Monday, July 20, 2015

Right Sides Only: 5-Hour ENERGY 301 Winning Crew Chief, Adam Stevens

Road course. Check.
Mile-and-a-half track. Check.
Short track. Check.

The next item Kyle Busch's crew chief, Adam Stevens, wants to check off his list is making the Chase. Having won three of the last four races, including the 5-Hour ENERGY 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the No. 18 team of Joe Gibbs Racing is now only three positions and 58 points out of the top 30, and you can bet Stevens has his pencil primed for that check mark.

Stevens discussed the speed the team has had in the past few weeks.

"We've been putting good cars on the track. I think last week we arguably had the best car, certainly good enough to run with them. This week we definitely had a top two or three car. We had some misfortune turn into some good fortune with the way the cautions fell when there was oil on the track. He thought he had a flat right front.           

"You know, part of the game is about preparing a good car, executing all day, and putting yourself in positions to take advantage of things like this. Plenty of times you put yourself in a position like this, it goes against you. Today it definitely went for us," Stevens said.

Given the wins that Busch has racked up at such varied tracks, what does Stevens think about his driver's ability to adapt?

"One of Kyle's strongest suits behind the wheel is being able to adjust, being able to adjust at changing track conditions, to different cars, to different rules packages.
"We're certainly behind the eight ball still with the number of laps we have versus the number of laps everybody else has with these packages.
"So, you know, a lot of stuff changed. The spoilers changed, the splitters changed, a lot of the body panels changed. He got a carbon seat this year to meet the rules. All that changes the feel he gets from the car.
Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images
"Then there's the problem with getting adjusted to his feet, and those things, still continuing to get better.
"It's pretty amazing that he's been able to adapt as well as he has and still get everything out of the car with as much stuff that has changed and the leg up that the competition has just as far as number of laps with all this new stuff.
"So, you know, I think he can do that because he's dedicated. He can do that because he has a very diverse background of cars. He's not used to everything feeling one way. If it doesn't feel just like he thinks it should, that's okay, it's just different," Stevens explained.

Stevens also admitted to a new level of confidence in having helped play a major role in the team's recent victories, but he's also the first to give credit to the rest of those who make up the No. 18 team. But how does he help give Busch some of that confidence?

"I spent plenty of time talking to him last night, as I would before any race. Now the topics of conversation might have been a little different. We had to wade through some of that.
"In all of my experiences with Kyle, he's very reasonable and he's focused. Sometimes it just takes somebody to point a couple things out to him. I feel like we have a good enough relationship that I'm always able to do that.
"But, you know, it was pretty standard, other than a little bit of the conversation covering his frustrations from the XFINITY race.
"But, you know, Kyle, one of his greatest strengths, I've said before, too, is being able to focus forward. The more you put on him, it seems like the better he can perform," Stevens asserted.

Knowing that Busch could perform, what was Stevens' strategy in the closing laps?

 "Well, when we pitted there when we thought we had the flat and came back out, first it was a race to get the Lucky Dog spot. That happened pretty quick. Then it was a race to unlap ourselves. That happened pretty quick, thankfully.
"So once that happened, I was hoping for a caution because everybody couldn't make it on fuel, we could, we knew they had to come down pit road. We got the caution, which was pretty sweet. We only had five laps on our tires. Obviously there was no benefit to us pitting.
"A bunch of guys took two with 50 or 60 laps on their tires. Even if they had a better car, it would have been really hard for them to get around us with that many laps on their lefts.
"From that point on, it was just a matter of not overworking the tires, because we were certainly done pitting at that time. Some took four behind the five or six that took two. You knew they were going to stay out the rest of the day. It was a matter of managing what you had and not pushing them too hard in case we got a caution again," Stevens said.
Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images

Does Stevens attribute any of their recent success to luck?

"Yeah, I guess so. I guess, you know, we had some bad luck on the front side, and certainly some good luck here today.           

"It feels good.  You feel like the scales are starting to balance out for you and for this team and Kyle himself. Certainly I think so," Stevens affirmed.

With such luck on their side in recent weeks, would Stevens dare to ponder not only qualifying for the Chase but actually winning the championship?

"Man, that's a tough one.
"I think so. You know, I think it's all about how we prepare the cars and execute, like I've said. Even while Kyle was gone, I feel like we've shown that we have speed and we have solid cars. Since Kyle's come back, maybe it's put a little bit more speed in them.
"To that point, with the Chase format, with the eliminations, then it all coming down to one race, if we can keep our head on our shoulders and get in first, then continue to prepare good cars and execute, I think we can," Stevens confessed.

Sounds like Stevens may be ready to check the championship off his list, too.

    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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