Monday, September 11, 2017

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Federated Auto Parts 400 Winning Crew Chief, Chad Johnston

by Stacey Owens

Whether you've prepared for weeks on end, many times a race win comes down to the final restart.

Chad Johnston, crew chief for race winner, Kyle Larson, talked about the last restart from his position on the pit box.

"Yeah, we had a pretty solid car all weekend long. We felt like going into the race, we were a third‑ to fourth‑place car. I think that's pretty much what we had for the night. The 78 definitely was faster than us and probably was the class of the field once he got 10 or 15 laps into a run. We knew our best chance was when that caution come out to be the leader off of pit road, so we put four tires and no fuel in it, which played to our handling there earlier in the race a little bit, and were able to win it off pit road. So, the pit crew guys won that race for us.

Kyle did an awesome job on his restart. That's the second one, win in a row that we've got on a late‑race restart, so really proud of him and really proud of the job that he did all day long keeping the tires on the car. We felt coming into this that Richmond is kind of one of our worst tracks, to come here and to be competitive all weekend long and to go home with a week going into Chicago is pretty special," Johnston said.

Having added no fuel, was the car lighter and looser for those last few laps of racing?

"It helps with additional nose weight, which will tighten it up on a short run. We use nose weight as far as percent of weight that's on the front tires to tighten it, so the more weight that's on the front tires, the tighter it'll be. We pumped the air up on them, too, to try to get them to come in a little bit quicker and take off a little bit better for the green‑white‑checkered, so it was to tighten it up," Johnston explained.
Carol D'Agostino for Skirts and Scuffs

That apparently played right into Larson's driving style.

"We were a little bit too free on the short runs, so I think that helped. We're typically loose in, tight in the middle, loose off, which is typical Richmond for us, but we didn't fight the entry balance as much today, but on the short run it allows him to be a little bit more aggressive taking off," Johnston said.

One of the benefits of stage racing is that NASCAR has called fewer debris cautions, which has led to much longer stretches of green flag racing. How will Johnston factor those longer stretches of racing into his race prep as the playoffs begin in Chicago next weekend?

"I think the format with the different segments makes it a little bit easier because you know obviously when two of the cautions are going to come out. But as far as the debris cautions, it's definitely been a lot less this year. The one here tonight obviously wasn't a debris caution, so I think you just play it off of past history. You definitely look at it, but I don't think that you live by it. You look at what the characteristics are. Even if you go back the last five, six years, it's pretty hard to draw a distinct conclusion that a caution ‑‑ you look at the percentages and it's a 50, 60 percent chance. It's not like it's a high likelihood. But you definitely play it different based off of the racetrack that you go to and what the tire falloff is and what the probability of the caution coming out at a certain point is and what gives you your best chance to make it work in your favor and not get caught by a caution," Johnston explained.

Is short pitting a bigger factor in these kinds of races?

"Yeah, I think you see it at the places that have a lot of tire falloff or tire degradation. This place is pretty bad, you get about two seconds of falloff, so if you come in you're making up two seconds on the guys that haven't pitted. Darlington is similar; I think Chicago is going to be the same way. The repaves and stuff you don't see near the falloff. Dover you don't see a lot of falloff. But you definitely ‑‑ at the places where you get a lot of tire falloff, short pitting will definitely play a factor in it, and you're just going to have to pay attention to who you're racing to get into the next spot in the Chase and play your hand the best you can to try to finish in front of them and make points on them every week," Johnston said.

Larson has steadily been making points and expects to do the same once the playoffs begin next week. The No. 42 team, with a nod to its sponsor, clearly has set its target on a championship.


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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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