Team Chevy crew chiefs Gil Martin, No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet, and Chad Knaus, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, were guests on a NASCAR Teleconference to discuss the championship battle at the upcoming season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Full transcript:
An Interview With:
GIL MARTIN AND CHAD KNAUS
ASHLEY JONES: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to today’s NASCAR teleconference in advance of Sunday’s Ford 400, the final race in the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Our guests today, we will be joined by the championship-contending crew chiefs, Gil Martin and Chad Knaus. Each crew chief will join us for approximately 15 minutes.
First we are joined Gil Martin, crew chief for the No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet driven by Kevin Harvick. The No. 29 team is third in the standings, 46 points behind leader Danny Hamlin.
Gil, talk about your team strategy and outlook this weekend for the season finale.
GIL MARTIN: Basically we’re bringing a brand new race car to Homestead. We’ve put everything into it that I think we’ve learned through the course of the season. The engine shop, ACR, has built us one of the best engines I think that they’ve produced all year long and got it in the car, so feel really good about the piece that we’re taking. We’re nice and prepared and going to load the car up tonight, team is leaving in the morning at 9:00 to go deep sea fishing on Wednesday in Key West for a little team building, and we’ll be ready to go on Friday morning.
Q. A lot of times crew chiefs and drivers talk about getting two people to race each other so that the third guy might take advantage of it. Are you watching with some amusement sort of the war of words that’s gone on the past two weeks between the 11 and 48? And Bob Osborne said the other day that his guess was they’d keep bantering back and forth and see who crumbles. Does the 29 team having stayed out of that, do you think that there could be some advantage to them smack talking each other so much?
GIL MARTIN: Well, I mean, I guess there’s a two-part answer to that. One, I’m surprised that we have stayed out of it because we’re usually in the middle of most of this kind of stuff.
But secondly, I mean, I think it’s kind of a waste of time to do a lot of smack talking with the 48. They have been in this position many times. They haven’t been trailing going into Homestead, but a team of that caliber, you’re not going to do a lot of smack talking and bother them a whole lot. They’re going to go down there focused with a mission, and I think a lot of that will — has the potential of backfiring on you.
We’re just going down there looking to — we know the job that we have at hand, and we’re going with our best piece, and I think our driver is ready and psyched up about it after our meeting this morning, and just looking forward to it.
Q. If you had to look at all three drivers, what do you think your driver does best, and what are some things that the other two drivers have that you wish your driver was equal or better at?
GIL MARTIN: Well, I mean, the one thing that I think our driver does the best, I think he works his best under these kind of conditions I think that we’re going to be under because of the fact of head games will not bother him because he’s one of the best that there is at playing head games to start with. I’m very, very happy that we have a driver with that strong of a mental aspect about him going into this race.
The other thing that I guess I wish that we had would be the four rings that Jimmie Johnson has because that means we would have done the things we needed to have done the past four years.
As far as the driver, though, I wouldn’t swap him for anybody right now.
Q. And real quickly, do you think teammates will play a part in Sunday’s race at all for any of the three guys?
GIL MARTIN: I certainly think so. I think it’s going to be a big factor, that meaning that I don’t think anybody is going to go out and intentionally wreck anybody, but I don’t think anybody is going to particularly do anybody any favors on the racetrack when it comes down to just pure racing as far as moving over and letting a guy go. I think they’re going to try to impede their process as much as they can on the racetrack.
I mean, you never know how things play out on the track. There’s a lot of favors that go on throughout the garage, whether it’s engine programs, tires, whatever happens. So I don’t think you’ll see anybody intentionally wrecking, but I don’t think that you’ll see a lot of favors being done, or maybe there will be some favors that will be paid back at the end of this race, too.
Q. I just wanted to ask you, considering how this Chase has gone so far, how many of the turning points, so to speak, have come with drivers winning the actual Chase races, if you had to guess, do you think that this year we might see the champion actually winning the last race of the season?
GIL MARTIN: I hope so. I hope we do win the last race. I mean, that’s a good track for Kevin as we know. I mean, the stats that these guys are putting up right now, the average finish for all these guys being they’re all in the sixes, six-point-something, it’s pretty incredible what’s going on with that. But I really do think that one of these guys will end up winning the race.
Q. And considering how close all three of you guys are just mentioned, the stats are, is it almost a toss-up if someone is looking from the outside in, being close and how good they are at the track?
