Been a big fan of Jeff's since the mid '90s. Think you're doing a great job with Jeff in most areas, except for one thing – wins. I know I'm stating the obvious, but Jeff only has 1 win in almost 80 races, since Charlotte '07. Early in 2009, Jeff was in contention several times, and he should have won at least a couple of them. You were robbed in New Hampshire.
However, later in the season, when the 48 team was coming on strong, the 24 team no longer was close to a win. What happened? Three words come to me as the reason: In-race adjustments. Whatever the reason, you guys started off good in most races, then faded from there. What do you as a team plan to do, to improve this issue? Thanks.
Michael, you've made a great point: in-race adjustments are what we need to work on most. I think it stems from communication between Jeff and myself. We communicate well as friends but when we get in the heat of the moment and the frustration level rises, I don't do a very good job of getting Jeff to give me specific information I need. As his frustration rises, he becomes more animated but less detailed, and I need details, not animation! So we spent a lot of time over winter specifically dealing with our in-race communication and describing where we're at with the car, good or bad, and I hope we see more of what we saw in the last few races of 2010.
In Fontana, we didn't have an opportunity to show how good a car we had but we had a good one. In Las Vegas we did a great job, and although it didn't work out at the end, Jeff and I were pleased with the car's performance. We had a strategy, we stuck to it, it didn't work out, but we know how to give ourselves a good enough car.
You looked to have the best Hendrick car for most of the Daytona 500. Was that a one-off or was there a significant change in policy in the of-fseason?
Well, here's a message to Andrew and everyone: There were significant changes over the off-season. Jeff and I sat down and started with the very basic question of, “Does he think I can do the job of crew chief?” and once he stated his faith in me, I went to work. We know what kind of equipment Jimmie Johnson has, what kind of equipment Mark Martin has, and Jeff and I regard it as a personal as well as professional duty to keep up with them. From Dec. 1, 2009, we worked harder over those two non-racing months than any similar period I can remember, and I'm hoping it pays off. At Daytona, it did pay off: I feel we had the best Hendrick car. In Fontana, I believe we had the best Hendrick car again. And at Las Vegas, yet again. So I feel we're doing a better job and we need to continue to do that and get back to Victory Lane. Running good but not getting to Victory Lane can only serve you for so long: you have to get results, and that's what we're going to focus on.
At Daytona, there weren't many cars that could both work their way through the pack and also lead strongly in clean air. Would you agree and do you have an explanation? Thank you and good luck.
That's an accurate observation, Keith. With the larger restrictor plates, and the smaller rear wicker and the bigger rear shocks, that combination made them very tough cars to drive (which made for a great race!). I'm not a fan of easy-driving cars; I believe we have the best drivers in NASCAR at Hendrick Motorsports, that's what they get paid to do and I love to watch them drive. And that's why I agree with you. There were cars at Daytona that could lead well, had a lot of speed built into them, but they weren't the most comfortable to drive. So once they got back in the pack, they don't have the air to use their aerodynamic advantages, they lose downforce at the front and sideforce on the quarter-panels, they become a handful and very quickly. So that's what you saw at Daytona.
For the first time in a long time, it reminded me of open-wheel cars in the Indianapolis 500. We could have easily made our 24 car faster, but every time I turned a wrench, it got less driveable. It was really a fun week, because in the 150 duels, we made it a little too driveable, not quite fast enough, which dropped us down the pack and that put us into a wreck. So, for the 500, we told Jeff he was going to have to bite down all day and make it happen with a less easy car, and that's absolutely what he did. It wasn't the most driveable thing we've ever given him, but we had good speed and, unfortunately, it didn't fall our way.
So yeah, I think your observation is accurate: the cars you saw showing well at the front of the field are definitely not the cars you'd want if you got in the middle of a pack.
Everyone bitching about wings were made to look pretty stupid at Daytona. There was some great racing… Do you think replacing them with spoilers will make that much difference?
I believe there are multiple reasons we're getting rid of the wings. I think aesthetics play a part – the car will look better with a spoiler. There are definitely aerodynamic changes that will happen. But I agree with you Robert, that 500 was definitely the best show we've had at Daytona with the wing. However, I have a lot of faith in NASCAR and the competitors that when we put a spoiler on the car, we'll get it figured out. It may take a race or two, but we will very quickly put on as good of a show as we did at Daytona. I think the spoiler is necessary at a downforce track, and we could argue back and forth about what you'd want at Daytona, but I do know that to run parallel developments and have a wing on for some races and spoiler on for others just isn't economical or realistic.
Sorry about what happened at Daytona. Thought Jeff was looking good for another win. But I wanted to ask you about that blade that runs down the left of the rear window. How much is it affecting the side-draft? The No.43 just seemed sucked 'round when Jeff went past, and there were other incidents like that all through the race.
Great question. First of all the blade is there for absolutely the right reason: we've seen cars get upside down in a hurry, and what that blade does is increase the deceleration of the car in a spin, during the transition from straight ahead to 90deg. If a Sprint Cup gets sideways at 165mph or above, it's getting airborne – that's basic physics – and that blade slows the car down faster. However, while it also creates more sideforce and gives the driver some grip, a driver also tends to use that grip, lean on the car harder, and when Jeff went past AJ Allmendinger, side-drafting him, he took away that side force that was holding the right-rear of the 43 car down, and around he went. I think that is a cost of that side-blade, but the drivers are just going to have to get used to it and prepare for it because that blade is absolutely necessary to have safer racing at places like Daytona and Talladega.