Drew Blickensderfer has been a crew chief in the Cup series for most of the last five years. He’s led his drivers to three wins in 136 races. Blickensderfer started in racing in Illinois where he grew up before moving to North Carolina to chase the dream that so many do. He started as a rear tire changer for Dale Earnhardt Incorporated. In 2007 he was named the crew chief for Roush Racing’s No. 17 Nationwide car and eventually worked his way to the top of Matt Kenseth’s pit box in the Cup series.
Blickensderfer now calls the shots for Marcos Ambrose in the No. 9 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports. Blickensderfer was able to spend 10 minutes with Frontstretch after a night of working with his son at Millbridge Speedway outside of Moorseville. He spoke about what really happened at Watkins Glen, when Michigan will get racy again and how to make racing better.
Mike Neff: We have to talk about last week. You had the dominant car. Right when the caution flew as you were getting ready to pit or a little before it seemed like something broke in the rear end. Did you do a post mortem to figure out what really happened before the wreck?
Drew Blickensderfer: Yes, we did. Everything we intact. The track bar was bent a little bit but that probably happened from the wreck. Everything was solid. The truck arms were tight. That was our thing, he couldn’t put his finger on what happened. What I think happened, all of those guys pitted at 57 and the caution came out on 58 when we were coming to pit road. We were about 20 seconds from being on pit road. When that happened, we had to come around and start 14th and he got together with someone trying to go through turn one and come up through the field and I think we had a slow leak that whole run. For a car to be that fast and dominant out front, it should have been able to pass up to a top 5 easily, especially with a guy like Marcos driving it. I think we had a slow leak that whole time and when the cautions kept coming out at the end, it wasn’t able to build up some air pressure which just exaggerated the problem and made it worse and worse before we got into that final wreck.
MN: Now you’re off to Michigan. Last time you were there y’all laid down a hell of a fast lap. How are you feeling overall about your trip to the Irish Hills this time?
DB: I feel good. Michigan is a special place when you’re with the Ford camp. I was with Roush Racing for a long time. Now we’re associated with Roush Fenway so going to Michigan is special for those guys, it is special for us, it is special for Ford. That is a place where Doug Yates always brings something special. We love the horsepower there and the Fords run good there. Marcos holds it wide open and isn’t scared. We walk by that banner every day that says he went whatever it was, 208 mph which equals about 216 going into the corner. He’s not scared to put the pedal to the floor. Going to Michigan should be fun trying to qualify there and, if we qualify well, that should be good for us because track position means a lot.
MN: Since the repave, just last year to this year, it seemed like the track lost a decent amount of grip. Are we anywhere close yet to where we’ll run top to bottom or are we still a couple of years away from that?
DB: I think it is a couple of years, maybe next Fall. The problem is that we’re on the same tire that we were on last Fall. The tire is so hard to withstand the speeds we’re running. When you have a tire that hard and the drivers are going into the corner every lap like it is a qualifying run, it leads to everyone hugging the bottom. Those guys don’t want to be next to each other going 212 into the corner every lap, so it leads to a one groove track. I think, as it goes through another Winter, Goodyear will probably have another tire test next Spring and they’ll bring a little softer tire after that and that will aid in moving everyone up the race track.
MN: When you’re setting up for this race, knowing you’re going to be at these speeds for the entire race on a track that smooth, are you able to have the car down on the stops all of the way around the track.
DB: Oh yeah. You’ll pick which side you want to be on, either the left front stop or the right front stop primarily, and you’ll be on that stop all of the way around the track. Whichever one you have your bias too. We’ll have the rear really soft as well like we did at Indy and Pocono. We’ll be scraping our way around the race track. It is really efficient for our cars to get down like that. It is a huge drag reduction in our cars and it is not much of a downforce loss. Our cars become really efficient when you drop the back of the cars and you see side skirts scraping and exhaust pipes scraping when they go through the corners. We want the splitter sealed like you see all of the time at every track, but on big, fast tracks like Michigan you want the back down as well because the car becomes really efficient when it is configured like that.
MN: We’ve been fighting aero dependency since the 80s in the grand scheme of things. Do you think that, if we could get a gap under the front to allow air under the car so that it can get to the cars behind, it would bring the cars closer to the handling of the car in front so that the advantage of leading isn’t so huge and the cars behind aren’t so aero tight?
DB: It could. NASCAR is working hard now to have the teams help to try and figure out what will result in better racing, for next year even. That said, I think all of the racers are under the assumption that Truck racing is really good. The reason we thing Truck racing is really good is 1) It is a short race. The difference between the best Truck and the worst Truck is much greater than it is in Cup. 2) They’re entering the corner a lot slower. The Trucks are just as fast in the center of the corner but they enter so much slower that it leads to the drivers being braver. They want to get up beside somebody and try and make something happen. The thing we need to be careful with in the Cup series is that, without restrictor plates, it is really hard to slow the cars down. Engine builders don’t want restrictor plates, fans don’t want restrictor plates so, adding downforce this year did not slow down the cars. It made us go faster. So, like you said, if we could raise the front of the car up a little bit and maybe take some spoiler off of the cars to slow them down a little that way, they aren’t going to drive as well, but that will keep them from going as fast. It will be like restarts all over again. Restarts are exciting, especially at Pocono. You hear fans say, racing at Pocono after fifteen laps is boring because they are single file. The restarts are GREAT. That’s because you go off into turn one at 160 and everyone can be three wide and not worry about it. When you go into one at 210, people worry about it. I think raising the front could help. There could be a lot of things that would take downforce away and slow the speeds down and still have horsepower involved where the driver still has to use his right foot. That would lead to better racing.
MN: That leads me into my last question. If they could get, 40 miles per hour might be too much, but maybe 25 miles per hour out of these cars on the straights. As you said, we don’t want restrictor plates on the cars. Is there something we could do, either through the EFI or just the timing of the engines to drop the horsepower out of them?
DB: Yeah, you could do it easily with EFI and basically just have a chip in them. That way they won’t be able to turn 9,400 RPM going off into the corner. That would slow them down for sure. It is a tricky thing. You want the engine builders to show off their premier stuff. You want the car builders to show off their premier stuff. At the same time though, when you’re going 210, it doesn’t lead to the best racing all of the time. It is a tricky subject. Some of the best racing in the world goes through struggles like this. Formula 1 and Indy Car are premier series and they don’t have a lot passing, where we have a lot of passing, so we’re fortunate. We just get picky and want more. Not every race can be like the Eldora Truck race or a Bristol or Martinsville race where you see tons of lead changes and all of these people dicing it out. We get spoiled sometimes. We’ve got to take that into account. Definitely you could do stuff with EFI. Let Doug Yates and Rick Hendrick and Richard Childress build the biggest horsepower they can and then NASCAR can come on the back side and limit it.
Blickensderfer will be on the box on Sunday trying to lead Marcos Ambrose to his first oval track victory, and a little redemption from the disappointment of last Sunday. A win for Ford at MIS is always a big deal and to have it be with Richard Petty Motorsports and Marcos Ambrose would undoubtedly make it even more special for the young man who grew up in the Midwest where so many of the automotive industry factories used to be located.
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