The NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase has boiled down to a battle of egos as much as a battle of drivers and teams trying to secure wins and points.
Mike Ford, crew chief for Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 FedEx Toyota, threw down the gauntlet at Texas Motor Speedway when he chose the pit stall in front of the Lowe’s No. 48 team. It was payback for the same thing Chad Knaus had done to him at the Kansas race.
Ford has shown his ability to produce strong race cars and guide his team to eight wins this season and the lead in the point standings for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase.
Now head games will play a part in the strategy between he and Jimmie Johnson’s team which is now Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 team.
Ford has had to go head to head with Knaus, who is a man possessed by the goal of winning championships for Hendrick Motorsports. Knaus has done it four years in a row and intends to see Johnson get his fifth title this year regardless of what it takes.
Ford made the comment that the switching of pit crews during the race at Texas was “an act of desperation.”
Ford said, “I think our race team is better than their race team, and I’m not going to tiptoe around them because of where they’re at.” He added, “I’m going to do what it’s going to require for us to win a championship–beat them…..I stayed focused on what we needed to do.”
Hamlin’s crew chief spoke about the No. 48 team watching them and said, “That means they are chasing and they made mistakes doing so.”
Hendrick Motorsports General Manager, Marshall Carlson, said, “I’m just surprised Mike Ford is thinking and talking about the 48 team so much.”
The battle of egos is very much on the driver level as well. Jimmie Johnson has the four consecutive championships to boost his confidence and his prima donna status at Hendrick Motorsports.
Despite comments to the contrary at HMS about everything being about getting a championship for Mr. Hendrick, it is obvious getting Johnson’s fifth consecutive title is priority one.
Hamlin has been coached by Joe Gibbs, his team owner and neighbor. Gibbs is a master at coaching life skills just as we was at coaching football.
Hamlin has shown maturity and confidence this season. He has walked the walk which was not easy with his knee surgery and talked the talk through eight wins this season. Now the Virginia native has snatched the point lead from Johnson in the Chase.
With two races left, Ford has to continue to give Hamlin strong cars and not make mistakes. Perhaps the momentum is in his favor because of the shakeup at HMS with the pit crew swapping.
Knaus equated the change of pit crews to, “changing a spring or changing a shock or something like that. You have to put the best components together to try to win a championship.”
So with two more rounds in the Chase left, we shall see if Mike Ford and his team can deliver the knockout blow to the No. 48 team and their chance to win the title this year.