Inside lane: Analyzing the news spreading through the garage
Heading into Sunday's race at Michigan, an anonymous NASCAR insider shares his thoughts about the latest in NASCAR nation.
"I enjoy racing hard, and the fastest car winning the battle at the end, but at the same time, occasionally a strategy race makes for good TV -- like what happened at Pocono. I think that's part of it for the fans -- who gets gas and who gets tires, who stays out and who doesn't. I wouldn't want to be a part of that every week, though.
"Even though there wasn't much passing at that race, the patch in Turn 3 really helped us. With the old track, getting into Turn 3 was really bad -- there was just one groove. But with the patch, with new tires you could still get on the bottom -- underneath the patch --and pass people a little bit. So I think, if anything, the patch made the race better, not worse.
"Most of the passing I had to do coming out of Turn 3 was using it -- because whoever hit the patch just right could get off there much better and get a run down the frontstretch. In practice it seemed it was going to make things worse, but once I got into the race, I figured out I could use the patch and not use it in certain ways. As a driver I had more control over what I could do with the car. If I was a little tight, I'd put my left sides off of it, and if I was a little loose, I could keep all four on it and change that aspect of the car. I could get runs on and pass people. But with this car, it's still damn near impossible to pass anyways, so in a sense the patch was almost irrelevant.
"The new car is much worse than the old one, and the Pocono race wasn't nearly as good because of that -- not to mention the fact we can't shift anymore. I mean, if we could just shift, that would help a lot, because you would have the momentum and the power to make passes. Why they took that away, I have no idea. If anybody could explain to me why we're not allowed to shift there, I'd love to know. Kyle Busch tried to shift, and I thought about trying to shift myself -- but these cars in traffic, they're such pieces of crap that you can't pass. And you're turning such slow RPMs and they handle so bad, that even with the new gear ratio NASCAR mandated, shifting is difficult. If we could do the transmissions like we used to, it would definitely be better for racing; but I'm sure there's some illogical reason why we can't.
"Being in clean air and in the lead with these cars is huge. It's like night and day; you'll cut a half a second or more off your time. You have to have a good car; you can't take a bad car and a bad driver and put him in the lead, and expect him to stay there. But if you're a decent car, you'll stay up front in clean air; and on the other hand, you can get behind in traffic and lose a half a second or more in time, and there's nothing you can do about it. This new car handles better, turns better, runs faster up front.
"With all due respect, safety in NASCAR's a joke. That's ridiculous what those people did [two safety officials stood around and failed to assist Juan Pablo Montoya out of his burning car at Pocono]. It highlights a major flaw in one of our policies. Every other form of motorsports in the world has a traveling, well-trained safety crew that goes to every single race. We're the only series that doesn't do that. That's ridiculous. I know that NASCAR doesn't want the liability -- I don't know if that's a legal issue or what they're worried about -- but it's safety we're talking about here. Everything else should be irrelevant.
"I don't want to give the impression that the people at the race track are all dumb, or they don't know what they're doing. But they only do this once a year; they're volunteers. Half the safety guys are volunteers that have a 30-minute safety meeting before the race, and some of them have never even been to a race track before. That'd be like me showing up to race just once a year. If I race every week versus once a year or twice a year when a race came into town, think about the difference that would be in performance.
"It's the same way for a safety crew. I don't care who you are or what you do, when you're well-trained and that's your job every week, you're going to be better at it. And if anybody says you're not, then you're an idiot. To me, it's logic. It's simple, basic logic. The more you do something, the better you're going to be. That's just basic, common sense.
"Pit road speeding penalties have been a big deal in NASCAR lately, but the rules are very black and white. It's always a tough call, because you don't know where the 'speed' loops are on pit road, and NASCAR takes an average -- it's not an exact speed, it's an average of our time spent driving through the pits. The only way that NASCAR could judge it better is if we had electronic controls in the car, a system where we just pushed a button and the car ran 55 miles an hour. But you know, so much of it's done with electronic loops and transponders, it's really about as good as it's going to get.
"Is the system perfect? I don't believe so. Some people may believe it is, but I know electronics very well -- and they mess up. For example, probably once a week, our scoring monitors crap out in the garage. All of a sudden, a guy will go run a 15 second lap on a 50 second lap race track, and we're like, 'Woo, where did that come from?' So, there are glitches; it's a computer, it makes mistakes. I don't know how NASCAR feels about their computer systems; I've never really asked them. I'm sure they feel that it's always right; and I'd like to believe that more times than not, it works well -- actually, I do believe it. Still, there may have been times people were speeding and they didn't get caught [because the system malfunctions]. It's as good as it's going to get, though; I think NASCAR's done a good job making it black and white and easy. And if you put computer controls in the cars to control speed on pit road, then you have to worry about people using them for traction control. And that opens up a whole other can of worms.
"I think what Kyle Busch tried to do last weekend [running three different races in three different cities in three days] was stupid. I think he was mentally and physically drained. You're not going to be at your prime and focused when you're traveling on a plane all night and landing at 6 in the morning. Getting up at 8 for practice, you get three hours of sleep, and you're trying to run three races -- I think it's stupid. Yeah, the man likes to race, but I think it was a bad decision, and it showed.
"At this point in the season, it's better to be ninth and 10th in the Chase and fading than coming from behind [like Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch]. It's a lot easier to maintain than it is to make ground. You want to enter the Chase on a hot streak, but you can't time that. You want to be at your best towards the middle of the season, but that doesn't mean you should potentially run like crap to begin with. I think you strike while the iron's hot. If it's hot at the beginning of the season, strike. If it's hot in the middle of the season, strike. If it's hot at the end of the season, strike. You should just always run as hard as you can every week.
"The keys to Michigan are getting the car to turn and rotate really well. Also, just power -- a track like that ... we may fine-tune the carburetor a little bit, because fuel mileage is important there, but you should come with the most power that you can. But even with that in mind, fuel mileage is obviously a key part of our pit strategy.
"Roush always runs well at Michigan. I think Hendrick's going to be good, too; they've got really strong engines right now. But Roush always runs well at Michigan, so I would think they'd continue that. And watch out for Kyle Busch; he's going to be a big threat. Gibbs is really strong as an organization right now, and Michigan is one of Kyle's better tracks.