Monday, June 11, 2018

Right Sides Only: Notes from the FireKeepers Casino 400 Winning Crew Chief, Mike Bugarewicz

by Stacey Owens

Crew chiefs wear several different hats: decision maker, mechanic, cheerleader, friend. At Michigan International Speedway, crew chief Mike Bugarewicz had to find his meteorologist hat during the final stage of the race. 

With the uncertainty of whether the rain that had delayed the start of the race would return before the checkers flew, Bugarewicz made a decision to get Clint Bowyer to front of the pack if the race had to be stopped.

"Well, I would say everything prior to four laps to go we were watching the weather.  Most of it hung around that 16, 17 miles out, mostly to the southwest, or the west in general.  It just kind of would build, then break up, build and break up.  Never really got any closer.        

"For the longest time I was thinking, We're going to run pretty far if not the whole thing in that third segment, probably going to need four tires at the end of the second stage.             
"All of a sudden with four to go, to the northeast the cell popped up. It didn't look like a real heavy cell, looked like a mist. Exactly what showed up.  I was thinking, Man, probably a lot of these leaders are going to do two to keep the track position. They got to be seeing it, too.    
"When we were coming on pit road, I was 100% sure two tires was the right call. We got about three quarters of the way down pit road, I was about 70% sure. When he slid into the pit box, I was about 50% sure. By then, we were leaving. It was too late.

"Clint asked, 'Are we the only one with two?'  

"Yeah, we're the only one with two.

"He did a great job on that restart, holding up one of the best, Kevin. Obviously six wins this year, one of the best in our sport right now. I can't say enough about the great job that Clint did holding him off there. Just as much as important as making that two tire call for sure," Bugarewicz said.
Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs

Fans of other teams may chalk up the win to a little bit of luck, especially since many rain-shortened races are won by a driver who doesn't necessarily lead a lot of laps. Was there a bit of luck involved in Bowyer's win or was Bugarewicz just right in making the call from the second position?

"Yeah, I mean, we qualified 12th. I think we really started around that 10th place position, 8th place position. Kind of worked our way up there into the top three, top four early in the first stage. We kind of hung around that second to third place for the rest of the deal until we were getting to the close of that second stage, finishing second.

"At that point I felt like we had enough speed, we were running comparable lap times to the leader, and most of the time faster than third and fourth.

"It's just a track position game at that point, right? You always see the first two cars are the fastest in the field. I felt like if we could get the lead, we had a chance to hold them off. Seemed like it worked out," Bugarewicz explained.

At the end of the day, both the weather and track position weighed heavily on the crew chief's final call. Bugarewicz talked about what ultimately drove his decision.

"I would say for most of the race, once we got started, the weather wasn't too much of a concern.  Just like I said at the end of that second stage where the cell popped up to the northeast of us is kind of when you're looking at it thinking, This could close in on us and end the race. Up to that point, you're kind of watching it creep in from the southwest. It was getting closer. Like I said kind of stalled out around that 17 miles away.

"I think it's Michigan. At the end of the day, it's track position. If you lose that track position, it's a fight to try and get back up there. You look at the restarts. You restart eighth to 10th place spot; it's brutal. Those guys are four-wide, gauging, trying to get every spot they can. If you're going to gain spots, that's where you're going to gain the majority of them. Throughout the fuel run, you might gain one or two. Keeping the track position I think is key all day long," Bugarewicz explained.

Yes, track position is key, especially if you're in the position to win, and this win marks the seventh win in 15 races for Stewart-Haas Racing this season. Their entire organization has figured out how to get into the position to win, and their fans have to be excited about the post-season, even if those final 10 races are still several months away.
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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... as long as she allows him to obsess over college football every fall.

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