Monday, August 3, 2015

Right Sides Only: Windows 10 400 Winning Crew Chief, Jason Ratcliff

Joe Gibbs Racing is on a roll. For the fifth time in six weeks, a driver from the JGR stable grabbed the checkered flag. This time, Matt Kenseth and crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, were the ones raising the trophy in Victory Lane at Pocono Raceway.

The triangle has always been a little tricky in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, but it isn't known for being the site of fuel-mileage strategy... until now.

Ratcliff agreed. "I never thought it would come down to a fuel-mileage race. I thought we were saving fuel to get a top five out of it, and the last three laps, I'm still trying to catch my breath over that. That was one of the most exciting finishes I've been a part of, and a great win for the 20 team."

Since so few races on the schedule end in a fuel-mileage battle, do teams prepare for such possibilities?

Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs
"Well, you put as much emphasis as you can on every part and piece in the car. We have a core group of guys that come to the racetrack and put the final touches on the car, and the fuel cell is one of them because that's a piece that gets inspected every week when you get to the racetrack. So just paying attention to the details for days like this, making sure that you can get all you can just like everyone else is. You don't want to leave anything out there, and then your gas man, and in under 12 seconds he has to get the thing full of gas. A lot of things have to line up and everybody has to do their job well for it to work out.
            
"It happened today, and obviously Matt has to do a good job of saving fuel, as well, and he did better than everybody else and still had enough to do a burnout. I was surprised by that, actually. I was surprised he made it back, number one, after seeing our teammates run out, and then I was really surprised he had enough left to do a burnout," Ratcliff said.

Even if it hadn't become a fuel-mileage race, the cars at Joe Gibbs Racing have been incredible this season.

"Yeah, our cars have been -- well, we've been good all year, but it just seems like we're really getting a little bit quicker when it counts, as we get close to the final ten. Everyone is doing a nice job, everyone at JGR is working extremely hard and bringing good cars to the track. Everyone at TRD [Toyota Racing Development] is working hard, the engines, the horsepower is phenomenal... a few weeks ago when we came here to Pocono, I thought we had a top maybe four car, so really excited about coming here this week. I thought if we could find a little more speed we might could have something for that 78 and 4. They were in a league of their own last time we were here," Ratcliff explained.

Yes, the cars have been good throughout the season, but in NASCAR, as in every other sport, bad things can happen. Parts fail and wrecks occur. Great drivers experience such ill effects almost every week. And no one, not even the best crew chiefs in the garage, can plan for such unforeseeable events.


Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs
"It's a tough sport, and that's what makes it so rewarding to be up here today is you know that there's a lot of smart people, a lot of talented people that work really hard each and every week just like you do that want to be here. You know, there's going to be times where you're on the down cycle and you just work as hard as you can to minimize that, and then when you get it going in the right direction, you work even harder to keep it going in the right direction.
            
"I'm really excited about where we're at now. I think we're turning the corner. Obviously we've already turned the corner. We're headed in the right direction, but there's some tough -- each and every week you're not going to come out here and just grab these victories. This worked really well for Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole over the last several weeks, but we've got to keep after it. The prize is still there, and we know in the next 10 weeks we've got to step it up a few notches because the other group is, so we'll be ready," Ratcliff said. 

Hmmm... Joe Gibbs Racing will be ready. If the last few weeks are any indication of their readiness, then other teams still have some work to do.

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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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