GIL MARTIN: I think so. I think that it’s not just the drivers that you’re looking at being close. You’re looking at three of the best organizations in the business with all the resources that are available to all of them and the key people they have in the shop that are — that can use the resources they have available.
And I think that that’s what you’re seeing go on right now is you’re seeing just the magnitude of 400-plus employees at each business that are at the top of their game, and that’s what’s making these finishes so close every week.
Q. You’re aware of the challenge of winning one championship. Can you address the magnitude of winning four straight, and comment on whether Jimmie as a driver or individually receives the credit he deserves.
GIL MARTIN: There’s no doubt. I mean, as far as winning four championships, I would like to be sitting here today trying to reflect on what that’s like to win four, because we’re talking about wanting to win two in a row, and we have to accomplish this feat this weekend to do that, to even start on that progression.
But four in a row is pretty impressive. It is impressive in today’s time. Five in a row will just be — it would be unbelievable.
But as far as Jimmie and the race car, he should get a tremendous amount of credit just because the fact of if you race week in and week out you know what it takes to be there at the end of the race. It’s not necessarily being fast all day, it’s being smart for three or four hours straight and being calculated enough to know when it’s time to race somebody and when it’s time to let them go.
And if you go through the course of four seasons, and my math is not exactly right, but you’re at 130-some-odd races right there that you had to do the right thing a whole lot of the time, so that’s pretty good odds in favor of what the driver is doing.
Q. A couple things: One, are you offended that you guys aren’t more in the general talk of — a lot of people seem to be talking like this is a two-man deal, two-race-team deal. Also just wondering whose idea it was for the deep sea fishing expedition and why you guys thought that would be a good idea.
GIL MARTIN: No, I’m not offended at all because of where we were last year at this time. We didn’t know what we would be doing for a living last year at this time. So being in the position that we’re in right now and to lead the points most of the year, and if you go back to traditional points we’ve got over 300-something-point lead, which goes to show what a caliber of a season that we’ve had.
It doesn’t bother me at all that — it bothers me that we’re down 46 points, don’t get me wrong. But if they’re not talking about us constantly, if we win the championship, everybody will have a lot to talk about.
And as far as going deep sea fishing, we had this car prepared, ready to load in the truck, and I thought it would be a good idea for the guys to go down, just relax, clear their mind from all this for a day or so and go into Homestead because we know that we can finish no worse than third. So we’re going to run flat-out all day long with nothing to lose, and other guys are somewhat — will have to play a little bit of defense. We’re not intending on playing any defense at all. We’re going to throw the long ball all day long and see where it ends up.
Q. I want to ask you a couple things. One, can you talk about your decision to go with a new car for this weekend as opposed to maybe one in your stable that’s had success? And secondly, if you can talk about — I know with your experience atop the pit box that if there’s something going on with the car you kind of have an automatic idea of what to make a change and adjustment to. But how often atop the pit box do you make something that’s more of a gut instinct as opposed to the program decision, and is that something you’re more open to this weekend?
GIL MARTIN: I mean, we’ve got some planned plays that we do throughout the race and we do a lot of statistical analysis on things that have happened in past races. But there’s also a lot of times that you’ve got to make a gut decision based on what you think not only your competition is going to do, and when I say that, I mean the 11 and the 48, but you’ve got to make some decisions based off of what you think the back half of the field may do to trap you on the racetrack. Sometimes you just have to go with a gut feeling of how the race is progressing and to do what you’ve got to do.
And as far as bringing a new car, I’m plenty comfortable with it. We took our car we ran in Michigan and the car we ran at Charlotte all in the wind tunnel two weeks ago, and this car had the best numbers. And that’s one of the things I have to give a lot of props to our chassis shop and our fab shop. They’ve been able to reproduce the same product several times over this year to where that’s been one of our strong points, that we haven’t had to worry about racing the same race car each week and turning it around and getting tired. That’s one of the things we’ve done as a company much better this year is being able to produce a good product and do it week after week. I feel real comfortable with the car we’re taking.
Q. To go back to an earlier question, Kevin said yesterday on Twitter he didn’t think he personally had received the kind of accolades that he thought he would get from the type of run that he had had. Can you just speak a little bit about Kevin, because the two of you had won the Busch Series title before, and why do you think that Kevin doesn’t get the type of credit he deserves?
