Monday, August 17, 2015

Right Sides Only: Notes from Pure Michigan 400 Winning Crew Chief, Jason Ratcliff


It's every crew chief's dream: unload at the track with a fast car, capture the pole, lead the most laps and win the race. Jason Ratcliff, crew chief for the No. 20 Dollar General team led by driver, Matt Kenseth, had a dream-come-true kind of weekend at Michigan International Speedway.

"These are days that everyone in this sport dreams about days like this, obviously. They don't happen very often, so we'll definitely cherish this one forever. Just perfect execution all weekend. I think it starts at the shop, obviously, great race cars and trying to attack this new aero package and everyone at JGR has done that. They've attacked it really hard and it shows. But just execution from the time we unloaded. I would say Friday was a huge part of our weekend, getting that No. 1 pit stall and starting on the front row and keeping that track position all day obviously was key. A few aggressive and fun to watch restarts by Matt, and the pit crew did a fantastic job, as usual.
            
Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images
"Just perfect execution across the board -- to show up with a fast car and lead the most laps and bring it to victory lane here at the end of the day," Ratcliff said.

The aero package, similar to the one used at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Brickyard 400, was supposed to have produced great drafting, but generated little. With Kenseth in the lead for most of the afternoon, he didn't see much drafting, but Ratcliff had a different view.

"Yeah, the drafting, there was some racing going on for sure. It was fun to watch at times. You know, cars could really -- at the end of the straightaway gain on others, two or three car lengths. But they just couldn't do much once they got there and they got down in the corner, they were kind of helpless. But on the restarts, it got exciting.  I'm sure y'all saw it back there about I'd say eighth place back, it got -- it was fun to watch. Like Matt said, I'm glad he was watching out of the rear view mirror," Ratcliff explained.

Since the team unloaded so well, does Ratcliff think the crew possibly spent too much time preparing for the high-drag package to the detriment of races in the next few weeks?

"No, it definitely won't hurt us. Our guys put emphasis on every race. For us, this race was different than it might have been for someone else, but for us it's another win going into that first three-race segment in the Chase, so it's a bonus point, or points. So you put as much effort as you can each and every week. So they put as much effort into this week as they do any other week. I felt like we've had enough races with what I'm going to call the 2015 aero package, the one we started the season with. We don't by any means have it all figured out, but I think we're in pretty good shape on that. I don't think it'll put us behind at all.

"With the bigger spoiler and the tail extension, you have to be more mindful of drag, as well, because the wide-open throttle time is so much more than it was when we were here a few weeks ago, because of the drag that you have to be mindful of it. So it's a huge compromise.
            
Credit: Nick Laham/NASCAR via Getty Images
"You know, but it's unique. I mean, it's no different than when we go to Talladega or we go to Daytona. You kind of have to shift your focus on that, as well.
           
"It's definitely not easier, not from my standpoint, because you have to find that balance, whereas with the other package, you just -- you focus on downforce, and you let your engine builder at TRD bring you all the horsepower they can and to pull it through the air," Ratcliff said.

There's certainly confidence in the entire Joe Gibbs Racing camp, which has won five of the last six races. With just three races to go before the final 10-race showdown, other teams who have already qualified or stand ready to enter the Chase should take steps to prepare for an all-out war with the JGR camp, because those teams are ready for anything.
 
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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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