Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Fast Facts: Darlington’s 2016 Throwback Paint Schemes

With its return to its traditional Labor Day weekend spot in 2015, Darlington Raceway’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 took a fresh look at NASCAR history with numerous throwback paint schemes. This year, Darlington is back at it with a fresh batch of throwback schemes for the race on Sunday, Sept. 4 – you can check them all out and vote for your favorite through Sept. 1 at NASCAR.com.

One former champion will be represented by two teams, as Alan Kulwicki’s “Underbird” from his 1992 championship run will be commemorated on Regan Smith’s No. 7 (Kulwicki’s number) and Greg Biffle’s No. 16 (featuring Hooter’s, Kulwicki’s sponsor).

Greg Biffle's Kulwicki throwback
credit: Roush Fenway Racing/NASCAR Media

Trevor Bayne’s No. 6 AdvoCare Ford will feature Mark Martin’s No. 6 Valvoline design from the 1996 and 1997 seasons.

Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 will feature Bill Elliott’s Mac Tonight McDonald’s paint scheme from 1997.
Jamie McMurray's Mac Tonight throwback
credit: Chip Ganassi Racing/NASCAR Media
Tony Stewart’s No. 14 will honor Bobby Allison with sponsorship from long-time partner Coca Cola.
Bobby Allison joins Tony Stewart at the Coca Cola
throwback unveiling
credit: SHR via Getty Images/Streeter Lecka
Jeffrey Earnhardt’s No. 32 will honor his grandfather, the late Dale Earnhardt, with a blue-and-yellow scheme reminiscent of Earnhardt’s famous Wrangler scheme.

Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 honors the “Tide Ride” that Darrell Waltrip made famous, now featuring Tide PODS.
Matt Kenseth's Tide throwback
credit: Joe Gibbs Racing/NASCAR Media


Monday, August 29, 2016

Rahal Shoots Past Hinchcliffe for IndyCar Win at Texas

Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs

James Hinchcliffe led the Firestone 600 for 76 days and 188 of 248 laps, but in the end Graham Rahal snatched the six-shooters right out of Hinchcliffe’s hands. The steal was figurative, of course, but the emotional impact on Hinchcliffe was the same as if Rahal had mugged him under the rain of Texas-shaped confetti in Victory Lane.

Saturday night the Verizon IndyCar Series resumed the rain-delayed race that began back on June 12 at Texas Motor Speedway. Under the lights of the Great American Speedway, the driver of the No. 5 Arrow Honda for Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports seemed poised to collect his first win since April 2015, and to put on the Charlie 1 Horse cowboy hat and shoot the guns that go with the Foyt-Rutherford Trophy.

Graham Rahal [No. 15, foreground] edged James Hinchcliffe [No. 5, background] by 0.008 seconds Saturday night, the closest finish in Texas Motor Speedway history and a 1-2 result for Honda.
Credit: Honda Racing
Instead, Rahal’s No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda slipped across the line 0.0080 seconds ahead of Hinchcliffe, the closest IndyCar finish at Texas and the fifth-closest margin in IndyCar history.

After climbing out of his car on pit road, Hinchcliffe walked away from the cameras and toward the track for a moment, ostensibly to gather himself before facing the media.

“It was a tough finish, for sure. It was a great race,” Hinchcliffe said. “The Arrow Electronics Honda was just a rocket ship. We built the thing to be good over a tire stint, which is always the name of the game here in Texas, tire degradation is key. We haven’t had a late-finish, three-wide battle here in Texas since 2011. It was tough. We kept a lot of guys at bay.”

Not surprisingly, Rahal was one of the drivers involved in that 2011 battle, along with the late Justin Wilson. Wilson capitalized when Rahal made an unforced error by brushing the wall just before the end of the race, slowing Rahal’s momentum enough for Wilson to score what would be his final series win.

Saturday night, however, Rahal and Kanaan tag-teamed Hinchcliffe on a Lap 240 restart. Kanaan was on new tires; Rahal’s Firestones were not new, but not as old as Hinchcliffe’s. Still Hinchcliffe managed to hold off Rahal and Kanaan until the last lap.

