We’ve had a busy fall, starting with our second win of the season at Kentucky Motor Speedway. Kentucky was a fun day. We were fast and led a lot early. Then we took four tires when a lot of teams took two, and it took a lot of time to make that up. We didn’t expect that. We were great; it was just tough in traffic. We ran a setup that worked better in traffic and I was able to pick guys off and work my way back up. Then at the end, we took four tires again and a lot of guys took two. Shane was like, “look, with four tires, if we get the cautions right, it will be an advantage”, but you never know. We really wanted it to be a long run where four tires would become an advantage or you want a bunch of short runs. We had a bunch of short runs and it worked out in our favor.
When the last restart came, I was fourth, and I was screaming on the radio, “Yes, yes, yes!” because I was on the line I wanted, it was close to the end, and it was a chance to win. I got a decent start, followed Chase Elliott and Ty Dillon into turn 2, and Ty was on the bottom. You have a choice at that point: do you stay on the line you want, or do you push the teammate?
At that point, you push the teammate, even if it’s not the line you wanted. I pushed Ty and he got a run into the corner, but it was too much. He couldn’t hold onto it. As soon as they were about to go side by side, understanding aero and how it works, I thought, “here’s a shot; I’ve got a chance.” I had a lot of momentum. I was able to get by Ty, but not Chase. When we drove into turn 1, I was thinking to myself, “either we’re back and forth, or we take the lead. There’s nothing to lose here.” So I just drove it in, basically flat-footed into the corner and drove it as hard as our Chevrolet would go. As soon as I got to his rear bumper and he could not come up, I knew we were going to get by him. I was able to get by him and drive away. It was fun to pull away.
What a great day for Richard Childress Racing and ECR engines; we finished first, second, third and sixth. We had another sponsor on the car with Lucas Oil’s Protect the Harvest, so that was nice. Of course, we were making fun of my dad because we got a win and didn’t have South Point on the car, but it was a great day for Lucas Oil. I was really happy to do it for them and for my guys. We finally got another win and our first one on an oval. It felt great!
Our win at Road America earlier this year was special because it was our first win as a team and my first win in awhile. Actually, I think you can go a little longer than “awhile.” You can say a decade, it’s OK. But to get one on an oval was special too, because it was something we really wanted. It helped us meet a goal for our South Point Racing team, which was to win multiple races. It gave all the guys a little more confidence — a little more confidence for me, a little more confidence for Shane. It just goes a long way in the whole organization.
The goal we’re looking for now, we’re kind of stuck in points, so all we have left is to swing for fences. We can try some different things, setup-wise. We can take some risks in calling the races. Let’s go win some races and be ready for next year. Our whole finish to this year when it comes to setups and what we’re doing is all basically about what we can learn about these tracks for next year. Even if it hurts us a little bit now, we’re not going to lose a spot in points, and all we can do is gain one. So now is the time to take risks and do the sort of testing that we’re not going to be allowed to do next year.
The next week at Dover International Speedway, we tried a different setup and a piece broke. All part of the taking risks thing. We thought it broke in qualifying, but it was one of those things where we weren’t really sure, and we thought maybe it would make it, maybe it wouldn’t. But right off the first run, we could tell it wasn’t going to get better. We came in and fixed it. You know, I’m always kind of a glass-half-full guy. The caution came out early, and we came in. I think we lost six laps putting a new front end in it. That was pretty impressive by our car chief and our front-end mechanics to get that in it. We had no scales, nothing; we just took a wild guess. We had it scienced out — what that means is our teammates had that style setup, so we took their style, had it somewhat prepared with the number of rounds and that kind of thing. But then we just took a wild guess. We went back out there and got into the eighth-place hole and were a seventh to ninth-place racecar on speed from then on; we were just too many laps down. For taking a wild guess at it after something broke, that’s very positive. You can’t knock that.
It was still a great effort by our crew. It was a good day as far as the guys learning something. It was a good day as far as the general mechanics and our car chief and the guys who were able to make that guess and be as close as they were. We came out of there learning. We go back there twice, so that was another great learning experience for next year. We have a notebook for both setups, so we can go back there and try both and see which one is faster at the time. Yeah, it sucked as far as the day goes. But it didn’t suck as far as what we learned. We’ll take it. Like I said, we’re swinging for fences. We struck out, but we tried.
