News & Media

From the Notebook: Team changes give EGR duo fresh start

January 12, 2012, Dave Rodman,

From the Notebook: JGR tabs Ratliff successor for No. 18 NNS car; Dakar update

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Jamie McMurray's No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team made a couple key changes in the offseason. That left McMurray and his teammate, Juan Montoya, who's working with a new crew chief, anxious to begin Thursday's Preseason Thunder test session at Daytona International Speedway.

"We're coming into 2012 so open-minded [because] we've made so many changes at the shop and within each team," McMurray said recently. "And you make those changes thinking that everything's going to be better. They've hired a lot of new people, from engineers to management. And the shop atmosphere is completely different than it was last year.

A test and a Fest

Complementing the testing portion at Daytona is a special two-day Fan Fest event.

"It's interesting to see their thought process, and where they've been and how they did things. I'm hoping that you take the good that we already had and you place it with the good from the guys we've hired from different organizations and you can apply that, and hopefully it's gonna be good results."

There were few enough of those in 2011, coming after a season in which McMurray won both the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 and Charlotte's fall race that McMurray's especially anxious to see what kind of impact new team manager Max Jones and McMurray's new car chief, Randy Cox, and engineer, Dave Winston, make.

"So with a little bit different thinking, I don't know ... We're just excited to get back to the track and to get to working again," McMurray said. "There's a whole new mind-set with the way that we're going about the cars and the setups.

"We've changed everything. The chassis are going to be quite a bit different; [they're] completely different cars than what we had last year."

Montoya also won a race in 2010 after making the Chase in 2009. But 2011 was a disappointment for Montoya, as well, as he finished 21st in points. So he's anticipating his first chance to work at a track with his new crew chief, former Hendrick Motorsports engineer Chris Heroy.

"To tell you the truth, I haven't spent much time with Heroy at the shop but we are in constant communication over the phone," Montoya said. "He's keeping me up-to-date on the changes and getting my input on what they are looking to do.

"We have a couple of test sessions coming up [Daytona, Disney World and New Smyrna] that will give us some time to figure each other out on the radio before we head into Speedweeks.

"As far as getting up to speed, I'm getting used to the crew chief changes; but in all seriousness we've had an entire off-season to prepare for the changes."

McMurray and Montoya are really anxious to get through Daytona because, as usual, they'll figure out what they really have and how the rest of the season might go, once they get away from the restrictor-plate track, which is quite an anomaly compared to everywhere else the series goes, except for Talladega.

"Daytona ... is kind of gonna depend on how the drafting works," McMurray said. "But Daytona is not a good measurement [of where a team is] -- it really isn't. When you get to Phoenix, Vegas and those kinds of tracks you kind of know what you have and what your season's gonna be like."

And Montoya also agreed whatever occurs at Daytona isn't much of a measure of how the rest of the season will go.

"I love racing at Daytona but it's not something you can gauge the rest of the year on," Montoya said. "Plate racing is much different than what 90 percent of our schedule is. Teams will have a better idea of what they have after the Phoenix race."

Testing quandary: Big plates up in the air

It remains to be seen if NASCAR will continue exploring the possibility of using a larger restrictor plate for Daytona 500 qualifying only. In November's test, several teams did mock qualifying runs at better than 203 mph and Martin Truex Jr., one who did, said qualifying that way could be made by changing the computer mapping for the electronic fuel injection system to match the larger restrictor plate. Thursday's briefing with NASCAR competition officials John Darby and Robin Pemberton should answer that question.

Lucas promoted to JGR Nationwide crew chief

Matt Lucas, who has a varied motorsports background in both Indy cars, with A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney's All American Racers, and NASCAR, with Roush Fenway Racing and Penske Racing, has been promoted at Joe Gibbs Racing to crew chief for its No. 18 Nationwide Series team.

Lucas, who has spent the past two seasons as the race engineer for the No. 18 team and was Carl Edwards' engineer when he won the 2007 series championship, replaces Jason Ratcliff, who was named crew chief for JGR's No. 20 Sprint Cup Series team this past December. Lucas, who has NASCAR experience as both an engineer and mechanic, will marshal a mixed bag of drivers this season.

"Matt has done a great job for us the past two years and he will provide the team continuity going into next season," JGR president J.D. Gibbs said. "He has a close relationship with Jason that will also be beneficial as he fills that role.

"We are fortunate to have people here at JGR like Matt that allow us the opportunity to promote from within. That team has been one of the best in the Nationwide Series over the past several years and we look forward to Matt continuing to build upon that success."

Gordon experiencing Dakar's vagaries in short order

While team owner/driver Robby Gordon has experienced some joy on this Dakar rally, he's also experiencing some of the absolute craziness the event has to offer. Bad weather caused the mid-point special stage to be canceled, and on the very next stage, after 4 hours and 25 minutes of racing, Gordon lost by 5 seconds.

The reason he does this event came into better focus on Stage 9 of 14. Gordon won his fifth career Dakar stage and moved to within just more than 5 minutes behind event leader Stephane Peterhansel even as his teammate, defending rally winner Nasser Al-Attiyah, had to withdraw with a mechanical failure. But post-stage, organizers found a technical infraction and they disqualified Gordon's Hummer.

Gordon appealed that ruling and thus, he competed in Stage 10, where he was racing Peterhansel for the stage lead when he hit a rock and suffered two flat tires. Gordon lost about 14 minutes by the finish, when he was fourth. Gordon, who has finished eight of nine stages in the top five, was still unofficially third overall, 19:51 behind Peterhansel. So stay tuned.

TRG puts NASCAR team on hiatus to start 2012

TRG Motorsports' Sprint Cup operation, after two full seasons in which it made all 72 races it attempted and a third year in which it had two DNQs -- totaling 106 starts in its history -- will start the 2012 season on hiatus, primary owner Kevin Buckler said recently. Buckler said he's been wide-open since November organizing a five-car GT class team for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

"We had three great years in Cup, I had over 100 starts, but I'm very, very busy with my sports-car program -- it's back with a vengeance -- and we're still looking for the right opportunity and the right partner [in Cup]," Buckler said last weekend at Daytona's Roar Before the 24 Rolex sports-car test. "It's a very challenging economy [so] to go [to NASCAR] and try to run as I would call it, an improper program -- one that's under-funded, begging for 'where am I gonna get my next week's [funding].' It's just not good. I don't want to do that again."

Buckler, whose sports car operation is the defending Rolex 24 GT champion, will field five teams at the end of this month's 50th anniversary round-the-clock enduro. But Buckler said he had only a minimal staff still in place while he continues negotiating with possible partners for his NASCAR operation.

"If we can get a properly funded program and we can run a full season and run it well -- the good news is we know what to do. We've got three great years of training, love the sport, love everybody I've met in the sport and I want to be there, but not unless I can have a properly funded program.

"TRG Motorsports is gonna be around for a while, we're not going anywhere."