Monday, June 27, 2016

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Toyota / Save Mart 350 Winning Crew Chief, Mike Bugarewicz

by Stacey Owens

Sometimes the toughest decisions are the easiest ones to make. Sometimes taking a chance that no one else is willing to take works out in the end. Just ask Mike Bugarewicz.

As crew chief for Tony Stewart, Bugarewicz made the tough decision to pit before the rest of the field in Sonoma.

"Yeah, I mean, early in the race, we were running fairly well, and basically pitting according to the strategy we laid out the night before," Bugarewicz said. "We kind of lost some track position there on pit road, and it's tough to pass. People get strung out and it makes it difficult. As we were running there I noticed we weren't passing people. We were still going to be a lap short on fuel unless we saved, which we had that in our plan, but at the end of the day we weren't going to have an opportunity to win just doing what everybody else did, so we had to take a chance here and pit early in hopes that we would get a caution, and we heard NASCAR talking about the debris a little bit, so you know, at that point it's about winning this year, especially for us in the situation we're in. We had to take a chance, and it could have worked out not in favor of us, and we could have lost points today. But instead it worked out, and I'm thankful for that." 
Mike Bugarewicz
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Losing points isn't an option for the No. 14 team. Unlike previous winners this season who are all but assured a spot in the Chase, Stewart has no such guarantee. Still outside the top 30 in points, Stewart has ground he must continue to make up since he, like Kyle Busch last year, did not begin his season in Daytona with the rest of the field.

Just because he hasn't solidified his place in the Chase yet doesn't mean that Stewart isn't having fun in his last year of Sprint Cup competition. Again, just ask Mike Bugarewicz.

"One thing I will say, no matter what, every week, it's the last thing I say to him before I leave the car and he actually reminded me of that today. He said, 'If I get angry and start yelling at you today, just remind me to have fun.' I said, 'Yeah, I know how that'll work out for me.' But no, we always talk about that. What's most important for all of us is just enjoy it, take it in. You have to do that," Bugarewicz said.

Sonoma Raceway may not be close to Vegas, but the No. 14 gambled on their final pit stop anyway, despite not being confident it would work. The gutsy call from the crew chief paid off.

"We heard them talking about it [a debris caution], but we didn't know for sure if they'd throw it or not. Kind of just assumed,  with a rag laying on the track earlier and they threw a caution, I figured, well, if there's anything similar to a rag or larger, they're going to throw the caution again. Again, it was just a chance that we took, a chance to get a win. Running 17th, finishing 17th wasn't really going to do us much good, so we had to try something.


Credit: Blaine Ohigashi/Getty Images
"I think almost every race that's won here basically on a strategy deal is just a lucky call by anybody. You know, if it's 10-lap shootout and everybody has tires, then the best guy earns it. But when it comes down to something like what happened today, I just was fortunate," Bugarewicz explained.

The win is Bugarewicz's first as a crew chief.

"Yeah, in some senses, it really hasn't sunk in about being my first win, but I can't thank Gene, Tony, Greg Zipadelli, Brett Frood, all of them enough for the opportunity," Bugarewicz said. "They believed in me. I've only worked at Stewart-Haas. This is my third year, two years with Kevin as his engineer. Every win is sweet whether I'm a race engineer or crew chief or whatever, it's all great. But yeah, that part of it hasn't sunk in yet that it was my first, but our goal from the beginning of the year was to get Tony back in victory lane, and I'm just so glad that we could get him there."

Whether the team defies the odds and grabs a Chase berth remains to be seen, but Stewart's fans are enjoying this win. It's something they've been waiting to see for three long years.

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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.
    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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