GIL MARTIN: I can’t explain to you why he doesn’t, but I can talk to you about why he should. I mean, you just go back and look. Again, I know it doesn’t matter to nothing, but everybody talks about stats all week long. That’s all you see all week long. When you go back and look where we would be in traditional points, where we are on top 10s, where we are on points gained, where we are on top 5s, I think if you go back and look, it’s almost been one of the best seasons that RCR has ever had in its history.
Obviously if we don’t win the championship, it’s not going to be where we want to be, but it’s a championship run that we’ve had all year long. And in order for that to have happened, he had to do a lot of things right this year, and I think a lot of those things have gone a little bit unnoticed because a lot of emphasis has been put on that we haven’t qualified very well. But because we haven’t qualified very well, the amount of cars that we’ve passed this year coming from I’ll say not even mid-pack, three-quarter pack, through most of the season, I don’t know the number of those cars, and I’m sure y’all have the stats on that, but the amount of cars that we’ve passed this season is probably astronomical compared to a lot of them.
And it’s a shame that we had the little problem we did in the pits this weekend because I really think when we were running third and had to come back in, if we would have got to see some clean air, our car was going to be very fast out front or in the top two or three this weekend.
But he’s done a great job, and I think he deserves a lot more credit probably than he is getting.
Q. Can you talk about strategy for the race versus strategy competing against the two other guys? If you’re in a certain position near the end of the race, will you base all your strategy on where Denny and Jimmie are?
GIL MARTIN: We obviously will have to have a running tally of where the points are throughout the whole race, and that’s something that we’re working on, because if we’re running 12th, we need to know where they are, or if we’re leading or whatever the scenario may come down to. We’re going to have to base our whole race based on that solely. And we’ll have to adjust accordingly because that’s what it’s going to come down to. It won’t do us any good to run third if they’re running ninth or something. So we’re going to have to do whatever it takes to make the mathematics of the whole day work out. So yeah, we’ll spend a lot of time looking at that throughout the course of the day.
Q. And when you’re making adjustments, are you basing stuff on what you know from Homestead in the last couple years with the new car, or have things changed so much, do you base it on more the other mile and a halfs that you’ve raced at this year?
GIL MARTIN: Well, we had a great run at Homestead last year, but that was also with the wing car. But I think the progression of our mile and a half program has changed a great deal this year through just how we’ve run at Michigan and some of the other places that we’ve run.
So what we’ll do is we’ve gone back and we’ve done a lot of simulation through tracks that are as similar to Homestead as we can get, and we’ve got a couple of mile and a half packages that we’ll try to incorporate those into the weekend because I really think that the program that we had last year is not going to be good enough to do what we need to do this time.
ASHLEY JONES: Thank you, Gil, for your time. Best of luck this weekend. Appreciate you joining us.
Now we are joined by Chad Knaus, chew chief for the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet driven by Jimmie Johnson. Chad is the four-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion crew chief. The No. 48 is second in the standings, just 15 points behind the leader.
Chad, talk a little bit about your team strategy and outlook for this weekend’s season finale.
CHAD KNAUS: Obviously we’re going into Homestead with a lot of optimism, definitely excited about the opportunity to be battling for a championship once again, proud of the fact that we’ve been able to put ourselves in this position a few times throughout our career, so that’s kind of a neat thing, and definitely excited about it.
I think after last weekend, the guys have got a little bit of spring in their step, and closing that gap, albeit by half as much as we truly needed, we were able to close it up some so that gives us definitely a fighting chance going into the weekend, and honestly if we go down there and do everything that we need to do, we have the ability to win it. So a lot of optimism going into the race this weekend.
Q. The other day Denny was pretty vocal in his displeasure about the fuel mileage situation. I was wondering, when a driver does voice that stuff publicly, what happens next when he and the crew chief are together, and how do they smooth that over usually?
CHAD KNAUS: You know, I don’t know how they do it. I don’t know how Mike runs his team. But we work pretty closely over here at Hendrick Motorsports to make sure that we have open communication and try to keep the drivers as informed as we possibly can to what’s going on. So if Jimmie was to be displeased after an event about something like that, we would just get together and we would just talk about it.
I think the relationship that Jimmie and I have is good enough that at this stage in our career I don’t think there would be a lot of bark to one another because we know that we’re both going for the common goal of trying to win races and trying to run competitively week in and week out.
Q. What does your driver do better than the other two, and is there something that the other two do better than your driver that you wish he was equal or as good as?
