Crew Chiefs Francis and Labbe Talk Strategy; Elliott Subs for Menard and Edwards
There has been a lot of discussion this weekend about how the potential for multiple green-white-checker finishes could alter pit strategy and fuel mileage for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Ford Racing spoke to crew chiefs Kenny Francis and Richard ‘Slugger’ Labbe for their view on that possible scenario.
KENNY FRANCIS, Crew Chief – No. 9 Budweiser Ford Fusion – DOES THE GREEN-WHITE-CHECKER SCENARIO THROW A DIFFERENT LOOK INTO STRATEGY FOR TOMORROW’S RACE? “I don’t know if it really changes it a whole lot. It’s hard to say whether you get a caution at the end or not, and whether that would come into play. I don’t know that it would really come into play here much. You might give yourself a little bit of an extra cushion – maybe a lap or two – but that would be about it.”
WILL YOU STICK TO A PREDETERMINED PIT STOP STRATEGY OR DOES THE RACE DICTATE THE STRATEGY YOU PLAY? “You still kind of stick to your plan of where your fuel windows are, but you might give yourself an extra lap or so just in case you wanted to play it safe for a green-white-checker, but the problem is that if you do that, you open yourself up to some other risks if the caution comes out when you’re trying to do that. The other option with your windows is to just kind of see where you’re running in the race at the time. A lot of times there will be a caution between your windows that will present itself as an opportunity and you’ve got to kind of make a gut call then.”
YOU’RE STARTING FROM THE POLE. IS THAT ANY SORT OF ADVANTAGE HERE, WHETHER IT BE PIT SELECTION OR SOMETHING ELSE? “Pit selection doesn’t really matter much here. Usually, you’re pitting under green here and you’re not really pitting around other cars for the most part. Starting up front is obviously a big advantage just because you start out with track position. It’s pretty hard to get track position if you don’t have it, so that’s the main advantage, but as far as pit selection goes, it’s not as big of a concern as they are at an oval track normally.”
RICHARD ‘SLUGGER’ LABBE, Crew Chief – No. 98 CertainTeed/Menards Ford Fusion – IS A CREW CHIEF’S DECISION GOING TO BE THE DIFFERENCE IN THIS RACE TOMORROW? “There are so many things you look at because the tires are falling off more than ever, so you’ll know by lap 12-15 if you’re gonna make it a three-stop race or a two-stop race. If your tire wear is good and your lap times don’t fall off, you’ll make it a two-stop race, but if tire wear falls off, it’ll be a three-stop race. The 9 won the race last year and he made it a three-stop race, and I think it’s gonna come down to a three-stop race. A couple of teams pitted twice, but I think they finished something like sixth, seventh and eighth, so getting tires on your car is critical, but you’ve got to do it at the right time. The 9 pitted on lap 33 the first time and then pitted two other times under yellow, so the cautions kind of worked out in his favor. You can’t predict cautions, so you just got to have a good game plan and, hopefully, stick to it when the race starts, but tire management is gonna be the key, more so than fuel.”
DOES THE GREEN-WHITE-CHECKER SCENARIO COME INTO PLAY AS FAR AS FUEL MILEAGE GOES? “That’s got us scared to death. We’ve all had to back up our strategy about eight laps and that’s hard to do here, but we’ve just got to keep it in mind. Some people will gamble on it. Say a guy that’s not in the chase, he’ll gamble on no green-white-checkers versus a guy that’s in the chase or near the chase that needs to make sure of a green-white-checker, so there will be some strategy being played out there, too.”
RICHARD ‘SLUGGER’ LABBE CONTINUED -- YOU HAVE BILL ELLIOTT IN THE CAR TODAY. WHAT ARE YOU HOPING TO ACCOMPLISH IN THESE TWO PRACTICE SESSIONS? “Yesterday, we had a great practice with Paul. We ran through a couple sets of stickers and made two eight-lap runs and the car was really, really comfortable. We’re set up really close to the 9, so we’re gonna monitor what the 9 does today and see if they make any gains or losses, but, for the most part, we just need Bill here to go out and run 10 laps, get a good fuel mileage check in the first practice, and in the second practice we’ll put all of the race gear and transmission and brakes on and let him go run four or five laps and we’ll call it a day.”
IS IT NICE TO HAVE A VETERAN LIKE BILL IN THE CAR FOR A SITUATION LIKE THIS? “Yeah. That’s one thing we talked about when I first came here in December and knew Paul was running both series. We looked at both schedules and this was the one conflict that we had. Bill Elliott was the guy that we chose back in January to do the job because Bill qualified really well here two years ago and he doesn’t forget how to drive, so we’re looking forward to having him today.”
Bill Elliott, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Ford Fusion, isn’t entered in this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, but he’s still playing a big part as a substitute driver for Paul Menard and Carl Edwards in today’s two practice sessions. Elliott spoke about what he’s trying to accomplish between practices at Infineon Raceway.
BILL ELLIOTT – No. 21 Motorcraft Ford Fusion – WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON GETTING TO RUN THE 98 AND 99 CARS IN PRACTICE TODAY? “When Sammy (Johns) asked me to come out here and do this it was like, ‘I like Sonoma.’ I love this race track, for whatever reason, and I like road racing, but just to come out here and get in somebody else’s car and just do practice is tough. For me, it’s just trying to help them information-wise with things like fuel mileage and other stuff that you don’t have to run killer lap times to understand. You just go out there and run a pace, and that’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what I told Slugger. I said, ‘I’m gonna go out there and I’ll run as hard as I can and we’ll just try to figure things out.’ I wasn’t gonna try to bonsai anything because I’m a little rusty at road racing, but I’m more than happy to do it. These guys work hard and I’m just trying to give them a good effort. I enjoy it and I’m just having a good time with this stuff.”
YOU HAVE YOUR MOTORCRAFT HELMET, MENARDS SUIT, BUT THEN YOU GET IN THE 99 AND TAKE THAT FOR A FEW LAPS. “Yeah, I didn’t have my Aflac suit, but the 99 was on a different agenda. They were just gonna run it out of gas, so it was just making laps. Ironically, I fit in both cars real well. They didn’t have to change belts or steering wheel position or anything, but what’s a little difficult is your pedal situation because every driver likes to be a little bit different on their brake, clutch and gas – and just trying to get all the pedal stuff right has taken a little bit because Paul’s car is quite a bit different than Carl’s car. But just to step in and do it, I’m having a good time. It’s good stuff.”
BUT YOU STILL HAVE TO PROVIDE FEEDBACK. WAS THERE ANYTHING IN THAT SESSION WHERE YOU FEEL YOU HELPED THEM PERFORMANCE-WISE? “We made some rear spring adjustments and I feel like that helped the car, and it’s just feedback and what I felt the car was doing. We went out and basically ran it out of gas at the end of that practice (in the 98) and gave some feedback on where I felt the brakes were balance-wise. It’s just FYI because Paul might brake a little different than I do, or downshift a little different than I do and that’s just feedback for those guys. All I know is I’m having a lot of fun.”