Monday, April 4, 2016

Right Sides Only: Notes from STP 500 Winning Crew Chief, Adam Stevens

It was a banner day for the No. 18 team at Martinsville Speedway. Kyle Busch headed to Victory Lane with his 35th career Sprint Cup win on the same day he celebrated the 75th anniversary of his M&Ms sponsor with a throwback paint scheme. On his way to the checkered flag, Busch led 352 laps at the famed "Paper Clip." No other driver has led more since Bobby Hamilton led 378 laps in 1998.

Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
Helping Busch accomplish the win was his championship crew chief, Adam Stevens, who considered the win a huge deal for their team since victory at the half-mile track had eluded them until Sunday.

"You know, this is a big win for myself, for Kyle and this whole team. It hasn't been one of our strongest places, maybe for JGR, but not for myself and Kyle historically. I think we made some good ground last year with David Ragan's help in the spring and Kyle coming back in the fall, and I think his level of feedback really picked up as he really understood what he needed in his car, and that helped us as a team make better adjustments. And continuing through the race today, I think we got him dialed in a little bit better than he has been able to in the past because he could really identify what he was looking for," Stevens explained.

Race fans will recall that Busch missed the first 11 races of the 2015 season because of injuries sustained in the XFINITY Series opening race at Daytona in February 2015. Ragan substituted for Busch in several races last year, including Martinsville.

There are a few others tracks at which Busch has yet to log a victory, and Stevens was asked whether the team has special emphasis on winning at those tracks.

"... it's not something that we really have discussions about. We intend to win every time we unload and we work our guts out to make that possible.
"You know, our relationship and our work ethic together, we don't let little obstacles like that kind of get in our way. We've been able to win at a lot of goofy places and just continue to scratch them off the list as they come, and win at a bunch of other ones in between, now and then," Stevens said.

Does the win in Virginia give the team an opportunity to refocus its energies now that they're technically ready to defend their title as a Chase-eligible team?

"It's situational. You're certainly able to take an unusual amount of risk now that you have a win and you're in. So if there's a quirky pit strategy that maybe is a 10 percent chance of working out, but it's the only way that you're going to have a chance to win, you might take it, even if it risks a 15th-place finish. But if you're trying to score points you just can't do that. That was a lot of the situation we were in last year," Stevens said.

Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
The crew chief discussed how the team had to take a markedly different approach to last season because of the races they'd missed, but that doesn't have to be their focus this time around.

"We had to be a little bit more conservative because we really needed the points after we missed those 11 races. But now we're kind of freed up, and it's really going to open the playbook. It won't be every weekend, but there will be situations where we can do some pretty drastic stuff to try to get to victory lane," Stevens said.

Considering how the No. 18 team forged full steam ahead and captured the championship after having missed 11 races last year, other teams might want to pull out their "drastic stuff" now because it could be a long season otherwise.


   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.
    This self-admitted grammar nerd also loves 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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