did in the mid to late '80s and the No. 24 did in the mid to late '90s. The No. 48 is setting the precedent and has raised the bar on how much they expect the drivers to stay physically fit, how involved the driver should be with the race team, and Chad is setting a precedent with how prepared you need to be each race weekend. It's easy to say, “Oh, you just need to do more,” but no one knows how far you can jump until someone goes to the Olympics and sets a record. That sets the bar. And that's what the No. 48 team has done in the Sprint Cup garage.
Are you allowed to change wheelbases on your cars from track to track? Surely a shorter wheelbase would be better for tracks like Martinsville and Bristol for getting the car to turn in and it would make the tracks quicker. And if you're not allowed, how do you compensate?
Richard Roush (no relation – I'm not trying to get secrets for Jack's team!)
Richard, there are some variances allowed in the wheelbases, but you must maintain 110 inches on one side of the car. You can be a half-inch longer on the other side but there's not a lot of variance. A few of the short tracks we might adjust it a little bit, but overall you must maintain 110in. To get sharper corner entry for the tighter turns…well, different people have different theories on how to do that. As a short-track racer, my dad taught me to lead with the left front and I'd say that's what you'd tend to do rather than adjust wheelbase. The car's setup would be more like a parallelogram: I've seen that be successful before. A lot of it is also down to driver preference in whether you make the left or the right more loaded. There are multiple ways to get around it.
If you could have worked in an era when cars were more stock – not templated – and NASCAR engineers could be more innovative, do you think your way of working would have gotten good results? And do you think Jeff would have done as well in, say, the '60s as he has over the past 15 years?
Randy, I don't know how successful I would be going back into the 1960s, because I'm only 30 years old and so I don't think I've ever worked on a truly stock car. Everything I've worked on has been pure racecar. I should also add that I feel that you learn so much every year, that if I went back five years, I'd be real successful with what I know now!
I don't know if the cars being more stock would make me successful so much as having more freedom to be innovative. I am not a great guy at working out, "We need 30 thousandths of shock packer or a half-click of rebound." I am more a “Let's mount this upper control-arm a different way,” or “Let's construct the rear end-housing a different way” kinda guy. And that's really been taken out of NASCAR – there are many more blueprinted parts and more rules, and that's definitely hurt me as a crew chief. I'd definitely shine more if you could have radically new ideas and concepts, so I've had to adjust over the last few years with the tighter box that we now work within.
As for Jeff, well, he has a phenomenal feel for a racecar, so any situation where you have more tools to give him what he wants will make him more successful. He's very, very particular on how he feels a racecar, and very good at leading a team down that road, so any time in the past where there were more tools for his crew chief to tune his car, he'd have been very successful.