Right Sides Only: Notes from the Overton's 301 Winning Crew Chief, Michael Wheeler

by Stacey Owens

Some days, things just don't go your way. Other days, things work out better than you'd expect. The No. 11 team experienced both of those days this weekend.

Crew chief Michael Wheeler talked about the team's difficulties that ultimately led to their first victory of the season.

"We've been working our butts off all year long, and this weekend is another one of those testaments where we wrecked the primary car on Friday and had to double down and get to work. The guys in the team, guys in the shop, they really worked their butts off to get here. We weren't the fastest car all race long. We had a top-five car. There was probably one or two guys a little bit faster, but we were in contention all day and made it happen," Wheeler said.

The Joe Gibbs Racing teams have watched, along with every other team, how well the Furniture Row Racing team led by Martin Truex Jr. have performed this season. Those JGR teams, however, watch with a bit more scrutiny since they share an alliance with Furniture Row. This past Friday, Kyle Busch talked about how frustrating it's been to watch Truex succeed with the same equipment the JGR teams use but had yet to find Victory Lane. Kyle Busch wasn't the only frustrated one at JGR.

"Yeah, there's moments where you're frustrated and there's moments where you're actually motivated," said Wheeler. "They've been a great car for the last few years before they were with us, and now that they're with us, they're better. But at the same point, we've learned stuff from them, too, watching them, seeing how they're doing, and they're beating the field, not just us. So when they beat us and they beat the field, it's like, okay, they're the best car.
"You know, we've been getting closer and closer. They won last week; we finished top five. There's no shame in that. It's made us all work a little harder and made us realize what's most important. We're getting better every week, and I'm really happy about that. As much as we're climbing the hill, fortunately, we're starting to peak at the right time, and I think come playoff time, we'll be right there," Wheeler explained.
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Wheeler is a Long Island native and could consider New Hampshire Motor Speedway his home track. As well as JGR teams have run in New Hampshire in recent years, it must feel good to go home again. Denny Hamlin talked a bit about JGR's dominance of the one-mile track. 

"Well, I think it probably started with Tony Stewart many, many years ago. I watched him many times get around this racetrack, and the track has changed a lot over the years. The cars have changed. But just kind of being a student to the game and seeing what all he's done. He was a great leader, and really, I think, when I got to drive his car at Richmond in my rookie year during a test and kind of felt what he thought was a good short track package, I just kind of levitated to that ever since I got in a race car on a short track, and I think it's raised all of our games. Really the short tracks and flat tracks weren't really Kyle's forte.
"We worked together so much now over the last few years, he's really good if not exceeded beyond that. Matt has came in and been dominant at this racetrack and so we look at him and look at his notes, and so I think it's just kind of a feeding off of all the good things that have happened here, and everyone is just working off of that and getting better," Hamlin explained. 

Wheeler agreed with his driver, "Yeah, like Denny said, once you get a package here that works good and you understand why, it's easy to kind of duplicate over time, do different tire changes and aero changes. It might take a race or two to get it back, but once the drivers get a good feel for what it takes to get around here, get in the corner, get off the corner, you can go year in, year out and try to get that same feel for them again. Just really at all the tracks, they're intermediate and they know what it takes to make a car go fast around the track; give them that feel the next time you go back there is what you try to search for." 

This win marked the first win for Hamlin in roughly 20 races. Though the team has run well, they just haven't been able to seal the deal until now. Is Wheeler relieved?

Wheeler affirmed that getting to victory lane provided "a big sigh of relief."

Hamlin's fans are breathing those same sighs of relief.

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.

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Overton's 301 Winning Crew Chief, Michael Wheeler Right Sides Only: Notes from the Overton's 301 Winning Crew Chief, Michael Wheeler Reviewed by Stacey Owens on Monday, July 17, 2017 Rating: 5