CHAD KNAUS: I think Jimmie ultimately is a better race car driver than both of those two are. I think the way that — I’m not saying that he always is going to beat them on the racetrack, but I think week in and week out Jimmie does a better job of racing than the other guys do as far as passing cars and whatnot.
As far as what they do better, you know, that’s a tough one because I haven’t worked with those guys really that much. It’s difficult to know if it’s car or if it’s team or if it’s crew chief or whatever the situation is. So I really can’t comment on that.
You know, I can just kind of see what happens from my perspective and what my driver does, and I think that as far as from a qualifying aspect, Jimmie isn’t the best qualifier, never really has been, so I think I rely a lot on his race savvy to be able to race, and that’s the thing that I focus on the most.
I guess it’s difficult for me to even say that he’s better than what they are. I just know from what he brings to the table for us, that’s what his strength is.
Q. And real quick I wanted to know, a lot of people have said Jimmie winning four championships in a row has been what has sort of brought NASCAR’s ratings down. I know Jimmie adamantly disagrees with that. This year the championship race, as tight as it is, as good as it is, regardless of whether or not Jimmie wins or not, do you think that this should be something to ignite the passion in the sport again and gets people excited?
CHAD KNAUS: I hope so, for sure. I feel that the economy as a whole has hurt our sport, and I understand that it’s difficult for people to say, well, it doesn’t cost anything to watch it on television. But I think the economy has hurt us from an attendance standpoint at the racetracks, although I have seen a lot of a rise in that here as of late, which is good and comfortable to see.
I think that a lot of the problems that we’ve got from any type of sports, entertainment, recreational activity, is there’s just a lot of options out there. It’s going to be difficult, period, to pull in as many people when you can get so many snapshots of what’s actually going on. You guys in the media are just as guilty as anybody else far as Tweeting throughout the races and keeping everybody up to date what’s going on so they don’t actually have to sit there and watch the race.
I think that’s some of the biggest reasons that we fight. Everybody wants everything in 60 seconds or less and the abbreviated version. Unfortunately you have to play out through the whole scenario before you can even develop the abbreviated version. But I think that’s one of our big problems, and there’s just a lot of things out there for people to do.
In the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s, there just quite frankly weren’t as many video games, there weren’t as many sports to go view, there weren’t as many sports teams, so the options were less. And I think that’s probably what’s hurt our sport the most more than anything.
Q. My question to you is this: How would you like the officiating to be done this coming week? It could be a green-white checkered. We’re talking about maybe not as many debris cautions at the end of the race, longer flag runs. They’re really just trying to do the right job. And a comment about John having called the cars in and looked at them, first time in history they’ve done that just so nothing goes wrong on the officiating side of it. Can you kind of comment on how you’d like to see it officiated and what you thought about them looking at the cars in advance?
CHAD KNAUS: As far as them looking at the cars in advance, I don’t think that was really that big of a deal. They’re just trying to head off any complications they may have. The car that the 11 is bringing is the car they raced at Texas so it was already there anyways, wasn’t that big of a deal. The car that we are taking they’ve looked at a couple of times in the past, as well, so that wasn’t that big a deal. I don’t know a whole lot about the car the 29 took at all. So I don’t really have any problem with that.
You know, they’re just trying to be proactive and head anything off, obviously. The last thing that we want is for any type of controversy after the season is over with, and they want to make it that the team that hoists the trophy at the end of 400 miles at Homestead is the winner and everybody can just go on and have a good time and it’s done. So I understand their angle on that.
I think that I have noticed that there has been less debris cautions here this little bit here since the Chase has started for sure. I’m perfectly fine with that. However it works out is how it works out. If there’s a caution and it needs to be thrown — if there’s debris on the track and it needs to be thrown because it’s harming somebody or it could be harming somebody then it needs to be thrown. If there’s an accident, yeah. So I’ll let them do the officiating and we’ll do the racing and we’ll hopefully just all come out happy.
Q. You guys are known to be really meticulous planners, go through any kind of scenario, look at every detail getting ready for this race. What’s the one thing that you look at that concerns you the most?
CHAD KNAUS: I think the biggest concern that I’ve got currently is that we haven’t gone to Homestead to truly race yet. We’ve gone down there with a bit of a protective mindset, so I think that puts us a little bit behind compared to the other guys. Denny, he ran top 5 most of the race last year. They had a good pit stop at the end, got some good track position, was able to win the race and that was a good job by them. We ran 15th to 5th the majority of the day but never really had to get ourselves in a position where we had to push the car a whole lot. So we haven’t had to be the aggressor there, so I think that puts us a little bit behind the 8-ball.
