New Hampshire II Setup

So, Chicago wasn’t nice to Austin and the team. To be fair, Loudon isn’t exactly being nice this weekend either. With a finish of 14th in Chicago, a backup car and 29th qualifying so far this weekend don’t bode well for our guys, but if there’s any good news, it is that Austin is normally REALLY good here.

Average finishes of 6th and 8th in truck and Xfinity respectively prove that he knows this track. Average finish of 14th in Cup series makes this Austin’s third best track behind Charlotte and Daytona. His 14th place finish in Chicago was 16 positions above his average Cup finish there and he was pulling away on long runs.

With a continued 4 positions better than his career average, this is far from a doom & gloom weekend. With an average start of 20th and 14th finish, he runs better than he qualifies which is exactly what we need here. The secret to the weekend will be Slugger Labbe, this is his home track and he would really like a win! With some good pit strategy, he may help put Austin near the front.

The math tells a good story, 6+8+14=28/3=9-4= 5. Fifth may feel like a win in a backup car this weekend, the reality of the weekend is we need every point possible, so the team will have to take a chance and the pit crew on their game. The 27 pit crew will be pitting the 3 car and the original 3 crew will pit the 27 while the 31 returns to its normal lineup for Ryn Newman.

This team never gives up and that is what makes it special, they refuse to quit. So wish them luck, pump them up, and I’ll see you in the box!

Chicagoland Review.

Weekend Review!

Let me start by saying that this isn’t a post about how Austin Dillon ran or how he finished. Results are easy to look up.

Today’s story starts a long time ago, long before Twitter. I would say somewhere around 1987. Let that sink in for a second…

My family has always been in northeast Wisconsin, home of the Green Bay Packers, Sunday we checked to see how Richard and Dale finished. We would look to see if they won or not. We would gather at my grandparents to see a race on occasion and sometimes when it wasn’t on we would listen to it on the radio.

It was in those years I remember saying, “I want to drive a race car.” Years later I said, “I want to be on the pit crew.” Then a little while later I said, “I want to be the crew chief.” Funny how our heroes and dreams change over time.

Of course it was always THE 3 car. Nothing else would ever do! There was a point when I didn’t know if there would be a 3 car again. In fact my dream of being part of the 3 team had completely left my bucket list because I never thought it possible.

Til this weekend. Sunday morning my cousin Franky and I loaded up in his Chevy 2500HD and turned wheels south. A little over 3 and a half hours, 250 miles, $12 in tolls we pulled into Chicagoland Speedway outside of Joliet, Illinois.

Entering any speedway, for me, is always akin to a religious experience. That’s not sacrilege, I pray at an altar of speed! I was excited as always, I could feel it throughout my body. I never show this. Like I said on Twitter, “I maintain a military bearing.” Soldiers will understand. What this is, is keeping an even keel. Never moving far from zero.

We entered the garage and I had one objective, find my guys. Garage 27. The Dow Chemical Energybag Chevrolet number 3.

My second Cup race, first points Cup race, first time in the Cup pits and here she was… beautiful, long, black, sexy. The epitome of what a race car should look like with a history only rivaled by that of the number 43.

I can’t remember who I talked to first, I think it was Slugger Labbe. An awesome guy no matter which way you look at it, very welcoming and personable. On a day filled with potential and tension and strife and work, he makes time for everyone.

One by one I met the crew throughout the day. Frank, SJ, Ratto, Gladman, Sisco, Adam, Clay, Greg, Andy… every single guy on the team greeted me and talked, making me feel like an old friend who had come home from a trip long overdue. It felt like I was part of the team.

My cousin and I walked the garage for a bit and met up with another old friend, then came back and stood in the inspection line with the guys. This is where I felt most like part of the team. A whole lot of hurry up and wait. The guys laughing and joking, talking of their families and other randomness.

Standing there, next to the car, I couldn’t help myself… I reached out and touched her. I didn’t get odd looks and nobody yelled at me. I don’t even think they noticed but that there, well, if you could see inside my head and inside my heart… I was exploding with excitement. I don’t know how to describe what I felt, it wasn’t just the feel of the quarterpanel or the paint. It was touching my dream.

