Monday, June 15, 2015

Right Sides Only: Michigan Winning Crew Chief, Tony Gibson

 
Crew chiefs often say that the race starts on Friday. Tony Gibson is no exception. 

As the No. 41 Haas Automation team led by Gibson and driver Kurt Busch discussed their rain-soaked win at the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Gibson was the first to say it.

"Well, it started on Friday. It was kind of crazy. We wrecked our primary fairly early there in practice, so the guys did a great job getting the backup car out. We had tested that car in Vegas so we felt comfortable it would run pretty good.

"So we didn't qualify all that great. I know the first round was good for us, but second round we just got too tight. But Saturday went fairly well, made some adjustments that helped the car. It was probably a fifth- to eighth-place car and then overnight we kind of worked on it a little bit more."  

Gibson also took to Twitter on Friday where he posted a quote from none other than Dale Earnhardt Sr., "The winner ain't the one with the fastest car; it's the one who refuses to lose." Knowing what they were facing with their backup car, Gibson obviously wanted to stress his belief in Earnhardt's sentiment, and he continued to believe it throughout the race.

The race took longer than anticipated because of the numerous red flags for rain, and ultimately was called by track officials after 138 of the scheduled 200 laps. Officials even called for those in the stands to take precautions during an impressive display of lightning in the area.

Crew chiefs can generally make adjustments during a race as day gives way to night or temperatures fluctuate, but rain causes its own set of problems. 


Credit: Charlotte Bray/Skirts and Scuffs
"We were just guessing on the weather. Looking at the weather, we knew it was going to be rain off and on, but when the sun pops out, it just makes this place really slick, so we kind of gambled on the track getting slick and loose, so we may have overachieved a little bit to start with, but I think our car was tight enough at the start to where we could pass cars and other guys were a little bit too free," Gibson said.

"It worked out that we drove our way up to 12th I think it was, and then from there my plan was to do right sides. Last night [Saturday] my plan was to do right sides at the competition yellow no matter what anybody did, because I was planning on having to get a lot of track position, but once we got to 12th, I'm like what do I do now because I'm passing cars pretty good.
            
"I stuck with it. I knew if I could get to Lap 77 I would be fine, so I ran it light of fuel. We didn't run all the fuel when we stopped that time. We just put enough in it to get us to Lap 77, and that got us up to sixth or seventh, I think, at that point, so that little bit of gamble worked out for us.
            
"And then from there the car was really strong. He drove himself up into the top five, and we knew from there it was just going to be pit the least amount of times that we needed to pit because of the weather. We could see the storms were starting to build and back build and come. It's stressful when it rains like that, when it's off and on and off and on. You're looking at a radar screen but you don't know exactly when it's going to hit," he explained.

"It was pretty stressful for everybody but everybody stayed calm and cool. Rick Carelli did a great job in the spotting stand keeping Kurt informed. I would keep him informed on the weather and he would tell Kurt. Everyone just worked good as a team today, and it kind of paid off.
      
"We just made the right adjustments overnight to pick the track where it was going to be, and that's why we were able to drive up through there."

Gibson took time on Saturday evening to discuss the potential weather troubles with his driver as well as two of the team engineers.

"We're working on how to get better going from Saturday to Sunday predicting races and pace and all that kind of stuff. We're nowhere near where we need to be, but we talked to Kurt, and then when he left the truck yesterday, we had a pretty close game plan to what we were going to stick to going into today as far as changes and we stuck to that. I was a little nervous that we would be a little bit on the too-free side, but we're learning. We're learning as a team, and you know, sitting down and communicating with one another and our engineers on going forward to try to keep the balance of the car a little bit closer. We haven't been so good at that here lately," he said.
            
"I thought we hit it pretty close today. I know we had a decent car. I think there was a couple cars that may have been a little bit better than us, but I think the adjustments we did today were based off of stuff we did at Pocono, which helped us, but I thought our balance stayed pretty good and our speed was really good all day.
      
"It comes down to this Chase deal, it's like we want to win every week. People ask you, are you going to go lax, are you going to take it easy, and you can't. It's like everything we do is -- whether it's an adjustment or whether it's the right way or the wrong way or predicting weather, what the car is going to do, all that's going to help us in the Chase when it comes time.

"We're still working hard on it, and like I said, we're nowhere near where we need to be, but we're working hard, but we're working together as a team."

Teamwork seems to be paying off. This win is their second of the season, putting them in elite company with Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson as the only three drivers with multiple wins, a feat the elder Busch hasn't achieved since 2011.

Rain-shortened or not, a win is a win, and the No. 41 team has solidified its place in the Chase. Elite company indeed.

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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. 
    Her other interests include 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.

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