“I had to set that up,” Rahal said. “James did a great job tonight. In all honesty, he deserved to win this thing; he led from start to finish. You’ve just got to lead that last lap. I knew I couldn’t get him on the high side. We had a hole underneath Hinch and we had to take it. I had to set him up and get him thinking I was going high and then cut across. I’m so proud of this Penn Grade team and thankful to everybody that supports us like Steak ‘n Shake, United Rentals, Hyatt and more. It means the world to me.”

As was the case in other victory lanes across various forms of motorsports the last few weeks, the winning driver paid tribute to Bryan Clauson, whose recent death from injuries sustained in a midget race sent shock waves across the entire racing community, much like the death of Justin Wilson did a year ago at Pocono Raceway.

“In all honesty, I was thinking about Clauson, but more importantly I was thinking about Justin," Rahal said. "He and I had a great battle here a few years ago, and he got me at the end. I kept thinking about him the last few laps. I definitely miss that guy. He was a great human being and a hell of a race car driver.”

Complete unofficial finishing order:

1 Graham Rahal
2 James Hinchcliffe
3 Tony Kanaan
4 Simon Pagenaud
5 Helio Castroneves
6 Charlie Kimball
7 Carlos Munoz
8 Will Power
9 Juan Pablo Montoya
10 Sebastien Bourdais
11 Alexander Rossi
12 Marco Andretti
13 Ryan Hunter-Reay
14 Pippa Mann
15 Max Chilton
16 Mikhail Aleshin
17 Jack Hawksworth
18 Ed Carpenter
19 Scott Dixon
20 Takuma Sato
21 Conor Daly
22 Josef Newgarden 

Right Sides Only: Notes from Pure Michigan 400 Winning Crew Chief, Chad Johnston

by Stacey Owens

The driver in Victory Lane may be a new face, but the crew chief is an old pro.

Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing, wheeled to his first Sprint Cup victory at Michigan International Speedway. Crew chief Chad Johnston, however, has some previous experience.

Formerly the crew chief for Martin Truex Jr., Johnston was named crew chief for Larson last November. Having been to The Chase with his last driver, Johnston is looking forward to getting back to championship contention.

It may have taken Johnston some time to get acclimated to business at his new shop, but working with a tight-knit crew helped speed things along.

"Obviously you kind of hit the ground running and you get a late start, you don't have much of an offseason," Johnston said. "You kind of have to get an idea of what the cars are, how they got to that point, what you want to do different to make them better. You kind of had what they've had in the past the first three or four weeks and then decide from there what you want to do.
            
"A couple months into it we started making some changes. We all put our heads together. We obviously were behind the eight ball as far as being competitive on a week-to-week basis. Everybody at the shop worked their butt off in the fab shop, the body shop. Hats off to those guys. You don't make cars fast when you come to the racetrack, you make fast cars at the shop."

Johnston was quick to credit the Pure Michigan 400 win to the ones responsible for giving the team the winning car.

"Hats off to all those guys at the shop," he said. "They're the ones that deserve the win and deserve all the congratulations, because we unloaded with a fast car and didn't have to do much to it."

Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs



With that race-ready car, Larson led a race high 41 laps, but he needed the work of Johnston and his crew in the final pit stop to claim the win.

Johnston, however, didn't think that last stop was necessarily his crew's best work.

"I thought the stop was a little bit slow. The biggest thing was the 2 had pitted a few laps before us and took two tires for the track position. The 4 had pitted a few laps before us. We pitted on the lap we needed to pit on to make it to the end. It's hard to talk yourself into staying out two more laps or three more laps when you know those guys are gaining lap time and track position with each lap."

Sticking with his own pit stop timing paid off for Johnston, and his driver handled things for the remainder of the event. 
            
"The worst thing you can do is to let them force your hand and then run out of fuel at the end," Johnston said. "We stood our ground, pitted when we needed to pit. Lost a lot of ground to Chase through traffic and racing the 2 and the 4. We needed that caution obviously at the end to compete for the win.
            
"We did a good job of running them back down until we caught that group of three cars, I think the 6 and the 83 and another car, then lost everything we gained and then some.
         