My cousin and I circled the garage, you like to take it all in, but I kept coming back to my guys and the 3 car. I found the over-the-wall guys who were as welcoming there as they were at Road America. I introduced myself to the 3 team’s new jack man, Adam Lewis. I said hi to Austin and Ty.

Yet I still kept returning to the car and mechanics. The unsung heroes, the guys who spend days setting her up for practice, qualifying, more practice, then resetting her for the race. These are the guys that spend more time in her or under her (you can laugh) than the driver.

As the sun rose high over the track and the team had been through inspection and the naughty line and more inspection, she was pushed through the gate and onto the grid. I set myself up on the wall for prerace ceremonies. I was trying to find myself and out of the way spot so I could take pictures of the guys for them and their families.

We were asked to move back, several times and ushered against the fence. I only regret this as I couldn’t get the pictures I wanted of the guys and for the guys. The pictures I do have will be posted Wednesday, I did get some great pictures anyways.

Now, anyone can tell you that race isn’t easily watched from the pits, you see next to nothing and if you don’t have a headset, you have no idea what is going on. I don’t know anything of what was said on the radio this weekend which I hate, only because it felt like I wasn’t doing my “job” for the team.

As the race ran on and the VIPs got their turn up on the pitbox, I was eventually asked if I wanted to go up! Hell Yes! (If my fat butt could fit and I made it!) We weren’t up there long, we let other get a turn. I didn’t want to bother any of the handlers there.

Pit stop after pit stop I watched my team in action. When something wasn’t as good as they wanted it, you saw it on their face. Everyone got beat on by the sun, these guys in black, just sit there and take it, they jump on that wall and give it hell every time.

It’s funny, when I first saw pit stops, I felt like it was so quick. The more you watch the more it all seems to slow down into a manageable event. The best I could tell we held serve or gained spots all day.

When it was all done I stayed behind as they closed up the box and tore it down. I thanked them for their hard work and told them all great job, not because it is right or polite but because I can honestly say they earned it. They left it out there in the box. When they give it their all, you have to recognize that effort and commend them on it.

Throughout the day every man on the team thanked me for my support of them. They commented how much they appreciated what I do. To me, it’s just being a fan. I recognize that it’s not just a driver, car, sponsor, and number.
It’s a large group of guys who week after week give it their all. Who dedicate themselves to a single cause, making a car go fast to entertain us fans. These guys are nameless and faceless to most, but to me they are more than that, to me they are more than mechanics, to me they are more than pit crew members. To me, they are…

Friends. My guys. My team.

The part that really got to me at the end of the day was when someone from another crew asked if I was THE “Couch Crew Chief” after I said yes he thanked me for all I did and said he loved everything I write. When I asked who he was he told me his name and then said, “I’m a nobody.”

That’s when I knew I had started down the right path. Not one person in the garage is a nobody, you can’t fake it and make it in the garage. It doesn’t work that way, there’s too much blood, sweat, and tears shed for anyone to feel like a nobody in that garage.

So this is for “nobody” and “everybody” my friends in the garage. Hope to see you all soon… in the box.

Overly Opinionated: So, you failed inspection…

It is no secret that the hot topic right now is NASCAR inspection, specifically the LIS. Everyone has a thought on this and lots of fans are assuming that teams are cheating if they fail the LIS. Can it really be that easy to be determine cheaters from non-cheaters? Why is the LIS a big topic now?

First off, what is the LIS? It’s a giant metal bed that takes 40+ measurements in under 2 minutes. It checks everything from front and rear alignment to just about any other measurable that use to be done by hand. Using lasers and computers each team is given a print out of their measurements.

When you hear that some team failed LIS, what do we think? Most think, “OH MY GOD! They are CHEATING!” Are they really? The teams set up the car to how they want it, they do research and try to innovate in available areas. When they fail LIS it simply means that one measurement was out of NASCAR’s mandated tolerance. It may be more than one but many times it is just one or two items.

Is this a big deal? No. Not really. Out of all the measurements 1 or 2 is wrong. With fans crying for “fair play” we have forced NASCAR to become a “Spec Racing” series. Is that really what we want? Guess what you find in spec racing, domination by one or two teams who find something in a grey area. Until the other teams find that or something else, one team will own the series.

