Monday, March 20, 2017

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Camping World 500 Winning Crew Chief, Luke Lambert


by Stacey Owens

Ryan Newman's 127-race winless drought came to a screeching halt in the heat of the Arizona desert.

Crew chief Luke Lambert talked about how much winning the Camping World 500 meant to the No. 31 race team.

"Yeah, it's really, really hard to assess the magnitude right now. I can't say enough about what it means. I couldn't be prouder of everybody within the company, everybody on my race team.
           
"Ryan, you know, everybody has really worked very, very hard to get us here where we are today. I said earlier, I think Ryan really left it all on the racetrack today. He was exhausted.
           
"The track temps were really elevated. He had to work really hard. I think that was somewhat of a metaphor for what it's taken our company to get here today," Lambert explained.

In what would be the most important pit stop of the day, Lambert left his driver on the track with older tires. His crew had done their job on their previous stop, and Lambert didn't want the pressure of a restart on colder tires.

"Ultimately we put him in a position to guard off a bunch of wolves with fresh tires behind him. He rose to the occasion, made it happen.
           
"To me, that couldn't be a more fitting symbol of what this means to our company, what it means for our company to get here today," Lambert said.

The final call on the last pit stop was Lambert's. Newman wanted to pit for two tires, but his crew chief felt that pitting wasn't necessary... and Newman trusted the call.

"I felt in my gut it was the right decision," Lambert explained. "We have a lot of people working during the race at our company that provide a lot of really good, valuable information for me to see real-time. I had a lot of good information in front of me that I was able to draw to right quick, make a snap decision.
           
"I felt confident it was the best call for us. I'm not going to say when I made the decision I was confident we were going to win the race.  It was the only opportunity we had to win the race. I felt like doing it was going to yield a better result than the other option.
           
"Ultimately that was the decision. I told him. He said he could make the car wide. He did. I couldn't be prouder of him for rising to the occasion. The relationship that him [sic] and I have been able to build with our race team to where we all have a lot of confidence in each other.
           
"He didn't question it, or at least didn't voice any questioning of it at all, and made it happen."

Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Lambert has been a full-time crew chief for six years, but this was his first win. With this win under his belt and a shot at a Chase berth, Lambert plans to be a bit more aggressive as the season continues.

"We haven't been in this position as a race team the last couple years. I felt like we've had really, really strong cars and a team at given points in the season, and just haven't been able to play as aggressively, play as loose as some of the other teams can, as far as trying new components, trying aggressive setups, doing things we haven't done in the past to see if they'll live and survive the test of a race.
           
"It's given us the opportunity now to have that type of confidence will allow us to try some new things, go into Fontana next week with the opportunity to be a little more aggressive and, you know, race with that level of confidence.
           
"It means a lot.  Ultimately I don't know that it will change everything that we do, but I'm sure it will give us an opportunity to do some things we couldn't do in the past," Lambert said.

Lambert, of course, wanted a win in much less time than six years.

"I certainly had hoped that we would be to Victory Lane before now. I feel like our race team has surpassed a lot of expectations, but we have also not delivered as rapidly as far as getting to the winner's circle as I would like for us to.
           
"I just want to say how hard everybody has worked at our company for a number of years to get us here, and how proud that makes me.
           
"I can't say enough about Richard and his confidence, his drive. One of our slogans this year at RCR has been: It takes drive. I think us getting here today is an example of that drive and that steadfast, stubborn passion for racing and building better racecars that has taken years to get us back here," Lambert explained.

RCR is thrilled to have its first win since 2013. Lambert discussed what the victory means for the organization, "One of the things that is really challenging about this sport is there's only one winner every week. Friends and people I grew up with that have recently started following racing, kind of want to learn more about it, I always describe it as a championship every single Sunday. You are racing against the entire series, the entire group of competitors. It's not like any other standard sport where you face one competitor, and you have a 50/50 set of odds of winning or losing. You have a one-in-40 chance of winning it on any given Sunday against all of the best.
           
"I think because of the way the racing is, because of that, it's really hard to build momentum. The years it takes to take a company from not being where it needs to be, to getting where it needs to be, requires a tremendous amount of change, a tremendous amount of trial and error, a tremendous amount of hard work, working above and beyond, asking more out of people when they just don't see the results.
           
"You can take a company and take it from a company able to build a 15th-place car to a seventh-place car, and it still doesn't feel like a victory. Recognizing those incremental gains is one of the names of the game in this sport. Helping everybody inside the organization to see, we are tracking in the right direction.
           
"We can't expect to hit a home run out of nowhere, but we need to expect to see results, pay attention to those results, accurately measure them, keep everybody's motivation level where it needs to be."
           
Don't forget, this is the team that raced its way into the final 10 races of the 2014 season with no wins, yet almost won the championship. Motivated with a win, just imagine what they could accomplish this year.

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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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