Blaney crew's bold move could lead to strategy change
September 02, 2014, Kristen Boghosian, NASCAR.com
BOWMANVILLE, ONTARIO -- With only one race to analyze, crew chiefs planned their strategy for Sunday's Chevrolet Silverado 250 using slim notebooks. And since last season's race had five cautions -- including one on Lap 8 and another on the final lap that ended the inaugural event -- teams planned for a two-stop race.
But when no caution hit in the opening laps of the race, leader Alex Tagliani made the first green-flag pit stop on Lap 9. As other teams followed suit, it became clear that this race was going to be different than last year's. The green-flag pit stops cycled through, except for two drivers who had not yet made a pit stop 25 laps into the race: Johnny Sauter and Ryan Blaney. They were on the brink of rewriting the notebooks for next year's race.
Chad Kendrick, crew chief for the No. 29 of Blaney, already had his filled.
"We were all disappointed when we qualified like we did, so last night I stayed up the majority of the night and just wrote down every different scenario I could come up with and just kept pounding at how we could get the track position," Kendrick said. "We needed track position. This is a very difficult track to pass at, and I knew we couldn't drive from 14th; it just wasn't going to happen. So, you know, this is what I came up with."
But where the No. 29 team saw an opportunity, the rest of the field saw an opportunity missed. The first caution flag didn't fly until Lap 48 of the 64-lap event, and by that time, teams were planning their second pit stop. The caution-free first half of the race was entirely unexpected. Third-place finisher Erik Jones said his team hadn't even considered a one-stop race.
Kendrick knew his driver was capable of winning. He'd need some help, however, to come back from a 14th-place starting position at a track where passing is rare. The one-stop strategy was their Hail Mary, one that Blaney wasn't sure would get him to Victory Lane until he passed the start/finish line for the final time.
"I had a thought in the back of my mind, you know, we'd only pitted once, so we were gonna be close on fuel," the Brad Keselowski Racing driver said. "I kept watching my needle there in the last seven laps or whatever just to make sure, and they would bounce to red every now and then, and I didn't know if I was going to run out or not. But luckily Chad did a great job with calculating it right and being able to get us out front when we didn't qualify very good -- he had a great call there, great strategy play, so it paid off for us at the end."
German Quiroga, who started the race fourth, did all he could to earn the win. In a race where several drivers stalled their trucks leaving their pit stalls, runner-up Quiroga's pit stops were both nearly flawless. He made up his extra stop on pit road through strong execution of the track's 10 turns, putting Quiroga on Blaney's back bumper in the closing laps of the race. He had a brief hold on the lead rounding the race's final turns, but Blaney surged back on the front stretch to hit the start/finish line first.
"My team put (together) a phenomenal truck, we were really, really fast on long runs," Quiroga said. "Everybody at the shop worked really hard to build a road-course truck, and that's how we arrived, and I think we were on the right path, just strategy and how things played (kept us from winning)."
Sauter was the only other driver who seemed to be contemplating that strategy, but the question of whether he'd make it on fuel was answered on Lap 44, when the No. 98 went down pit road for a fuel-only stop. Sauter would finish eighth after starting 11th at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and maintain the series' points lead.
To Kendrick, his team's successful one-stop race was a matter of faith in your driver.
"I'm sure there are some crew chiefs here, they have drivers who they knew could get out of here with a top-10, maybe a top-five, then that was going to be a wonderful day," Kendrick said. "We didn't come here with that thinking."