NASCAR became a spec racing series when they went to a universal body. It slowly evolved into this inspection heavy series. It is the enemy of innovation. It forces engineers to push the envelope in all available areas, which are limited suddenly by NASCAR using their, “We don’t like it.” rule. So when a team runs maximum toe and gets contact with the wall or another car or even if a part expands or contracts more than anticipated, the toe can easily be out of tolerance.

NASCAR is very clear on what is and is not acceptable. In the past they would make a judgement call about damage contributing to the passing or failing  of any measurement on a car post-race. This year they finally said, “Must pass regardless of damage.” That’s great, if enforced that way and this week Martin Truex, Jr. was the first demonstration of that new policy.

Some are calling for no post race inspection or to inspect everybody. Let’s just be realistic, is one hundred percent inspection fair to the teams? The owners and drivers get up and go while the mechanics and crews push it back through tech inspection that it just passed 3 hours before. No inspection would make more sense honestly.

To be fair, the LIS isn’t the only imspection station teams go through before the race, there are several. Pre-race they pass every station. If they can make an adjustment in-race without getting caught, I say let them do it. If you aren’t going to pass/fail a team in template post race, don’t do it with LIS either.

I am an advocate for less inspection. Once a chassis is certified by NASCAR at their R&D center, leave it alone. Certify a motor at NASCAR R&D, leave it alone. That covers the safety and horsepower, at track check the body to template and check for minimum weight, then let the teams do what they want otherwise. Simplify the process. Let the teams engineer and innovate in any way. You give small teams the chance to catch lightning in a bottle and steal a win!

With all the inspection you have prevented small teams from having a real shot at a win on a weekly basis. Let the teams innovate, quit demanding precise measurements for everyone to meet. Quit regulating rear end gears and transmissions.

If you do this, get rid of all the inspection before and after the race you will see a larger variety of winners. You don’t have to worry about failing post race inspection and teams can do what they do best, find ways to make cars fast.

If we insist on having this spec racing series, you’ll continue to push NASCAR the way of the IROC series.

In the end, fans, quit caring so much about the LIS station. If I told you that after 400 miles something was .010 inches out of tolerance would you call it cheating? Think of it, a change of 10 human hairs… If that’s what means the difference between winning or cheating, we are being a little too anal here. I’m sure if given the option every team would agree, quit demanding such precision. If you get smoked one week, you can always come back next week with something way off the wall and go after it. Right now, you’re locked into a tight tolerance so you have months before you find something.

Until we ease up, enjoy the domination!

Chicago Setup

Welcome to Joliet, Illinois. Home of the Chicagoland Speedway. After making the Chase in Richmond with a 13th place finish, Austin Dillon comes to the north with eyes on only one goal, winning. That’s it, that’s all. No more points, no more worrying about a good “points day” it’s just a win or loss situation.

Chicagoland was not nice to Austin last year, a 43rd place finish. However, his first Cup start there was a 16th place finish. He also has a 5th place average in trucks and a 4th place average in Xfinity series. So his average 30th in Cup is very misleading, but numbers are numbers and the law of averages doesn’t lie.

30+5+4=39/3=13-4=9th…

Ninth on any other weekend would be great. Not this weekend, you see there’s some luck on Austin’s side. You’re goin to be surprised. I honestly think with the leaps and bounds RCR has made on mile and a half tracks combined with some luck, plus an all star pit crew, the 3 team is in the driver’s seat and should be considered a favorite for the weekend.

Now, I’m going to get a little personal, I mean… It is my blog and I get to toot my own horn on occasion.

In 2009 when Kevin Harvick won his first Bud Shootout, I was there. I had handed Richard Childress something that morning through the big window. Only he knows if that made it to Victory Lane last night.

When Brendan Gaughan won his first Xfinity race at Road America, I was there. I shook his hand and wished him luck and his pass of Chase Elliott happened in turn 12, right in front of me.

When Paul Menard won Road America, I was there, on pit road, 3 stalls down. Almost directly across from Winner’s Circle.

When Michael McDowell won Road America this year, I was there, next to the 2 team and my crew on pit road.

When Spirit of Daytona Racing won the last Grand Am race at Laguna Seca with an ECR engine, I had sent them something for luck and it arrived the weekend they won.

Obviously, I cannot take credit for the wins, but I sure do have a tendency to pop up for the big moments. A “good luck” charm if you will.

