Is Chad Knaus the best crew chief in the Chase? (ASP, Inc.)
Members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council take a wider look at the sport this week, judging who they think the best crew chief in the Chase is and if the length of the Chase should remain 10 races. Here’s a look at what they had to say:
Who is the best crew chief in the Chase?
42.4 percent said Chad Knaus (Jimmie Johnson) 25.2 percent said Paul Wolfe (Brad Keselowski) 18.3 percent said Darian Grubb (Denny Hamlin 5.0 percent said Steve Letarte (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) 2.7 percent said Alan Gustafson (Jeff Gordon) 1.5 percent said Kenny Francis (Kasey Kahne) 1.1 percent said Steve Addington (Tony Stewart) 1.1 percent said Jimmy Fennig (Matt Kenseth) 1.1 percent said Chad Johnston (Martin Truex Jr.) 0.8 percent said Gil Martin (Kevin Harvick) 0.8 percent said Brian Pattie (Clint Bowyer) 0.0 percent said Matt Puccia (Greg Biffle)
What Fan Council members said:
• Five championships, well in contention for six. Chad has been and continues to be the best.
• Chad, and then everyone else. Chad Knaus has revolutionized the crew chief position and forced every other one to step up. If it wasn't for him, I'm not sure J.J. has even one title under his belt.
• Paul Wolfe is not afraid of taking a chance and he and Brad sure make a good pair.
• I gotta give it to Paul for this year. So far they have not faltered, in fact they've shown the way to others by giving his driver all the adjustments necessary to excel at the end, when it counts. And he can count fuel mileage unlike others.
• Darian Grubb has shown that he has what it takes to be a great crew chief. He took Tony Stewart to a championship last year and then was dumped. He bounced back and has given Denny Hamlin his best year yet. No matter if he wins the championship or not, Denny is having a great year. And if he does win the championship, it will be with the help of a great crew chief.
• I think that Darian is the best in the garage. Look at his record the last two years and you can't say any other crew chief has won more races. He's the top dog.
• I chose Steve Letarte because he is responsible for the unbelievable transformation of Dale Jr. I rode with Junior during driver's introduction in 2010. What I saw was a very unhappy and depressed man with no confidence. Interviews were done with his head down. Now he appears to be a happy, confident driver who has an awesome relationship with his crew chief and is appreciative of what he has. One of the biggest changes is what you hear on the scanner.
• So far it's hard to bet against Alan Gustafson. Not only has he made the right calls, the obvious respect he and Jeff have for each other along with the trust Jeff has in Alan's decisions make them a team worth noting.
• Mr. Fennig has forgotten more about technical matters than the other crew chiefs can ever hope to learn.
• Gil is an outstanding crew chief and gets very little credit for having to put up with Harvick on a daily basis.
How long should the Chase be?
80.8 percent said 10 races
10.8 percent said 5 races
4.2 percent said 8 races
4.2 percent said 6 races
What Fan Council members said:
• 10 weeks is good, that way if you blow it one week it does not mean game over.
• I think 10 is perfect. It has most every type of track there is other than a road course. Put one of those in and take one of the 1.5-milers out and you have a perfect collection.
• I like the number of races just the way it is. With 10 races it gives the fans a chance to see who will be the cream of the crop — who really deserves to be in the Chase. The champion won't be fluke, but a team who has shown to have consistency and can win some races.
• Five races. Richmond to get in, Bristol to start, then Watkins Glen, Talladega, Martinsville, Homestead. 10 races is too long. We got spoiled last year with the epic battle to the last lap of the season. I have a feeling we wont see that ever again.
• The Chase is perfect the way it is. If the number of races is shortened there will be no suspense at all. The driver who wins the first race will most likely win the championship. Right now it is fun to watch Jeff Gordon try to redeem himself. He wouldn't have a chance with a shortened Chase.
• One race each at a short track, road course, plate, 2-mile, 1.5-mile and a 1-mile track. Change the 1.5-mile track each year for the finale or have it at Las Vegas permanently.
• I picked 10, but believe 12 drivers and 12 races (with the current 36-race schedule) works best. Makes sense: a greater spread of races and possibility to make moves to the current bland schedule. Richmond could move back to the Chase decider or become a late-season race (a la Rockingham back in the day). I like the thought of a 500-mile race at Atlanta opening the Chase more than Chicago or New Hampshire.
• I don't like the Chase, but 10 is a good number. Attrition/elimination are about to enter into the picture. Fewer races would just make it about luck and who's hot at the moment.
Grade Sunday’s race at Dover
45.2 percent called it Fair
33.3 percent called it Good
18.8 percent called it Poor
2.7 percent called it Great
What Fan Council members said:
• One word for Sunday's race: STRANGE.
• We attended the race and came up with three exciting moments: The one instance of three-wide racing in Turn 2, Kyle Busch gaining on Jimmie Johnson toward the end and the breath-holding laps of Jeff Gordon fans hoping Alan Gustafson was right about having enough fuel (thanks Alan & Jeff for a very nice birthday gift! lol) 400 miles of racing & three moments of excitement (unless you're also a big fan of Brad Keselowski, then add his win). No wonder the stands were barely half full and emptied out by another quarter by the time the race ended. We used to love going to Dover. It's a shame the racing has gone downhill there too.
• What is going on in this Chase? No exciting races yet! This is another “Poor” rating for me for watching another high-speed parade of cars go around the track.
• I was there and any race at Dover is a great “in-person” race.
• Boring race till the last 50 laps.
