Monday, September 28, 2015

Right Sides Only: Notes from Sylvania 300 Winning Crew Chief, Jason Ratcliff

Yogi Berra, the colorful baseball coach and manager who passed away last week, was known for his quotes that always seemed to be a bit off. He once quipped that "baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical." Doesn't add up, does it? NASCAR could be thought of in a similar fashion. Sometimes, it seems like the sport is ninety percent strategy while the other half is just plain luck. It doesn't add up, but it seems to make sense. Just ask Matt Kenseth.

On the strategy side, crew chief Jason Ratcliff discussed the tactics his No. 20 team employed for the race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

"Well, it was just great execution. Today Matt did a great job of methodically moving forward and giving us good feedback on the car. The guys did a great job on pit road of at least maintaining our spots every time we came down. This is a tough place to call a race because track position, you know you've got to get it, and then when you get it you know you need to keep it, and the cautions are so hard to predict, when they're going to come. A couple guys were on one strategy and they were going to be hard to beat. There were a couple cars there that were really, really strong and we needed to do something different. It worked our way, and everyone, like I say, executed perfectly. And there at the end, the car was at its best, and Matt was able to put the pressure on the 4 and bring home the victory," Ratcliff explained.

That strategy would not have worked so well if the team didn't have great equipment to begin with.


Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images
"Well, you know, it's like any sport; when things are going well, it provides a lot of opportunity.  I've been asked a number of times this year, 'What's different this year?' And the answer is everything is different. I mean, every department has been working really hard. The race cars are fast. The engine program is phenomenal. The pit crews are -- it's just all of it.  And when you have that, you open a lot of doors for a lot of opportunity, and I think that's why you're seeing success in a lot of different ways.
            
"So you know, hats off to everyone at JGR. We have eight more races. We've got to keep doing what we've been doing. There's some strong contenders out there, very competitive. But yeah, it's been a great season so far, and hats off to everyone at JGR," Ratcliff said.

Kenseth and company had a little bit of luck on their side, too. 

Defending series champion, Kevin Harvick led a race-high 216 laps while trying to make up ground lost in last week's race at Chicagoland Speedway, which left him near the bottom of the Chase grid. Harvick aggressively fought for the win but finished a dismal 21st after running out of fuel with two laps to go. Kenseth, well inside the window for fuel and tires, took advantage of Harvick's trouble and easily took the lead.
Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images

"I think you never know what another competitor's situation is, but we knew that possibly he [Harvick] couldn't make it based on our count, and the guys did a good job of calculating that and telling me that, hey, he's probably going to be one or two short, but he can save that in a 60-lap run. So then at that point I felt like our car was at its best, and Matt had what he needed to go up there and pressure him," Ratcliff said.
            
"But he [Harvick] was sitting in a good spot. When Denny and Matt were racing each other, I'm sure he was loving that, so we needed to go up there and race him hard, and we did just that. I didn't think he was going to run out that soon. I thought it would be closer than that. But just goes to show you how well Matt did of not letting him save and making him burn more fuel than he had to."

Strategy and luck. The two go hand-in-hand or lap-to-lap as the case may be. With eight races to go before a new champion is crowned, strategy and luck may be the forces that work together to place the crown squarely on the head of a driver from Joe Gibbs Racing. 
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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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