Monday, July 25, 2016

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Brickyard 400 Winning Crew Chief, Adam Stevens

by Stacey Owens

Toward the end of a race, a crew chief generally worries about whether the final restart will require his driver to save fuel, save tires or just try to avoid a potential pileup. Adam Stevens found himself anxious about all of it.

"The last couple restarts were not much fun from my perspective," Stevens said. "When you have four tires lined up a couple rows behind you, you don't know what's going to happen. The way people were racing each other and crashing and stuff falling off the cars, I didn't know how many restarts we were going to have. Fuel started to be a concern. It wasn't at the number of laps we run, but man, a few more and it could have got ugly for sure.          

"It's really enjoyable to put a car that's that fast on the track and be able to come home with the trophy."

If he's honest, however, Stevens wasn't really confident that he unloaded the fastest car when they pulled into the garage on Friday.

"[At] practice Friday, I didn't see that kind of speed. I felt like we were good, but there were another five or six cars that could run with us, and it was going to be who made the best adjustments to who was going to really get out there and lead the laps and win the race," he said. "But even on top of that, the pit strategy can get really jumbled up, and the best car doesn't always win.
            
"You know, I think what leads to having a dominating car at Indy is we only come here once a year, and this track is not like any other place. He takes every opportunity to race when he comes here, so he's got a lot more laps around this place than maybe some others.

One thing Stevens doesn't fret about is his driver, because Busch knows his way around.
         
"You know, Kyle is special. Every once in a while you'll see somebody that their natural tendency to drive a racetrack fits the racetrack. You've seen that from Harvick in Atlanta at times and maybe Brad at Kentucky, certainly before the repave. I think we're seeing it now out of KB that really what he wants to do with the car is the fastest way around, and maybe what other guys want to do isn't the fastest way around, and that gives him another level of feedback that lets us dial his car in for him," Stevens explained.

Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images
Busch has been fast all season, but in a larger sense, the Toyota teams have been dominant since the green flag at Daytona. Is there something special at Joe Gibbs Racing that makes their teams that much better than the rest of the field?

"You know, at this level of motorsports and the competition level across the field, you can't hit on one thing and beat people. You have to hit on everything. There's 550 employees at JGR to make sure we are working on everything that makes a race car go fast. At the end of the day, it comes down between the communication between the driver and the crew chief and the team, and taking what he's saying the car is doing and what it's not doing, and translating that into changes that make the car better. That's Kyle's strong suit. I think you're seeing a little bit of that," Stevens explained.

In addition to all his other concerns, teams also had a new aero package since the last time they rolled into Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Did it make much of a difference to the No. 18 Skittles team? Not exactly, especially since they kissed the bricks for the second year in a row.

"This is a tough place. There's not much banking and there's only one preferred groove in each one of the corners, and that makes clean air a big deal. It's not like you can spread out and go bottom to top like you can at a lot of high-bank places. That's just the way it's going to be, and there's not an aero package that's going to change that," Stevens said.         

"You know, the racing, there was a lot of racing throughout the pack. It's just the way that it is.  There's no tweak or change that's going to make that fundamentally different."

Perhaps he's a little modest. The tweaks and changes Stevens was able to make throughout the afternoon, despite the difficulties on track with restarts and wrecks, worked extremely well considering that Busch was able to secure not only the win but a new track record for the most laps led.

With the win, Busch has tied Brad Keselowski with four wins and has locked himself into the Chase. Teams head to Pocono Raceway next weekend, where the elder Busch brother, Kurt, won in June. Will a Busch head to Victory Lane there again or will a driver without a win this season step up and surprise the field?

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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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