This weekend…

I will be there…

By my crew, by my team, hoping and praying and believing that God Is In Control and will bless the team with a win while I am there. Do I have any luck for Austin, only God knows but I hope so. If I can snag a headset I will live tweet the race as always. If I can not, I will try to FaceBook live it or somehow broadcast it via my Couch Crew Chief Motorsports page or via periscope, same name as my Twitter.

Come Sunday, I’ll see you in the box.

September 11.

In September of 2001 I was in the Army, stationed in Korea. Our day was normal. We got up, went to work. We laughed and told dirty jokes. We gave each other grief and at the end of the day we went home and had a beer…

Being 13 hours ahead of the U.S. we had no idea that our world would change, at 9pm.

I remember Sgt. Babino calling me over by her room door to see a plane that had crashed into the World Trade Center. I sat there watching and thinking what a terrible accident. Just stunned.

Thats when the second plane crashed into the tower.

I know I’m not the only person in the world to feel helpless right then, but I stood there thinking, “I’m so far away! I just want to help!” I stood there, knowing it was an attack and not an accident. Silently I thought, “How could we not see this coming?”

I went online to talk to my friends. They kept asking what was happening and what they should do. I felt more helpless. Being in the Army and having no information and no way to do our job, defend the nation. Everyone around me, friend and foe… everyone… felt helpless. All our quarrels seemed so distant and far away, the whole of us soldiers were confused.

I write this only because it is a memory. Some of it fades year-to-year and some of it feels like yesterday. I can still remember certain things someone said to me. I can hear the voices and before my eyes I can see the words appear on the screen of the computer as I talked to those at home. I remember people walking in and asking if they could email their families and tell them the generic response we were told to give.

I think we all want to forget in a way, but we want the new generation to remember, this is what we fight for. Freedom has a cost and this was the reminder of what happens when we are derelict in the duties that are required to remain free, without fear and terror daily.

Every year I watch the specials on TV and see those same pictures and same moments, not because I dwell on bad, but because I simply cannot turn away… and it gives me hope. All those people, everyone after gathered together as one nation, under distress, under God… we stood together… and I hope in the future we Americans can do it again without the senseless tragedy.

To the men and women everywhere that go to work daily as first responders, firefighters, police officers, and all other public service…. To the men and women everywhere defending not just our freedom, but freedom in general… To the soldiers who wake up and do it because it’s what you do… Thank you. It cannot be said enough.

May we forgive and forget the evil, but remember the lessons of hope and unity displayed before us.

I apologize that this isn’t a standard race blog, that I do not offer a reprieve from the emotions of the day. Sometimes I even agree there’s more to life than racing.

Richmond II Setup

Good morning and welcome to this week’s setup. I waited on it a bit because I wanted to see how Friday night’s Xfinity race would go. I feel it is a decent indicator of how the race tonight could go.

Qualifying pole and finishing 7th provided Austin Dillon with his 6th top 10 in the series at Richmond. If you remove 2 starts, September of 2008 (26) and April of 2013 (35), he would have an 8th place average finish. Why is this significant? It shows that his problem is not with the track. He knows how to get it done here despite what the numbers say. The 13th place average finish in Xfinity is very misleading here.

Austin qualified his number 3 Sprint Cup team 8th yesterday moves his average start from 20th to 18th, thank god we aren’t starting all the way back there today! In five starts at Richmond in Cup, Austin has three finishes of 27th and two finishes of 20th. It Averages to 24.20, but you either finish 24th or 25th. So I am using 25th.

Take the average of 13 + 25 = 38/2 = 19, the  minus the average of 4 places above his Cup average (19-4=15) and my prediction for the week is… 15th. That’s 6 positions below where he needs to finish to guarantee himself a place in the Chase. That’s not bad.

Now, let’s throw out those 2 ugly finishes in Xfinity. Using 8 instead of 13. 8+25=33/2=17-5=12. I like this projection better, honestly. Not just because it’s better but I think it could be more realistic. However, I have to stay with 15th because that’s the way I’ve done it all year.

Now for a reality check, Austin’s number one goal is to make the Chase, anything shy of a win means he has to make sure he beats Jaime McMurray. Jaime has an average of 21st but over the last five starts here he has an average of 8th. Chip Ganassi’s team is good here.