"We needed that last restart. Kyle did everything he needed to do to have the lead off of two. We knew whoever had the lead off of two was probably going to win the race."

The win firmly establishes Larson and Johnston in The Chase, and fans of the young driver are anxious to see whether the No. 42 team can pull off another win in the first round.

---------------------------------------

     Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend.
    The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far.
    This self-admitted grammar nerd also loves country music, though she can't carry a tune; collegiate football, though she needs a lot of work on her spiral; and Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life.




Sunday, August 28, 2016

CAUTION CLOCK CHAOS: Brett Moffitt is victorious at Michigan

              

Brett Moffitt celebrates in Victory Lane following his win at Michigan, Aug. 27, 2016.
Credit: Rey Del Rio / Getty Images

by Courtney Horn

Brett Moffitt claimed the Career for Veterans 200 at Michigan International Speedway in a last-lap pass for his first career Camping World Truck Series victory. The Red Horse Racing driver went three wide with teammate Timothy Peters and William Byron to gain the lead for the win in just his sixth series start.

“We just had such a run – we were rolling five to 10 miles an hour faster than them getting into Turn 1,” Moffitt said. “I knew if there was room to get to the outside, I didn’t care if it was going to stick or not. I’m here to win races.”

Peters wound up second, with Byron falling to fourth behind Daniel Hemric.

Moffitt, who is on a part-time schedule, does not qualify for the driver’s chase, however the win does qualify the No. 11 for the owner’s championship.

“Winning’s awesome no matter what the circumstance is,” Moffitt said, “Hopefully we can get another win next week and hopefully some more doors open down the road. All in all, it’s been a great opportunity.”

The CFV 200 was delayed by two and a half-hours due to lightning and rain that surrounded the speedway, but was packed with lots of action to make up for the wait.

Atlanta winner John Hunter Nemechek finished 26th after hitting the wall on Lap 63 and heavy damage to the No. 8 Chevrolet ended his night. Nemechek sits eighth in the standings and has already secured his spot in the Chase for the championship.

Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick are two drivers still looking for a victory to qualify themselves with two races remaining in the regular season. Custer led 18 laps before losing control of his truck and making slight contact with eventual winner Moffitt.

Reddick smacked the wall after striking the side of the No. 21 of Johnny Sauter. Reddick held on for a 19th place finish.

A Look Forward to the Chase 

Time is running out for first-time winners to punch their ticket to be a part of the first Truck Series championship. If there are no new winners, Timothy Peters and Daniel Hemric have a good margin to lock themselves in on points.

Cameron Hayley flew under the radar during Saturday’s event and came home with a top-five finish. A win at one of the next two tracks can place him inside the top eight.

The series returns to Canada for the fourth annual Chevrolet Silverado 250 where the winless drivers hope to make some noise and secure a spot before the regular season ends.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Can't Script It: Five Questions for Michigan and Road America

(Credit: Jonathan Moore/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Another split weekend means storylines galore for NASCAR’s top three series – and lots of predictions.

The best thing about the sport of racing is unpredictability. When machines circle – or zig-zag – around a track at 100+ miles per hour, there is no wiggle room, no cushion. Racers try to create a margin of error, and that’s when the good stuff happens. It’s the stuff we see in track commercials and NASCAR compilations on YouTube. The good, thrilling stuff, but it is more than wrecks and crashes. It’s Denny Hamlin beating Martin Truex, Jr. by a nose at Daytona. It’s a Camping World Truck Series rookie heading to victory lane for the first of many, many times. It’s Tony Stewart finding victory in his final season.

You can’t script that stuff – and why would you want to?

Since we don’t know what to expect, we daydream and try to put the pieces together. Or we ask five questions and attempt to answer them as accurately as possible. This week, I discuss Byron’s move, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and much more in this (long overdue) installment of Five Questions.