But then again, when we go to tracks for the first time and try to get aggressive with it, we usually do pretty well. So I think that it could be a good thing, also.
Q. Jimmie has talked a few times about how he’s blocking everything out right now; he’s not reading a whole lot, he’s not looking at stuff on television. I wonder, can you comment on his ability to sort of not overcomplicate things and how much that helps him in a situation like this?
CHAD KNAUS: Not overcomplicate things in what respect?
Q. He seems like he’s not a guy who gets overburdened with things, that he simplifies especially what he does professionally and it seems to pay dividends when there’s so much going on around him and so much on the line.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, he does a good job of that. I mean, I guess the more you’re in this sport, the more you learn to become numb to what’s written and what’s published and what’s put out there. And Jimmie along with the majority of the guys on the team, we honestly just don’t — we don’t read what’s written. We don’t look at the TV shows. We don’t take part in a lot of that stuff just for the simple fact that it’s just grief and a lot of propaganda. There’s a lot of people that enjoy the drama, but we don’t really get into it a whole lot. We don’t get into the “he said, she said” stuff, we just let our actions speak for what we can do on the racetrack, and that’s the way we leave it.
Q. So this is not just a function of this championship, he’s like this all the time?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, for the most part, yeah.
Q. How different is it going into this finale; instead of being the one chased for the first time, you guys are actually the ones chasing. How different is that for you guys after four years of what y’all have had?
CHAD KNAUS: It’s different for sure. Like I said, we’re going into an event that we haven’t had to really race at, so that’s a little unique for us since in years we haven’t had to get after it that hard there. From that respect it’s a little different. But ultimately it’s no different than what we do week in and week out, so it’s not anything out of the ordinary.
Look, the facts are this: We have to go to Homestead and we have to put every foot forward to sit on the pole and win the race, and that’s no different than what we do if we go to Atlanta or Pocono or Michigan or wherever it is. So we don’t have any more pressure on us than to do what it is that we need to do, and that is compete as be as fast as we possibly can. The pressure therein lies on the guys on the 11 because they’re in a protective situation where they have to be cognizant of what we’re doing and aware of what the 29 car is doing.
For us it’s really pretty simple. We just have to go down there and go fast.
Q. And when you say being aware of the 29 and the 11 car, do you have someone specifically assigned to watch each one of those cars so you know exactly what they’re doing all throughout that race?
CHAD KNAUS: No, like I said, we don’t care. That’s the 11 car’s job to be worried about us and the 29. As far as us, it’s really irrelevant. We have to go down there and get the best finish that we can and let it play out as it may. We can’t go into a protective zone and say, okay, we’re just going to ride fifth and they’re going to ride seventh. That’s not how it’s going to work. It’s not going to be that simple for us. We’re going to have to go out there and compete and not worry about them. That’s the key.
Q. A couple things: Teams have races like Hamlin had last week where he has a first or second place car probably and winds up being hit by the fuel mileage situation. As a team can you put that behind you last Sunday night and not have it be in your head this week?
CHAD KNAUS: I think you can as long as you have a strong team. If you start blowing apart your teammates or your crew chief or your driver or whatever it may be in a situation like that, then it’s difficult to bounce back from. But those guys are a pretty stand-up, solid team. I think they’re going to be perfectly fine. They’ve got great race cars, and they’ve got a really good driver, so I think that they’ll show up at the racetrack at Homestead 100 percent and ready to go. If they don’t, then they’re foolish because they’ve got an opportunity to do something pretty special.
Q. And the other thing is, pit selection, is it more or less important at this track than some other places?
CHAD KNAUS: It’s important every place you go. Pit selection is very critical. You have to be aware of who you’re pitting around, where you’re pitting. It sets the tempo for a lot of things, so qualifying is very important.
And definitely that’s one of the things that’s bitten us here the last handful of week for whatever reason. We haven’t been able to get the speed out of the car for qualifying like we have in the past. I don’t really understand why or what’s happened there. But we’re going down some paths where we think we might be able to get a little bit of that back.
ASHLEY JONES: Thank you, Chad, for your time, and best of luck this weekend. We appreciate you joining us.
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