Right Sides Only: Notes from the Real Heroes 400 Winning Crew Chief, Rodney Childers

by Stacey Owens

Teams were back on track this weekend at Darlington Raceway. After a 10-week hiatus, NASCAR returned to racing, but without qualifying or practice. Even the starting lineup was determined by a draw. The lack of fans in the stands or any pre-race activities didn't matter. Fans and teams alike were just thrilled to hear the roar of the engines again. When the final flag flew, Kevin Harvick was the winner of the first post-pandemic race, the Real Heroes 400. Crew chief, Rodney Childers talked about the win afterward.

"Yeah, I mean, it was a good day for us.  We had I guess you'd call it a good car off the truck. We were able to roll through tech first this morning and able to roll it straight to the grid, relax, just think about the race, what the racetrack was going to do over time, the things that we needed to be prepared for, that kind of thing.
"We had a good car at the beginning of the race. We thought being a little bit too tight, we had to free it up for a while. We got it pretty good through the middle of the race. The guys on pit road were awesome all day. We had great pit stops. We had one slipup. Got us back there in traffic for one run.  Kevin was able to fight back through there just a little bit.

"Then we were able to have another couple pit stops and cautions that the guys were able to knock it out of the park and get us back in the lead. That was really key to get us back in clean air, track position, have control of the race," Childers said.

Childers talked briefly about the time away from the shop and how it affected the day's setup since all he could really do was online research during the break.

" I mean, all I can do is judge off of what we did. Like you said, our place was probably more strict than what I wanted to see. They shut the whole place down. As you probably saw, I posted it one day, it was 52 days I sat at home and didn't go to the shop.

"This car was actually our Homestead car from earlier in the year. Honestly it was ready to load and go to Homestead. As y'all know we work pretty far ahead. Atlanta car was on the truck headed to Atlanta, actually sitting in the garage. The Homestead car was done, set up. Everything was done about it.
"When we went back to work, Zippy could tell you I wore him out. I kept telling him we weren't going to get things done with how strict they were being on us, the shifts that we were working. Had my shop foreman and three guys in the shop working. From me sitting at home, I can't see at the shop what's happening. All I can do is picture in my head that we've got a shop foreman and three guys there trying to prepare a car to get it ready to race. I'm used to having 20 guys in the shop and we work 12 hours a day. He's got three guys along with him and they're only allowed to work six hours a day.
"Finally 52 days later I got to go by the shop and see the car. Honestly I felt 100% better. Those guys, I have such a great group at the shop that work hard. Dale has been around forever and forever and forever. No matter what car he's the shop foreman on, it wins races. I think a lot of this is part of him and the guys that he's assembled at the shop, the guys that he trusts. That's the biggest thing that I saw out of this weekend," Childers explained.

The next scheduled race is Wednesday. Because of the tight turnaround, Childers may use the Darlington car again.

"We were fortunate enough not to tear it up. We rolled through the OSS a minute ago. Honestly it looks really good. The center of the back bumper at the bottom is pushed in a little bit from the restarts, getting the bump‑drafts. Other than that it's not real bad.
"We got some right rear damage from hitting the wall. That stuff is nothing compared to what it could have been. We got great fabricators that can flip it around, put new crush panels in it, have it ready to go.
"We haven't officially decided. I was just on my phone texting with Dale. We got one there sitting ready to go. The motor's in it. Supposed to go to the chassis dyno in the morning.
"But I don't know. It's a two‑edged sword. You can either take the one that's sitting there and hope that you get the packer exactly right, the bar preload set exactly right, all those little things, or you can put some crush panels in this one, make the body where it can pass OSS, put the same springs, same bump‑stops, same packer, go race and have some confidence in what you've got," Childers said.

Childers also plans to take a similar approach to Wednesday's race just from a personal perspective.

"... the last two days I really tried to spend more time with my family, just do things to try to ease my mind. If you sit there in front of that computer for eight hours a day and never stand up, finally it just wears on you. Then you end up second‑guessing everything that's in your mind, everything that you do.
"We were still talking about changing bump‑stops two nights ago because of a report and all this stuff. I'm like, 'Look, you guys are the best.  We just need to stick with what we thought was right and go with our gut, leave it alone.' That's what we ended up doing, was just deciding three nights ago we were going to leave it alone. We finished it up on Wednesday. It was loaded in the truck Thursday morning. It didn't stay around in the shop with somebody tinkering on it till Saturday at lunchtime. It was loaded up early and we went with what we thought was right," Childers explained.

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Childers also discussed strategy for Wednesday night's race.

"Yeah, I mean, I'll be honest, I think Wednesday night is going to be a little tough on us starting back there. Our best‑case scenario is to have a lot of cautions and the pit crew knock it out of the park like they did today. If you can knock out 12.5 stops every time you come down, you're going to end up at the front towards the end of the race.
"The thing I probably noticed the most today was how we kept firing tires on it. We had a 400‑mile race and 12 sets of tires. Honestly I can't imagine showing up and not having 12 sets of tires. I would have had a heart attack at some point, I believe.
"I think the night race, looking at the weather, it's supposed to be a lot cooler on Wednesday. Things are going to be completely different. The cars are probably going to turn a lot better. Everybody is going to have more tape on the grille, all those things. Going to be faster. Normally when they're faster, it's almost harder to pass.
"I think the track position thing will be key just like it was today. But overall you got to have a car that's good, turns good, has good drive‑off and doesn't eat the tires off. Hopefully we can do that again on Wednesday night," Childers said.

Tune into FS1 on Wednesday night for the Toyota 500 live from Darlington Raceway at 7:30 pm ET.

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; stand-up comedy, though she bumbles almost every joke she attempts to tell; 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 UT college football every fall.

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Real Heroes 400 Winning Crew Chief, Rodney Childers Right Sides Only: Notes from the Real Heroes 400 Winning Crew Chief, Rodney Childers Reviewed by Stacey Owens on Monday, May 18, 2020 Rating: 5