At Kansas Speedway, it was pretty simple. I got caught speeding. We were looking at pit road speeds afterward, and I pushed it for about five inches too much. Risk-reward. Again, we were swinging for a fence. We had a top-5 racecar and we were super fast. We qualified well. We were racing well and led some laps. I got greedy is what happened. Shane kind of chuckled and said it was a good thing he did what he did at Dover, so I could do what I did at Kansas. We’re a team here. When we screw up, we take turns screwing up. In the end, look at the positives. We had a fast racecar. We liked the setup we had and everything we had to build with. We get to go back there next year and we’re going to be prepared and ready to go.
We definitely feel good about the end of this year. Our mile-and-a-half program is so good at RCR. Ty got the pole at Kansas and Kentucky. We won at Kentucky and Ty led the most laps. I think if it wasn’t for me, we’d have all been in the top 10 at Kansas. At Charlotte, we were fast. We use a tool called Dirtfish. They actually have people on the roof who film everyone’s fast lap. Then they overlay the cars on each lap, so we can look at the other teams and see where they’re beating us. It’s a really cool engineering tool. We overlaid us with Brad Keselowski at Charlotte and could see exactly where we beat him and where he beat us. Basically, you start at the start-finish line together and see where you come back around. We actually beat him in turns 1 and 2, and the lost it all in 3 and 4. From there, we could make some assumptions about where we’d run that night. We feel really good about the rest of the year. I’m hoping that we can end this season really strong.
Right now, the plan is for us to all stay together next year. Our goal is to keep all the guys. We had a fairly green team at the beginning of this year. We had a car chief who was new to being a car chief and a lot of young over-the-wall guys. We turned out to have a great team. I love my over-the-wall team. They are great. They are a Nationwide-only pit crew. I wanted that. The No. 31 Cup guys like pitting me because I’m a positive team guy, but I’m really happy with my guys. The No. 31 guys are scheduled to pit me a couple more times this year, and I like to tease them and tell them they have a lot to live up to with my Nationwide team as good as they are. There is a bad side to my guys being so good; I’m afraid the Cup teams are going to want to steal them. I actually looked at Shane back in July and said, “If they let me keep my over-the-wall crew, it will be a miracle.” I thought they were going to take some of the guys and start moving them to other places. So far Richard has let me keep my guys, and I’m really happy. That’s the goal for next year. If we can keep all the pieces, we have great chemistry and guys who know the system. For them, a lot of the learning process is over; now they know. We’ll still make mistakes and there’s still learning, but it’s not like at the start of this year where we had to work through things. We’ve got a great team here with great chemistry and I hope we keep them all intact. That’s the goal for next year.
If you go back and look at the desert guys who have been in the sport, like Robby Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears, me — we’ve got pretty good car control. I got it beyond sideways at Chicago and saved it. If you look at Jimmie’s spin at Kansas a few weeks ago in practice or qualifying or whenever that was, that should have been a wreck. Nine out of 10 people will go in the wall. Jimmie kept it off the wall, spun it down, and was OK. You never want to brag about your car control at that end because it means you’re doing something wrong. But the guys who come from off-road racing, we do feel like we can save it more often than some others, and that comes from our background. Some of the stuff Robby Gordon could do was amazing. You’d see him save some cars, even Indy cars, and be like, “oh my God.” Robby’s phenomenal. Desert racing is a lot of fun. I’m going to try to do a couple off-road races this winter. It’s crazy, and crazy is fun.
Story of the Month
My grandfather was pretty famous for having this old Ford Bronco. It was a green and white Bronco, and it had a big winch on the front and a couple of gas cans on the back. My grandfather made a lot of money in buying dirt. He’d take his truck and go out in the desert and find some dirt that he liked, buy it, and sell it like 15 years later for a big profit.
Well, he was famous for running out of gas a lot. That was what he had those gas cans for. Well, he and my grandmother were going out to dinner somewhere one night. He’s driving down the road, and the truck runs out of gas. Grandma shakes her head at him and says, “Ok, Jack… get out and put your gas in from your gas cans and let’s get going.”
Grandpa says, “Well, Bertie, I’d love to, except I used the gas can to get home yesterday.”
So they had to get someone to help push them down the road to the gas station because he’d already used the gas cans that he had for emergencies and he just didn’t feel like stopping afterward. I understand that my grandmother was not very amused.
About the author
Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.
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Maybe after the weekly preordained Cup battering one of the big boys will let him sit in his car, as long as he doesn’t touch anything. Exciting!