The Frontstretch: Fanning the Flames: Driver / Crew Chief Duos, Pit Road "Favors" and Ford Martin Rocks! by Matt Taliaferro -- Thursday October 30, 2008

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Fanning the Flames: Driver / Crew Chief Duos, Pit Road "Favors" and Ford Martin Rocks!

NASCAR Fan Q & A · Matt Taliaferro · Thursday October 30, 2008

 

Seven down, three to go. With that in mind, I figure it’s time for another Chase stat update that I enjoy so much (if you don’t, skip down to paragraph 4). It became apparent to me after two weeks that Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, and Jimmie Johnson had each recorded Top 5 finishes in the first two Chase races; it’s a feat done by one driver in each of the previous Chases, but never by more than one in the same year. Made the playoffs seem pretty exciting at the time, eh?

Two weeks back, those streaks were down to Top 10s. Johnson and Jeff Burton were rolling along with five consecutive to start the Chase, joining Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 2004. Well, Johnson’s gone all Jimmie Johnson on us once again, managing to blow by a Busch circa ’04 (who extended his Chase streak to six straight Top 10s before an engine failure at Atlanta left him 42nd) by notching seven, yes seven, straight playoff Top 10s.

Now, last year’s four consecutive wins by Johnson and the boys was awful darn impressive. Just totally clutch. But to have this thing figured to a science like Jimmie and Chad do is virtually non-comparable. Biffle notches two wins? Fine, the No. 48 comes back and does the same. Burton wants to Top 10 ‘em to death? Fine, the No. 48 can do that at the same time.

Johnson gets a rap for being too vanilla, too cardboard, too … NASCAR 2008. But let’s give credit where credit is due, and also give him a rap for being too much for the field to handle.

Only seven drivers have won three or more titles in their Grand National / Cup careers, and it took all of them at least nine years to get to No. 3. Well, Jimmie is going to do it in his seventh; and come to think of it, he’s never finished out of the Top 5 in points! I don’t know how to measure him against other drivers (except by height) but we’re looking at some rarified air here.

That brings us to our first question:

Q: Hi Matt! Jimmie Johnson is having an amazing run and challenging records set by some of NASCAR’s greats. My question is how do you think he will be remembered? As a great driver who won championships, or on a great team that propelled him to championships? Thanks!
— Jon Steele

Crew chief Chad Knaus is one of the best in the business, but it is the championship driver who is remembered above the rest decades later.

A: Good question. And one that’s a little tricky to answer just yet; but I’d bet in 20 years when we’re looking back, we’ll understand that today’s NASCAR requires more teamwork, from the bookkeepers to fab shop guys to the crew chief and driver than at any point in the sport’s evolution. Yeah, we’ll remember Jimmie and Chad being the most dominant duo this decade, but at the end of the day, right or wrong, the driver — not the system — is remembered above and beyond the rest.

Also, keep in mind that while Jeff Gordon had Ray Evernham as a crew chief for his first three Cups, Evernham is known by many (and we’re just 10 years out) for his ownership role in the sport more than for being the Chad Knaus of the his era.

Gordon had Evernham; Earnhardt had Kirk Shelmerdine and Andy Petree; Waltrip had Jeff Hammond; Yarborough had Herb Nab; David Pearson had Jake Elder; Richard Petty had Dale Inman for all seven; and Lee Petty had, well, himself actually, serving as crew chief. Do we speak of Herb Nab or Kirk Shelmerdine in the same breath as Pearson or Earnhardt? No, not necessarily. The crew chief’s greatness has its own pantheon, as does the driver’s… and I think Jimmie and Chad will be remembered the same way.

Q: Where are some good websites that we can go to get the unpolished versions of what the drivers, crew chiefs, and owners are really like. I get tired of reading press releases that just repeat what we hear from the talking heads on TV. Thanks in advance.
— Steve Wiley

A: Honestly Steve, I can’t think of any websites offhand that will give you true, unfettered access, unless you’re looking for tabloid-esque fodder, in which case there are a couple (that shall remain nameless … sorry).

I’d say your best bet to get inside the drivers’ heads, during the race anyway, would be to order a package like HotPass on Direct TV. I don’t subscribe to this service, but have been told it’s pretty awesome, as I’m sure some of the folks will comment below (help me out, peeps).

Some other options: SIRIUS Satellite Radio provides Tony Stewart Live, which airs Monday at 8:00 PM EST on Channel 128. His co-host is Matt Yocum, and they make for a great team. And XM Satellite Radio hosts Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Unrestricted on Thursdays at 7:30 PM EST on Channel 144. You may think that the guys are very mindful of what they say — and they are to a point — but they do let it rip pretty often. Tony’s, in particular, is worth the price of admission. By the way, if you don’t listen to anything else, be sure and catch the Ford Martin audio bits. Dude is a trip.

Of course, you’ve noticed the one common denominator here is that the services listed all cost some dough. Tony’s site, www.sirius.com/tonystewart has some great free audio that is updated quite often, though.

If anyone reading that has any suggestions for web content, please feel free to post below.

Q: After the Martinsville race, a frustrated Jeff Burton placed the blame squarely on the NASCAR official for them servicing the car while outside the pit box and the resulting penalty, saying, “He didn’t make the call soon enough.”

Jeff has a reputation for honesty and telling it like it is. In my opinion, he’s the one who blew this, by playing the “blame game.” It rests on the crew to make sure the car is properly positioned before starting service. The NASCAR flunky… er, I mean official is there to call the penalty. If it were up to him to let them know prior to service, wouldn’t that make him a de facto team member?
— Dawg

A: That’s an interesting and pretty valid point of view, Dawg. I believe what Jeff was referring to was the little freebies they occasionally receive. Much like in baseball, when a shortstop is turning a double play and never actually steps on second base, but gets in the neighborhood, NASCAR pit road officials will sometimes give the team a “break.”

The best example of this is if you’ve ever seen an official stop a tire if it’s rolling right to him or her. They won’t go out of their way to run it down, but if the tire rolls right up to them, they’ll normally stop it as the crewmen come around the car. This practice has slowed quite a bit in recent years, but used to be fairly common.

Jeff, being a veteran, most likely expected something that didn’t happen in this case. And although he said what he did while the adrenaline was still pumping, he did back track a bit later:

“We pitted and we were over the line, but the official didn’t call it immediately, so our guys started changing the tires and when we got a tire off, then he called it. We were over the line, no doubt. He needed to call it right then and there so we could have reacted. We didn’t know we were over the line until we already had the tires off.”

“Bad break. The official didn’t do anything wrong. It is hard to make everything happen that quickly. We needed to run a little bit better than we did today, but we had a bad break there and we will move on.”

That’s it for this week. Here’s the bold little red link to use if you want to Fan it. Get ya in next week.

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