Monday, May 16, 2016

Right Sides Only: Notes from the AAA 400 Drive for Autism Winning Crew Chief, Jason Ratcliff

It only took 12 weeks for Joe Gibbs Racing to get all four of their drivers to Victory Lane. Now all four JGR teams have a Chase berth. Will that slow them down going into the All-Star break? Don't hold your breath.

Kenseth fans may been holding their collective breath waiting for their driver to find his way to the checkered flag, and the wheelman of the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota didn't disappoint at the Monster Mile. And he may owe much of his Dover success to the changes his crew chief made throughout the weekend.

Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs
Ratcliff addressed the track conditions following the rain that fell earlier in the weekend.

"Most of the day it seemed like the track was fairly consistent. We changed a lot of stuff yesterday in practice. I mean, we were in qualifying trim on Friday. We didn't really know what we had until Saturday. Completely changed the setup in the second practice."
Once they'd changed the setup, they dealt with the car getting away from them during the race.
"We felt like we had a good car all day. We were a top-two, top-three car, in contention, then when we would lose track position, not so much.
"We saw that for a lot of teams. At the end, I'm surprised more guys didn't do two tires at the end. But it worked out for us. Earlier we had done four and lost our track position. It was a good opportunity for us to get that back. We felt like with clean air, the car had good speed. But it wouldn't have worked out, I mean, but that Matt drove the wheels off of it at the end. Did a good job. Good show for the fans," Ratcliff said.

The team was impressed with more than just their win. For much of the afternoon, it looked like Kyle Larson may have been on his way to Victory Lane for the first time. Rookie Chase Elliott also ran a great race. Larson and Elliott finished second and third, respectively, behind Kenseth.

"Kyle ran a nice clean race. Him and Chase. A good race to watch and obviously a good race to win," Ratcliff said.

Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs
How frustrating was it for the No. 20 team to watch their teammates celebrate week after week, starting with Hamlin's win at the Daytona 500? Ratcliff summed it up this way.
"It's a character builder, that's for sure. It will test your patience," he said. "I've said this a lot of times, the core group that's on the 20 team, most of them, if not all of them, have been in this sport for a long time. They understand. They thrive on how well we perform each week, not necessarily where we finish.
"But eventually, you know, that wears on you. So last week to get a top five and then to come in this week and get a victory, it's definitely what we've been waiting for. I couldn't ask for a better group of guys. Most of the time, I think it's my responsibility to keep them motivated, but more times than not they keep me motivated. Great group, hard workers, they'll take this one and be chomping at the bit to get another one next week."

Next week is the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. There are no points at stake, and there's no Chase spot available, but the prize is huge nonetheless: a million dollar payday. That's reason enough to carry momentum forward to the next race.

   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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