Bits and pieces from Wednesday’s Championship 4 crew chief teleconference:
When Rodney Childers, crew chief for the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of Kevin Harvick, got a two-week “vacation” from NASCAR for an L1 infraction at Texas Motor Speedway, Stewart-Haas Racing officials looked no further than down the hall to find a suitable replacement.
Tony Gibson, who began the season in the new role of production manager at SHR, was the easy choice.
The 54-year-old came off the pit box at the end of ’17 after multiple seasons as crew chief for Kurt Busch. He’s been a crew chief at SHR since SHR became SHR in ’09. Before that he was a crew chief at the now defunct Dale Earnhardt Inc., and if you go back far enough you’ll wind up at Alan Kulwicki Racing where Gibson was car chief and fueled the car on race day.
Kulwicki won the championship in ’92, beating Bill Elliott by 10 points in a battle that wasn’t decided until the final laps of the season’s final race. Six drivers were still in contention when the race began.
In other words, it was a lot like this year’s contest pitting Harvick against Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano.
“It came down to a green flag fuel stop, and Alan was coming down pit road, and I step over and I realize I’m the only guy on pit road, and we’re the only car on pit road,” Gibson said.
“And I had to get 3.2 seconds of fuel in this thing to make it to the end, and if I don’t get it in there and if I don’t do my job, then it all lays on my shoulders. That’s probably the last time I’ve been in this situation with this much load on it.”
The Last Lap
The No. 78 team transporter for Furniture Row Racing has been making the drive from the shop in Denver to the various race tracks on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit for more than a decade. When it pulled out Tuesday evening to begin the 30-hour drive to Homestead-Miami Speedway, it was leaving for the final time.
The single-car operation founded by Barney Visser in 2005 will be no more after this weekend’s race, a lack of sponsorship forcing Visser to shut down an outfit that won the series title just one year ago with Truex at the wheel.
“I don’t think any of us were prepared for how emotional it was last night when we loaded up,” crew chief Cole Pearn said. “I think we’ve just been head down, kind of pushing super hard, trying to do everything we can to get ready for this weekend.”
Once everything was loaded and the lift gate closed, “there were a lot of tears shed and a lot of sad faces,” according to Pearn.
“I think all of us really realized that that was the last time we were going to do it together as a group,” he said. “A lot of relationships have been built from that shop and it’s a weird feeling for sure.”
Truex and Pearn will remain in the Toyota family, moving to Joe Gibbs Racing for 2019.
His driver has won eight times this season including last weekend at ISM Raceway. But don’t call Kyle Busch and his No. 18 Toyota team the title favorites.
“I would never say that about us,” crew chief Adam Stevens said. “It’s hard for me to say if there is a favorite.”
There hasn’t been that single dominant team on the intermediate tracks, the 1.5-mile venues, this year, according to Stevens. Last year, Truex won seven of 12 races on intermediates, including the championship-clinching race at Homestead.
Through 10 stops this year, Harvick has four wins, Busch three while Truex, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott have one win apiece.
“The last few intermediates that we’ve had are probably the biggest reflection upon what you might expect at Homestead,” Stevens said. “I just didn’t see anybody drive away from the field on pure speed in the last few races.
“You know, Harvick won at Texas but we had some issues that trapped us a lap down … lap time wise and speed wise I felt like we were right there with him. And Joey (Logano) was fast, too. I wouldn’t pin the favorite label on us, and equally I wouldn’t put it on anybody else.”
Easy Does It
Maybe the third time’s the charm for Logano and his No. 22 Team Penske Ford team. The group returns after failing to make the 2017 championship round.
Crew chief Todd Gordon says lessons have been learned. And the biggest deal is not to make it a big deal, he said.
“I think we’re trying to keep it as normal as possible,” Gordon said. “The first time into it in 2014, you didn’t know. I didn’t. It was a new format … new to everybody but you didn’t know how to handle it or how the weekend was going to go.
“I didn’t because I really hadn’t been in that position to have one race that dictated a championship of a season.”
Logano, 28, finished 16th in the 2014 contest, then fourth two years ago. He advanced to this year’s championship round after winning at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. It was his second win of the season.
“There was a lot more anxiety, I think, into the ’14 race,” Gordon said, “and the fear of the unknown. I think ’16 we raced into that race and just felt like we needed to handle it like the other races … continue to work forward and I thought that was a decent approach to the weekend. I thought we were very competitive.”
Gordon said his team has fared well in the most recent 1.5-mile stops at Kansas and Texas where Logano has finished eighth and third. He also led more than 150 laps combined in the two events.
“We’ve led a lot of laps. We’ve won a pole,” Gordon said. “We’ve had speed and we just need to continue to do those things and we’ll be in a great position.”
The Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway is scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 18 (3 p.m. ET, NBC)