• Boring race from start to finish. Didn't seem to be much hard racing, excitement or drama. Strategy and fuel mileage races will always be a part of the sport but it really doesn't make for a very exciting finish when drivers can't race each other because they have to slow down so they don't run out of fuel.
• It certainly was not a great race at all but not the worst. Only having six cars on the lead lap shook it up, which was fun to see. Otherwise, it seemed there was only a few passes and the finish wasn't too bad.
• I was there. This was without a doubt the most boring race I've ever been to (or seen on TV)! I left with about 70 laps to go. I've never seen so many folks leave so early en mass. I used buses provided by local law enforcement and encouraged by the track. Six full buses left before I was able to get on one (before race was over)!
• I really hated to give it a rating of “Poor” because that first caution put a lot of cars a lap or more down. NASCAR can't do anything about that — just dumb luck.
• It was my first NASCAR race and I enjoyed every moment of it. Great strategy towards the end and a surprise winner.
The Backseat Drivers Fan Council was founded and is administered by Dustin Long. Fans can join by sending Dustin an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please include the following information:
Name, city, state, Twitter name, e-mail address and favorite driver.
If Denny Hamlin can win races now, it makes one wonder what he’ll do later this season as the communication with new crew chief Darian Grubb improves and Grubb puts more of his stamp on the team’s cars being built.
Hamlin is one of only two drivers with multiple wins this season after eight races (Tony Stewart is the other) and Hamlin could be the first driver to win three races this season with the series heading to Richmond this weekend. He has won two of the last five races at his hometown track.
Even with the success, Hamlin has had his ups and downs. He won at Phoenix and Kansas but finished 20th at Las Vegas and Bristol. Since Bristol, he’s not finished worse than 12th. That’s helped Hamlin climb to fifth in the points.
“It's hard to analyze your program by a one-week performance,’’ Hamlin said after his Kansas victory, the 19th of his career. “You look at it in the grand scheme of things. (At Texas) on a mile-and-a-half (mile track), we went almost a lap down, but we ... hung around 10th place for most of the day.
“I'm not going to analyze and say that everything is good, we just need to make 10 race cars just like this one and we'll be fine. There's always things, areas that you need to work in. We feel like we've identified those areas and we've gone to work on them. So right now I feel like we're bringing better race cars to the race track than what we have, and it's still going to take time. There's still things that myself and Darian need to work on with communication, things like that, but he's still working within Joe Gibbs Racing trying to get cars that he feels like can be better to the race track, and all that stuff takes time. You just can't do it — it's a big process now.’’
Says Grubb: “My confidence in Denny's feedback is getting better and better. I know when to take what he says with what inflection in his voice, what it means.’’
This also has been an adjustment period for Grubb in how things are done at Joe Gibbs Racing after moving over from Stewart-Haas Racing. That also takes time.
“The technology is drastically different between the organizations, so the actual lessons you learn and things, it's probably more the style of working and being able to manage people and get the best out of the people that are there,’’ Grubb said. “Now that I'm at Joe Gibbs Racing I'm starting to learn those personalities and what I can get out of them.’’
This team will be worth watching as the season progresses.
NEW LOOK Bruton Smith, Speedway Motorsports, Inc. Chairman and CEO, is scheduled to announce Wednesday his plans for changing the track surface at Bristol. The work will be completed before the August race and is in reaction to fan complaints about the racing there.
Bristol will mark the fourth track this year that will have a new surface, joining Michigan, Pocono and Kansas. Work on Kansas’ track began after Sunday’s race. Since 2010, six of the 23 tracks that host at least one Cup race will have had new surfaces by the time the series races at Kansas in October. Phoenix was reconfigured and repaved last year and Daytona was repaved in time for last year’s Daytona 500 after a pothole delayed the 2010 race.
Jeff Gordon says that in some cases, the track is not as much the problem, especially Bristol.
“The drivers love it,’’ Gordon said. “It’s a great racetrack I think. I thought they made huge improvements. Now we hear they want to go back to the old way.
“Tracks are getting too much of the blame or even credit sometimes. This car for the last five or six years has sort of put Goodyear, the tracks, everything into a different box. I’m looking forward to the 2013 car, but I look forward to cars down the road to sort of take some of the things in this car that are in there we can’t take out. It will help the racing; things that are going to help Goodyear to make it better tire that is more suitable for the car.’’
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (ASP, Inc.)
LOOKING BACK Dale Earnhardt Jr. has spent the last six months studying his family’s genealogy and its made him appreciate the past.
“I’m trying to put together some kind of a well-organized document to sort of be able to show to family members,’’ he said. “I had one interesting experience. Ralph’s (Earnhardt) father, I didn’t know who he was and never really cared who he was, never thought about who he was or what his family would be like.
“Never thought past Ralph all these years and I started getting into his father and Ralph’s grandfather and I found their burial plots and so me and my grandmother Martha and my sister and my mom Brenda and my girlfriend rode up there one day, just in Kannapolis or Concord and visited their burial plots and a lot of relatives that were born in like 1809 and 1822 and stuff like that.
“It’s really cool to stand there over somebody that is responsible for you being there.”
PIT STOPS The Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown will be Thursday night at Richmond International Raceway. Cup drivers scheduled to compete in the late model race that raises funds for charity are Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton, Joey Logano, Aric Almirola and Michael Waltrip. ... Steve Wallace will make his 2012 Nationwide Series debut on Friday at Richmond. His Ford was prepared out of Rusty Wallace Racing with collaboration from JTG Daugherty Racing. Bobby Labonte’s Cup pit crew will service Wallace’s car and Labonte’s crew chief, Todd Berrier, will call the race for Wallace.