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Ratcliff wants No. 20 to be built for and around Logano

February 09, 2012, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com



Ratcliff wants No. 20 to be built for and around Logano
New crew chief Ratcliff wants No. 20 to be a team built for and around Logano

When Jason Ratcliff looks at the No. 20 team at Joe Gibbs Racing, he sees all the ingredients for success at NASCAR's top level. He sees a program that's won a pair of championships, a driver who has won a race on the Sprint Cup tour, and car that's been one of the best in the series since it debuted more than a decade ago. To the vehicle's new crew chief, there's only one thing missing -- the fact that none of it was built around Joey Logano, the driver whose name has been etched over the driver's side window opening for the past three years.

For Ratcliff, who this season will become only the second crew chief on a No. 20 car that Tony Stewart made famous, the familiar orange and white vehicle becomes something of a rebuilding project. One of his goals is to restore the confidence of a young driver who responds best to positive reinforcement, and has struggled to find sustained success in Sprint Cup. The other is to reshape the program around Logano, who essentially stepped into the program Stewart left behind following the 2008 season, and has endured some rocky times as a result.

"My focus is making sure that all we do, even though all the guys are the same on this 20 team, is really making it all about Joey, and trying to craft it and mold it to fit him."

--JASON RATCLIFF

"Sometimes it's taking a different approach, painting a different picture. Hopefully that's what I can do is paint a different picture, and look at things from a different perspective, and really build a team for Joey. That's the big goal," Ratcliff said. "There was a successful team that Joey stepped into years ago, that won championships and won races and had all the things you can want to do in this sport. And even though it was a great race team, sometimes when those things are not built around you, that chemistry may or may not be there. It's too early to tell that. My focus is making sure that all we do, even though all the guys are the same on this 20 team, is really making it all about Joey, and trying to craft it and mold it to fit him."

That wasn't always the case. Even after Logano took over the No. 20 car, it still often seemed like Stewart's old team. Former crew chief Greg Zipadelli had worked for a decade with the fiery and outspoken Stewart, and it eventually became clear that he and Logano communicated on very different wavelengths. Logano did not respond well to negative feedback, and it could be difficult for the two to find common ground. When they did, the promise was evident -- Logano won a rain-shortened event at New Hampshire in 2009, and enjoyed a fantastic close to the 2010 season. But Zipadelli struggled to rein himself in, and Logano struggled to find consistency, and over time the two seemed less and less a perfect match.

Zipadelli left JGR after last season to reunite with his old friend Stewart, becoming competition director at Stewart-Haas Racing in addition to crew chief on Danica Patrick's limited Sprint Cup effort. In 108 starts together, he and Logano amassed that one victory and 14 top-five finishes. What kept them from achieving more?

"I just think it's communication. That's the big thing," Logano said. "If you can't communicate what you need to communicate, or ask the right questions, or whatever it is, you're not going to produce the fastest race car out there. It's plain and simple there. It's not that me and Zippy didn't get along. We didn't give each other the right information to make our cars go fast. We're still buds. I still talk to him a lot. I [went] to New York ... to go do his [charity] snowmobile ride. We're still all right with each other. It's a good move for him, and it's a good chance for me. It's a win-win for both of us."

And it's a promotion for Ratcliff, who won 36 races and the 2009 championship with Kyle Busch as part of a powerhouse JGR Nationwide program that also once included Dave Rogers, now Busch's crew chief on the Sprint Cup level. Although Ratcliff only worked as crew chief for Logano four times on the Nationwide tour, that group was a tight-knit bunch full of members who knew one another very well. Team president J.D. Gibbs said Rogers had often suggested moving Ratcliff over to the Sprint Cup side, and Zipadelli's departure offered a perfect opportunity to do just that.

Rogers said Ratcliff's biggest adjustment will be getting accustomed to JGR's Sprint Cup shop and its processes, workflow, and personnel. Relationships, though, should come much easier. "I think that will play right into Jason's hands. That's not something he's going to have to worry about," Rogers said, given the number of Nationwide Series graduates who have made the step up at Gibbs. When it comes to understanding his driver, Ratcliff believes that familiarity will pay off.

"I feel like stepping in here, I've worked with Joey enough on the Nationwide side, and I've known Joey for a long time, that I know him well enough to know where I can build confidence -- and, obviously, fast race cars," Ratcliff said. "But I've kind of got a feel for what he wants. Each driver is different. Even though the setups are going to be similar week to week, I think I know enough about Joey to put that detail on it that he's going to need to go out there and be competitive week in and week out. It takes that. And I'm glad we've had that opportunity over the years to work close enough together and communicate in a race-type situation, so we can come out of the box strong."

The new crew chief's job will focus on the driver as much as the car. Tabbed as the next big thing since his middle school days, Logano has raced virtually his entire career shadowed by expectations of greatness. At essence, though, he's a 21-year-old who needs positive reinforcement to do well, and seems to take struggle very hard -- he went to a sports psychologist to try to find a new mental approach to take to the race track. "When you're down, you'll look at anything," Logano said. Ratcliff, he believes, comes with a mentality that more closely resembles his own.

"I think we're very similar in ways," Logano said. "He's a people person. He's very easy to talk to. If he's got a problem with me, he's going to say it, and I'm not going to get offended. And he's not going to get offended if I say something about him, because I feel like we both know how to say it without coming across in a negative way. Positive thinking is huge, and I think having positive people around you, it's contagious. If you have a lot of negative people around you, you're going to be negative about a lot of things. I think Jason is a very positive person. ... Yes, we are still on our honeymoon; we haven't even gotten to the [Daytona] 500 yet, so everything's going to be great no matter what. But I do seriously think it's going to be fine."

* Race Hub: Logano talks about he how he expects to fare with Ratcliff

No question, results matter, and those expectations remain -- Logano said he'd label this season a failure of he didn't earn his first Chase berth. But to Ratcliff it's a process, one that's mental as well as mechanical, and the new crew chief is trying to position himself for a much longer race.

"From the outside looking in, a lot of times people don't realize -- it's not the race car necessarily, it's not the strategy," Ratcliff said. "It's the, 'Hey, when something doesn't go our way, how do we approach it?' It's the attitude, it's the mentality. 'How do we prepare for the not-so-good days before we get to the not-so-good days?' Sometimes just looking at those things ... that's how we're going to build a foundation as a race team, and a relationship as a crew chief and a driver. I think if we can build a good relationship, we've got some great things ahead of us -- not just got this season, but hopefully for years to come."