Last night’s green flag trend could continue through tonight. That would limit the chances for the 3 guys to get the car “right” for Austin. With McMurray starting 4th and Austin starting 8th, that means McMurray has already been spotted half the points he needs to pass Austin Dillon for the final spot in the Chase if someone outside the top 16 wins. Austin needs to finish within 8 spots of McMurray to hold onto his position in the points.

Obviously, a win just makes it all good and RCR has caught up a lot since last year and even since this spring when we visited Richmond. Austin has become a better short track racer too! What we have here is a ton of ups and downs. Tonight will have a very high “pucker” factor. What’s it going to take? Austin has to stay out of trouble. Greg and Slugger have to predict the right changes for tonight. Our guys over the wall need to have their next stop be their best stop all night. Everyone on this team is capable of doing it, everyone. Every guy is a winner. Everyone has beat someone else to be where they are. So give these guys a shout out, pump them up! We need their best!

Good luck tonight, control what you can control, see you in the box.

 

Overly Opinionated: @JHNemechek/@ColeCuster00

What a weekend in racing! We had NHRA in Indy, F1 at Monza, IndyCar at Watkins Glen, Xfinity and Cup at Darlington; yet all overshadowed by the events of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series finish in Canada. A few have asked my thoughts on it, surprisingly… I am 180 degrees from most opinions on it.

Quick refresh, coming to the checkers Nemechek took three swipes at Custer before turning into him and riding him into the wall and under the flagstand to win. Exciting and controversial finish. Exactly what we like, right? Apparently not! Who wants something to talk about anyway?

Let’s just start by saying that anyone who has ever played a racing video game has done the exact same thing. Don’t get high and mighty here, to us at home it is the same thing. It didn’t take any money out of our pocket and it gave us an ending worth talking about. Is it really shocking that a young man who probably has raced a ton online made that move? A few years back Carl Edwards even tried a similar move by driving way too deep into a corner and hoping his momentum and speed would get him the pass for the win even if it meant slamming the wall.

Picture yourself in Nemechek’s shoes, just for a moment. He has a win in the series already which puts him in the Chase. He drives for his family team, he doesn’t have a sponsor, so every race he needs to get every inch he can. Not just to impress sponsors but for the prize money. Any team operating on a small budget and going into the Chase needs every penny. Does it make it right? No. However, it is something to think about.

Cole Custer drives for JR Motorsports. How many are fans of Custer because of Junior? I’d guess a large portion. He doesn’t have all the worries of a small team, he does have sponsors he has to answer to and they got a lot of play this weekend because of the incident, more than if he had won without any of the controversial events.

Think about the biggest finishes, the ones we treasure the most. 1979 Daytona 500 Yarborough/Allison. 2003 Darlington Craven/Busch. Bristol with Labonte/Earnhardt, twice. These are defining moments in NASCAR history. Two that looked similar to the Nemechek and Custer finish and one where Dale Earnhardt Sr. flat out wrecked Labonte after he “just rattled his cage.” So let me ask you this, what is the difference?

Nemechek did no wrong in the eyes of NASCAR, Brian Framce has stated that this is a full contact sport. NASCAR gave them fenders, go use them up. NASCAR said, “Boys have at it.” Go fight nice. We haven’t seen a driver sent to the back of the field in years for rough driving, so what’s the deterrent?

What we have is two young men fighting it out for a WIN!  We should be excited that we can possibly look forward to years of a great rivalry. Imagine when these guys get to Cup with the other young talent. It will be a class of drivers not seen since the early 80’s.

Now, I understand that many call it dirty racing, it may be. Yet, don’t play this out in public. Let these guys work it out. Custer already tackled John Hunter after the race, will it end there? Likely not! Let them deal with it, either Custer will turn him and they will call it even or Nemechek will go right back after him and build the rivalry and keep it moving forward. That is up to them. As for us the fans, just watch and wait and enjoy.

I don’t know either of these guys and I’m not here to judge them, I have no dog in the fight. What I did see is a young man who wanted this win, who would do anything for the win. As Dale Earnhardt, Sr. said, “It pays more to win.”

Thats just my opinion. Feel free to debate and enjoy! Find me on Twitter: @couchcrewchief and let’s talk. Til next time, see you in the box.