Driver Matt Carter left Specialty Racing’s No. 61 Ford team following Friday night’s race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in which he drove the car to the garage while on the lead lap, claiming repairs were needed to make it competitive. The driver gave his explanation of what happened to Scene Daily on Tuesday, while Frontstretch caught up with car owner Doug Taylor to get his take on a conflict that ended with both sides parting ways.
“Something was not right with the car,” Taylor admitted as he told us his version of events. “The race started off and in four laps he [Carter] wanted to come in under green and make some chassis adjustments. I wasn’t in total agreement, as there’s usually a caution early in the race. He came down pit road, and we started to make some changes and put fresh tires on it. The caution came out, so we wound up staying on the lead lap [Lucky Dog]. We ran about 30 laps, not quite a fuel run or a tire run, but he just called on the radio and said he was going to the garage to work on the racecar.”
“I said, ‘Hold on Matt, we can’t do that, stay out there and race.’ If you want, pit and we’ll make adjustments to the car. I didn’t mind losing a lap or two to make adjustments. Obviously, we were the slowest car there. I know the tracks take awhile to get used to [and Carter’s a rookie in the series].”
“Anyhow, he just went on to the garage, and I asked him to please get back in the car, we needed the points. I know it’s very embarrassing, but we’ve got to just [keep going]. [Carl] Edwards finished 39th the other night, and I’m sure it was embarrassing to Carl, but he didn’t pull it in the garage.”
Witnesses tell of a far more heated exchange, however, with Taylor and Carter getting in a loud argument before the driver stormed off and called it a night.
“He wouldn’t get back in the car,” was Taylor’s bottom line on the conflict. “So I said, ‘Well, I’m going to have to get somebody.’ We can’t afford to lose our position in points. We were perilously close to the No. 24 car passing us [for 28th in owner points], the position we were in while sitting in the garage.”
So Taylor went out and snatched up Chase Miller, who had just walked out of his start-and-park JTG Racing No. 47 car, to hop in his Ford. The team then limped home to a 29th-place finish, 37 laps down, while eventually finding out the problem.
“I’m not pointing any fingers… we did find an issue with the right-front lower control arm,” he said after Carter was bumped from the seat. “Chase [Miller] noticed it, but we couldn’t hear it, couldn’t pinpoint it with Matt.”
Now, the relationship between Carter and Taylor appears broken beyond repair. When asked further about the driver’s departure, Taylor noted it was not simply a matter of him deciding to leave, claiming he “didn’t hear from Matt all weekend.”
“My partner (co-owner Charlie Shoffner) told him [Matt] to give me a call,” he said. “But during the race, one of our crew texted Charlie that Matt had just pulled in the garage and I told him not to. Charlie told Matt from what he saw on TV, ‘it looks like you quit.’ Matt told Charlie he wasn’t quitting, that he didn’t want to quit, but Charlie told him ‘you need to take that up with Doug.’ You know, you park the car and get out of it, and refuse to get back in, it’s pretty much like you’re quitting.”
“And I hadn’t heard from Matt by Sunday evening, so….”
According to Taylor, hiring Carter also put a strain on his budget, as attempts to buy better equipment for the rookie didn’t lead to better results. As a result, he feels the most prudent financial decision going forward is to start-and-park for the final four races while using them as glorified test sessions to improve.
“It just got more expensive to race with Matt for some reason,” he explained. “I can’t put my finger on anything… but we were purchasing things, buying stuff, and we slowed down. That puzzled me, and I lost faith in some point along the line. The last couple races, I thought, ‘Man, have I forgotten how to do this stuff, you know?’”
“So Kenny [Hendrick] is going to help us at Memphis,” he continued. “I just made the decision Sunday evening that unless we had funding, we were probably going to have to, I hate to use the term, possibly start and park for the rest of the year to lower our overheads, tires, crewmen, and whatnot. We’re secure in the points (Top 30), so as long as we attempt to race every race we’ll be in good shape for Daytona.”
In the meantime, Taylor’s busy dissecting what went wrong. Truth be told, the No. 61 car has slowed drastically over the last month or so. And a lot of that boiled down to a communication breakdown between driver and crew chief.
“Matt’s a fine racecar driver, a fine racer,” he said. “But our communication [wasn’t there.] At Atlanta, we had a car that was ‘wobbly jobbly.’ And I explained to Matt, that I don’t understand how to fix ‘wobbly jobbly.’ But if I can get some concise idea of what the car is doing in more than a few words, even a paragraph, maybe then we can figure something out.”
“So it’s communication. Without pointing the finger at Matt, we just didn’t understand what each other was trying to say, and I don’t know if he had any faith in me, from the sound of the [Scene Daily] article he didn’t have much faith in my ability to fix the thing. We brought a lot of help around at different times to try and help Matt, and it didn’t seem to fix anything. I think it was a conflict of personalities, and instead of bettering us it probably hurt us. I’m pretty calm about trying to fix things, and that bothered Matt. I try not to get excited in my attempt to get the car better, because it usually doesn’t work.”
But regardless of who’s to blame, Taylor knows he must put the incident behind him quickly with a car yet to score a top-10 finish in 65 starts since returning to the series full-time 2008.
“We’re going to test and use our time wisely,” he said. “I would have done it with Matt, but apparently he had previous conversations about his unwillingness to do that. At Charlotte, that’s not how I prefer to test. Once we’ve committed to racing with crewmen, which are an expense you can’t get out of once the green flag drops… I wouldn’t have bought a bunch of tires and had a full pit crew out there [if he was just going to pull it in the garage]. These guys are awesome, and they were upset… they were highly upset that Matt didn’t stop and let them work on the car and try to adjust it.”
Now, as he looks towards the future, Taylor finds himself at a fork in the road. Though he was highly complimentary of the job Miller did for the team at Lowe’s, the longtime Nationwide crew chief is now rethinking his team’s philosophy on drivers.
“Historically, we’ve taken our money and paid the tuition to get a rookie driver going, and I’m going to maybe rethink my strategy here and look for, get funding for a driver that has a fair bit of seat time and a record of being able to fix the racecar, help the team get the car better,” he said. “I do want to find somebody of David Green quality, that has a history of getting the cars to go as fast as they’ll go and give some concise input on what the car is doing. It’s a very, very daunting task to take a rookie, knowing that your equipment isn’t the best piece out there, and figuring out what’s wrong with it. We need a driver in our ranks that can say this is how a car should feel at Charlotte, this is how a car should feel at California, because those tracks take laps to get used to.”