With Byron on the move in 2017, who is KBM’s next big thing? One of the biggest “silly season” moves involved rookie Byron. The current Kyle Busch Motorsports wheelman signed a multi-year contract with Hendrick Motorsports, promoting him to JR Motorsport’s XFINITY program in 2017. This is a fantastic move for Byron, who is learning at an accelerated rate. However, it also begs the question – who will fill his shoes? Kyle Busch certainly has an eye for talent, with Byron and Erik Jones on his list of discoveries. It will be hard to follow those up. Despite this, the future of KBM is already there; Christopher Bell has consistently proven himself with strong finishes and a handful of victories. He is definitely a budding talent, and Busch should utilize him while he has the chance. As for filling Byron’s seat, there is no telling who KBM will hire. A healthy Matt Tifft could assume that role, but that is the only person on my radar at this point. Byron’s move will shake up both CWTS and KBM in 2017, and it is time for the organization to start thinking of their Next Big Thing.

Who is in the prime position heading into Road America? The schedule leading up to the XFINITY Series Chase is borderline criminal; from drenched Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to Bristol’s chaotic ways to Road America’s twists and turns, it is a rough road to secure a slot for the championship. This weekend’s trip to Elkhart Lake is one race closer to the playoffs – but it won’t be a picnic. Not only is it a road course, but also rain may play a factor. If this race is anything like Mid-Ohio, drivers beware. One driver who shouldn’t worry is Brendan Gaughan, who finished eighth at Mid-Ohio. The guy is a road-course aficionado who’s won at Road America before. On top of that, he’s coming off a fifth-place result at Bristol. Bristol. It’s been a good season for the No. 62 team, with three top fives and 11 top 10s. A win would sweeten his championship point standings; he sits fifth now, but a victory means bonus points. He is going into this weekend in a good place, and signs point to him excelling at Elkhart Lake. Out of all the drivers, he will fare the best in the (hopefully not pouring) rain.

Does Stenhouse, Jr.’s runner-up result signify progress? Switching gears to the Sprint Cup Series, there’s another guy on fire; Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. finished second at Bristol, tying his career-best result, also at Bristol, back in 2014. What a way to honor his best friend, Bryan Clauson. Is this a sign that Stenhouse is coming into his own? It could be, but it’s most likely a representation of Roush Fenway Racing’s 2016 progress. The organization’s short-track program is great, but they lack in other areas such as intermediates. Strong finishes by Trevor Bayne and Greg Biffle support this theory. It’s nice to finally see Stenhouse do well, but you can’t say he is on the fast track to victory without more evidence. What happens at Michigan may sway my opinion, however. The team as a whole is working better, but it’s hard to say there’s overall improvement when the organization flourishes at certain layouts.

Who is slipping as the Chase nears? Did the Chase sneak up on anyone else other than me? Oh yeah, a few Sprint Cup drivers who aren’t doing so hot right now. Those who are locked in the Chase probably think they have nothing to worry about – but they’re not exactly correct. Those going into the playoffs with momentum will outperform those who are lacking. Who is in the hot seat at the moment? That would be Coca Cola 600 dominator Martin Truex, Jr. Since that impressive victory, he earned one top five and a handful on top 10s. A Bristol finish of 23rd doesn’t bode well, either. The one thing on his side is Charlotte – and tracks just like it – in the final 10 races. This year’s stats are edging closer to his 2015 numbers, but something is suddenly missing from the No. 78 team. I don’t know what it is, but they need to find it before Chicagoland if Furniture Row Racing wants that trophy.

How will Bowman follow up last Cup appearance? NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., was not cleared by doctors this week and will miss the next two races. Jeff Gordon is slated to continue driving the No. 88 at Darlington Raceway, but a prior commitment prevents him from racing at Michigan. Because of this, Alex Bowman will return to Hendrick Motorsports this weekend. He hasn’t been in the car since New Hampshire, so what should we expect from him? Well, his prior Michigan results are promising; his three XFINITY visits produced two 14th-place results and a seventh-place finish. Decent numbers, right? I could see some issues in practice, but the fact of the matter is Bowman isn’t a rookie. He’s raced in Cup full-time and is a smart driver. Good things should come out of this weekend for him if he can weather the storm that is the No. 88 team; even before Earnhardt was injured, that group struggled and failed to claim a victory. It would be hard to blame any issues on Bowman – or Gordon for that matter. They’re working with what they got. Bowman can avoid any big team mishaps and bring a smile to the faces of No. 88 fans. His sixth-place qualifying effort, the No. 88 team's best start since Dover in May, certainly shows promise. 

