News & Media

Crew chiefs on the line to take Chase chances

July 16, 2011, Joe Menzer,

LOUDON, N.H. -- As he sat in the No. 00 hauler in the infield at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, picking at a lobster that had grown cold waiting on him, crew chief Rodney Childers pondered the question Saturday.

Several drivers -- including his own, David Reutimann -- had suggested that if there are gambles to be made in an effort to claim one of the two wild-card berths in this year's Chase to the Sprint Cup, such gambles are more likely to be made by crew chiefs on top of pit boxes rather than drivers on the race track.

"When it gets close to the Chase ... there are other guys who start throwing everything at it that they can. We've got to be the type that throws everything at it."



"Rarely can you steal a win in this series. ... When everybody's trying to steal the same victory, it's kind of hard to do so."


"I'd say it's all in the engineers' hands," said Childers, chuckling. "Crew chiefs should get the second half of the year off."

Sitting nearby within earshot, Reutimann cut loose with a laugh of his own and quickly added: "Boy, we're passing the buck right along, aren't we?"

The truth is, Childers knows it's as much or more on him than anyone else on the No. 00 team if Reutimann is to pull a major upset and come from his current points hole -- he's 24th heading into Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 -- to make the Chase as a wild card. Reutimann not only needs to win one or more of the remaining eight non-Chase races, but also needs to at least climb into the top 20 in points to do so.

"When it gets close to the Chase, there are some guys who start being a little more conservative -- and then there are other guys who start throwing everything at it that they can. We've got to be the type that throws everything at it. Then in the end, if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out," Childers said.

"If you leave the race track and say, 'Ah, we pissed that away,' that's just the way it is right now. Our only chance of getting into the Chase right now is winning races. So all in all, we're going to bring the best cars we can to the race track, with the most aggressive setups. Then we're going to be as aggressive as we can on pit road. And if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out."

Reutimann admitted that his strategy as a driver doesn't change.

"About the only place you can really take chances is on pit road, taking two tires and things of that nature," he said. "Other than that, though, as a driver I'm taking chances every week on the race track anyway.

"That being said, some crew chiefs are trying to think outside the box and do whatever they can to go for the wins. Everybody is going for the win every week anyway -- but some guys who are on the verge of being in the Chase or already think they're in might want to play it safe. The rest of us don't have anything to lose."

Then there are the guys in the middle, on the bubble. The crew chiefs of those teams may play yet another type of strategy -- or just stay the course they've been following most of the season and hope to force slightly better results. One such team is the No. 42 Chevrolet team of driver Juan Montoya and crew chief Brian Pattie, which sits 13th in points and has yet to win a race.

"Rarely can you steal a win in this series. We're all going for wins," Pattie said. "When everybody's trying to steal the same victory, it's kind of hard to do so. I think the guys who work on their cars and get their cars the best are going to have the best chances of getting in [the Chase]. Usually the faster your car is, the better luck you have.

"That's what we've tried to do. The last four or six weeks, we've tried to get our cars faster. You get faster and you figure you'll have better luck. I don't know that [the wild card] changes my outlook. I'm trying to call every race to win, you know? If it takes being aggressive to get track position or staying out, whatever it takes, we try to make the right decision every week -- not just now because now we're trying to make the Chase as a wild card."

So for Montoya and Pattie, it's business as usual even as the Chase looms ever closer and they're still on the outside looking in.

"Our team, if we just pay attention to details and do the obvious things right that we're supposed to do, we've got some really good tracks coming for us -- starting right here [at NHMS]," Pattie said. "Hopefully we can win some races, but I'm trying to get in the top 10 in points. We've given up points the last two or three weeks that we didn't need to; otherwise we'd be sitting pretty in 11th. We're just going to keep working hard at it."

So will Childers and Reutimann, of course. But they -- and teams like them -- are more desperate. Driver Kyle Busch, who has a series-high three wins and sits first in points, said he expects more teams will experience an increased willingness to gamble more the closer it gets to the Chase and the less secure their positions become.

Driver Comparison

Montoya / Reutimann
Laps Led998
Lead-Lap Fin.910
Avg. Fin.16.920.6

"You'll probably see eighth through 13th in pretty good desperation, which typically you see every year. But it's more so this year because it's either you're in the top 10 and in, or it's wins," Busch said. "So if you're sitting 12th and you can get a win, you get yourself knocked back in. It's going to be important for those guys. I don't know that you're going to see any craziness. At least I hope, but who knows? This is NASCAR racing at its best, so we'll see what happens."

Childers said his driver, who finished second at Kentucky Speedway last Saturday night, already is helping the cause by qualifying better than he did earlier in the year. Of course, that also is a team effort -- and not all on driver or crew chief.

Reutimann will start third in Sunday's race. (Lineup)

"If it doesn't work out at the end of these next eight races, then you've got to regroup and start getting ready for next year," Childers said. "Hopefully next time around you won't have as many cars torn up early in the season and you will be more consistent and you won't find yourself back in this very same position this time next year. That's why we're in this position. We tore up too much stuff and got in too many wrecks earlier in the season. We've just got to do a better job of that.

"Most of the stuff that happened to us was not [Reutimann's] fault. It was just stupid stuff. Some of it was brought on by not qualifying well and getting caught back there where a lot of the stupid stuff happens. We ended up back there in a bunch of crap we shouldn't be in."

And now they will be looking to make something happen to climb out of the hole in time to contend for the Chase as a wild card.

"Everybody from 12th on back right now are going to be as aggressive as they can to go and get it," Childers said. "That's your only option right now -- to win races and try to get in that way."