Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Coca-Cola 600 Winning Crew Chief, Justin Alexander

by Stacey Owens

When a race team is assigned a new crew chief, it often takes a long time for driver and crew chief to find their footing and get to Victory Lane. For Austin Dillon and his new crew chief, Justin Alexander, it took exactly 600 miles.

Named as the replacement for Slugger Labbe who left Richard Childress Racing last week after a seven-year career with the organization, Alexander wasted no time getting the No. 3 back to the top spot, a place it hasn't been since October 15, 2000, when Dale Earnhardt Sr. was at the wheel.

Alexander made the strategic call for his driver to save fuel since as it often does, the season's longest race once again came down to fuel mileage. Alexander made the right call; others didn't.
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs

How did RCR's newest crew chief feel about the win?

"We had a good car all race. We run [sic] top 10 all race. Austin did a heck of a job, the whole team did. We were right there in position on that last stop when the caution came out.  We were two or three laps short. Just right in that window where you have the option to stretch it, but there's a risk with that. You give up a little track position early on trying to stretch it on fuel.
           
"We got good fuel mileage all day. It really didn't make much sense to do anything but that. He didn't really have to back off that much. We didn't give up that many spots on the racetrack doing it. I think we were around 10th when we started saving.
           
"Austin did a heck of a job. Everyone on this team. I was surprised more guys didn't do it, honestly.  Everything just worked out. Couldn't be prouder of everybody," Alexander said.

As team owner Richard Childress discussed what winning in the No. 3 meant to Dillon, he was sure to give Alexander credit. "It's just unbelievable to have it in the winner's circle tonight. He [Dillon] doesn't show emotion and pressure, but I can tell you away from the track and all, talks and stuff, he knew how much he wanted to win for the 3 fans. He knew how much he wanted to win for our family and everybody involved, all of our sponsors. Just really proud of him.

And, Justin, you made a hell of a call, buddy."

Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs

Alexander was surprised that more teams weren't saving fuel as he had directed his driver to do.

"Man, I really thought more guys were going to do this strategy, play this out. The 78 was catching us fast. They pitted, put tires on. They were catching us about a second a lap. They were really on pace to catch us and pass us. I knew it was going to be tough at the end. I knew we were going to have to run hard at some point to stay ahead of them.
           
"With Jimmie out there, he was out there ahead of us trying to save fuel as well. I can't say enough about Austin, doing what he had to do to save the fuel we needed to bring it home," Alexander explained.

Dillon was more than pleased with his new crew chief's coaching as the final 70 laps played out.

"You know what the hardest thing in this whole deal is? It's trust. Trust is a lot of it. Justin trusted me he with the skills that he thought I had to fuel save. I mean, there wasn't a whole lot. They told me lap times that I needed to be running. They felt they were comfortable with them. They told me when guys were gaining or losing, we could save more.
           
"Trust is the biggest thing. There wasn't an abundance of over-coaching. It was nice. That's made us get to where we are," Dillon explained.

His brand new chief agrees, "Definitely. Austin did a heck of a job. We told him what we needed to do, we knew how many laps we needed to make up. We told him what to do. He did it flawlessly. Honestly, it was perfect."

Perfection. It doesn't happen often, but this duo seems to have found it.

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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; Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life; and her husband who's supportive of her NASCAR obsession and tunes in with her every week... even if it's just to watch the flyover.


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