TV Schedule: Aug. 26-28

Michigan International Speedway. Credit: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
NASCAR splits its time among a superspeedway and a road course this weekend.

The Sprint Cup Series and Camping World Truck Series head to Michigan, while the XFINITY Series turns left and right at Road America.

The following is a handy guide to track events and television coverage at Michigan and Road America. All times are in Eastern Standard Time.

Friday, Aug. 26:
Noon Sprint Cup Series practice, NBCSN
1:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series practice, FS2
4 p.m. Camping World Truck Series final practice, FS2
5 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying, NBCSN
6:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Qualifying, NBCSN
7:30 p.m. Whelen Series: Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (taped), NBCSN
8:30 p.m. Whelen Series: Bristol Motor Speedway (taped), NBCSN

Saturday, Aug. 27:
8:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, CNBC
9:30 a.m. Camping World Truck Series Qualifying, FS1
11:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Series final practice, CNBC
12:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Setup, FS1
1 p.m. Camping World Truck Series: Careers for Veterans 200 Presented by Cooper Standard and Brad Keselowski's Checkered Flag Foundation, FS1
2:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
3 p.m. XFINITY Series: Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville, NBCSN
11:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series: Careers for Veterans 200 Presented by Cooper Standard and Brad Keselowski 's Checkered Flag Foundation (re-air), FS1

Sunday, Aug. 28:
11:30 a.m. NASCAR RaceDay, FS1
1 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
2 p.m. Sprint Cup Series: Pure Michigan 400 , NBCSN
5:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Post-Race Show, NBCSN
6 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1
10 p.m. Whelen Series: Bowman Gray Stadium (taped), NBCSN

Thursday, August 25, 2016

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Pure Michigan 400


Track Classification: Superspeedway
Similar Tracks: Daytona International Speedway •  Auto Club Speedway (Fontana)  
Indianapolis Motor Speedway • Pocono Raceway • Talladega Superspeedway
Distance: 2 Miles

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Both with 4 - Brad Keselowksi and Clint Bowyer
All with  3 -  Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Paul Menard, Greg Biffle, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Carl Edwards  

By Track
All with 7 - Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer
Both with 6 - Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
All with 5 -Paul Menard, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle 

Recent Pole Winners:
2015 Matt Kenseth
2014 Jeff Gordon

Last Year's Race Winner: Matt Kenseth

The Likely Suspects: This superspeedway is a favorite for these Michigan elite drivers: Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard and Matt Kenseth.

My 2 Cents: My no-brainer pick this week is a two-way tie between Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano. My next choices are Paul Menard, Austin Dillon, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson. I'll complete my team with Chris Buescher and Ryan Blaney. If you have any Carl Edwards starts left (I don't), I would swap him for Kyle Larson.

My Final Four: Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard, Austin Dillon and Ryan Blaney.

Points to ponder:
  • The Coors Light pole position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (20) than any other starting position at Michigan International Speedway.   
  •  Roush Fenway Racing has the most wins at Michigan in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 13: Mark Martin (four), Greg Biffle (four), Carl Edwards (two), Matt Kenseth (two) and Kurt Busch (one).
  • Of all active drivers, Carl Edwards has the highest average finishing position at Michigan in the Cup series with a 9.500.
  • Among active drivers, Kevin Harvick leads the series in runner-up finishes at Michigan with six.
  • Matt Kenseth leads all active drivers in top-five finishes at Michigan with 14.  
  • Tony Stewart has the most top-10 finishes at Michigan of any active driver with 21.
Enjoy the race! Post your comments here or follow me on Twitter at @purplecatpr.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Travel Tips: Road America – Aug. 25-27, 2016

credit: NASCAR Media
The Xfinity Series has a stand-alone race this weekend, Thursday through Saturday, Aug. 25-27, at Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI. Joining the Xfinity Series for the Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville weekend is the SCCA Pro Trans Am Series.

The annual Hauler Parade to Road America takes place Thursday at 5:30 p.m. CT. The parade departs from Times Printing in Random Lake and ends at Gate 6.

Fans looking for something to do throughout the weekend can check out public karting and zip-lining at Road America. Fans 14 and older (parent/guardian must be present if under 18) can participate in karting at the Road America Motorplex, in the infield over the Johnsonville Bridge, in karts that reach speeds up to 40 mph. Cost is $20 per session or $250 for an unlimited weekend pass; the track will be open all three days from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. CT.

Fans age 6 and over (70-275 lbs., with a parent/guardian if under 18) can fly on the dual racing zip lines at the Landing Tower near Turn 14. Cost is $20 for first ride and $10 for second consecutive ride, or $150 for a weekend package; hours are Thursday from noon-6 p.m. CT and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. CT.

Key on-track event times:

Thursday, Aug. 25
  • Trans Am test session – 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. CT
Friday, Aug. 26 –
  • Xfinity Series practice – 9 and 11 a.m. CT
  • Trans Am practice – 10 a.m. and 4:10 p.m. CT
  • Trans Am qualifying – 1 p.m. CT
  • Xfinity Series qualifying – 4:10 p.m. CT
Saturday, Aug. 27 –
  • Trans Am Race No. 1 – 8:50 a.m. CT
  • Trans Am Race No. 2 – 10:20 a.m. CT
  • Xfinity Series Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville – 2 p.m. CT
Find out more about the track and purchase tickets for the weekend at www.roadamerica.com.

Rookie Stripe: The Importance of Pit Stop Speeds



Photo credit: Lisa Janine Cloud for Skirts and Scuffs
by Logan Stewart

Not too long ago I was visiting a close friend from high school who, while one of the most athletic people I know, has little interest in NASCAR. I was telling her that many pit crew members are former college and pro athletes, and that pit stops take place at lightning-like speed, meaning crew members must possess incredible dexterity and athleticism.

Me: “Pit stops are crazy fast. It’s almost like a blur to watch them.”

Her: “Oh, that’s interesting. I thought those pit crew guys just kind of hung out and changed tires like on the side of the road.”

Whoa, wait.
Changed tires on the side of the road? I think it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Run that by me one more time
Fast pit stops normally clock in at just 12 seconds or less, yet are one of the most critical parts of a race. In one stop, the over-the-wall pit crew jacks the car up, removes five lug nuts, changes two or four tires, puts in two cans of fuel and may clean the grille or remove a windshield tear-off before sending the car back down pit road. It’s a synchronized, high-speed show contingent on precision and rapidity. Pit crews have to be fast, strong and work together seamlessly, because just an extra second or two -- or even a few tenths of a second -- in the pits can make or break a race. When the pit crew makes a mistake, it’s obvious.

How time flies
Wired.com published an article in 2015 chronicling the thin line of time that pit crews have to execute a pit stop. The Elegant, Sweaty Art of a NASCAR Pit Stop by Jordan Golson details everything from the time needed to go over the wall (0.5 seconds), to removal of lug nuts and tires (five seconds) to tires replaced and old tires returned to the wall (seven seconds).

Photo credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
“Consistency is key. The pit crew must do its job the same way every time. The crew succeeds, and fails, as one—five guys can do the fastest stop of their lives, but if the sixth guy is half a beat behind, it doesn’t mean a thing.”                       --Jordan Golson

If you really want to get up close and personal with the pit crew at work, watch Interstate Batteries’ video Inside a NASCAR Pit Stop with Joe Gibbs Racing Pit Crew Coach Mike Lepp. Lepp, athletic director for Joe Gibbs Racing, has an eye trained for pit stop analysis. Reviewing video helps him and his team identify strengths, fix weaknesses and make the modifications necessary to be faster.

Once upon a time
Like everything else in NASCAR, pit stops weren’t always so intense. Races were shorter in the early days, meaning fewer or no pit stops, and neither speed nor technology were anywhere close to as high-octane as they are today.

According to Zack Albert of NASCAR.com, as speedways came into existence and races got longer, teams made self-derived modifications to whittle time and bolster car performance. By 1974, Albert says pit stops were averaging around 30 seconds. They didn’t drop to the 20-second mark until the early 1990s when NASCAR teams began to behave more like sports teams, with each over-the-wall crewman designated to a specific position on the car.

Read more on the progressing speeds of the NASCAR pit stop in Albert's article, Evolution of the NASCAR Pit Stop: How Far It’s Come.

Photo credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
As for my friend, I told her I was going to talk about our conversation for this Rookie Stripe column. She’s the true definition of a rookie, and that’s okay. She told me NASCAR “sounds cool” and maybe she’ll go to a race one day. So even if the sport seems overwhelming, just think…you have all the time in the world to learn it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Right Sides Only: Notes from Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race Winning Crew Chief, Rodney Childers

by Stacey Owens

There's an old saying that "familiarity breeds contempt." Don't say that to a racecar driver or a crew chief. They have tracks they love for specific reasons and enjoy opportunities to vie for wins at those tracks. Bristol Motor Speedway is a favorite among many of them, including race winner Kevin Harvick's crew chief Rodney Childers.

"This is definitely a big win for me personally. Like he [Harvick] said, it's just one that has always meant a lot to me," Childers said. "I loved coming up here when I was younger, a place that I actually raced at, and just feel like I understand it better. I kind of feel like I know what he's going through sometimes and that type of thing."

Childers discussed what a Bristol win means to him in his current role as crew chief.

"With Kevin here, we've been really fast every time we've been here and just had things happen that didn't go our way. But I think the biggest thing is, it's just short-track racing. That's what I grew up doing. That's what I love. Just racing here before, just a little bit of everything. I think it just has always meant a lot to me. Any type of short track race, it doesn't matter if it's here or Martinsville, my car chief said that going to victory lane, he said, 'We've got one more left, that's Martinsville.' I was like, 'No, we've got a lot more left.' But Martinsville would be cool for sure."
He joined his driver in expressing his appreciation to the speedway for their contributions.
 
"Definitely means a lot to me ... applaud the racetrack for what they have done this week. It's really awesome to see that bottom groove back and to be able to pass those lapped cars on the bottom and that type of thing.
            
"Just a great job from our team all around. He [Havick] mentioned that we've kind of circled this one every time, and we've had a good car every single time we've been here and just hasn't worked out to our way, I guess you could say, at the end of it. And tonight everything just happened to come together and everybody did a great job," Childers explained.
Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images

In addition to giving credit to the racetrack, Childers also applauded the work of Chevrolet, the team's manufacturer.

"Those guys do a good job, of course," he said. "They've got good drivers, they've got good cars, and they work together well. But ... it's still about not beating ourselves. We've had great cars.  We've been right there with them. Hopefully, over the next few weeks, we can get things ready for the Chase and be ready when it counts."

Childers continued his parade of thanks by offering appreciation to his pit crew.

"Since we changed things around, they have done a tremendous job. We've been able to compete with the Gibbs cars, and that's what you compare yourself to every time you come down pit road, and like Kevin said earlier, it's about not beating yourself," he said.

Despite their talents, anxiety can affect the crew's over-the-wall performance. The turning point in the race may have been a rare pep talk from Childers.

"You know, as the night was going on, and we became the dominant car and started to lead the race, that's when everybody's nerves get up, and we started having mistakes. I walked to the bathroom during that one caution after that and just thought about what's the right thing to do. Got them all together behind the pit box, which I don't normally do. Sometimes people take that the wrong way, and it makes things worse. But they all looked me in the eye, and I could tell as soon as I turned around that they were ready to do this, and we were going to win a race tonight. I got back on the pit box and told my engineer Dax that they're going to be good to go from now on, and next time we come down pit road it was great. It's all about confidence. This win will mean a lot to those guys, and believing in themselves and not getting nervous when the time comes, and that's really what's important," Childers explained.
 
That time is just around the corner. Only three races remain on the regular schedule before the green flag drops at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 18 for the first round of The Chase. 
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     Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend.
    The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far.
    This self-admitted grammar nerd also loves country music, though she can't carry a tune; collegiate football, though she needs a lot of work on her spiral; and Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life.