Stick With What Got You There

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With football season in high gear, it’s tough to find much racing news in my local paper. If you happen to follow my Twitter account (@Oilpressureblog), you may recall I had a bitter dispute last week with The Tennessean, Nashville’s poor excuse for a newspaper. I actually cancelled my subscription, but they enticed me to come back on Wednesday by offering me six months at half-price. My principles can be bought.

I know I’m old and old-fashioned, but I still like holding a newspaper in my hand versus reading it online. It’s been a weekend ritual of mine for years to read my paper in bed with coffee. It’s hard to do that with a laptop and don’t even get me started on a Kindle.

So after suffering through my stubbornness for a week with no paper, I sold out and started it back. Anyway…yesterday morning, in between reading about college football from Saturday, the Phillies losing and the NFL preview for Sunday; I noticed a very small blurb on one of the back pages of the sports section about Kevin Harvick swapping pit crews with Richard Childress Racing teammate Clint Bowyer. It was explained that this gave Harvick the best chance to win in the final few races for the chase.

I know I don’t keep up with NASCAR that much, so I called a friend of mine who does. He thought it made perfect sense. I hung up the phone knowing one of us was dead-wrong, but I wasn’t sure which one. The more I thought about it throughout the day, I was convinced it was him. I didn’t watch the race at Martinsville. I was watching the Titans and their fourth-quarter beat-down of the Eagles. But I did see that Harvick finished third yesterday, so I gave it a little more thought. I still think I’m right.

I am of the school of thought that you go with what got you there. I do know that Harvick either led the points throughout most of the summer or was right up there. A quick glance also showed that Harvick is currently third in the chase standings. I understand that you do what it takes to win, but if I were on Harvick’s crew all year and was told that with five races to go, I was being relegated to a driver that was dead-last in the chase – I would be more than just a little unhappy.

When Will Power’s lead in the IZOD IndyCar Series point standings was dwindling in the final few races of the season, Team Penske made no wholesale swaps of crew personnel. Although Power clearly had the best season at team Penske, I don’t think anyone would argue that personnel-wise – they were considered the third best team at Team Penske. I don’t think anyone would put Clive Howell on the same level with Roger Penske or Tim Cindric as a race strategist. Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe have the established teams and therefore the best personnel available. To my knowledge, no one migrated to Clive Howell’s side of the shop. They were all brought in from elsewhere.

When Ryan Briscoe was eliminated from championship contention, they didn’t suddenly move his crew over to Power’s car just to give him a better chance. Power’s crew, led by Clive Howell, had beaten the odds and gotten him in a position to win it all. Scott Dixon had been mathematically eliminated before the Homestead race, but you didn’t see Chip Ganassi pilfering crew members to throw onto Dario’s team for the last race. You win or lose as a team. You don’t cherry-pick your crew members from within your organization at the end of the season; and you sure don’t snub the guys that got you there in the first place.

Is this common practice in NASCAR? I don’t follow their races closely enough to say one way or the other. I never remember anything like this happening in the IZOD IndyCar Series or in CART or USAC for that matter, but I could be wrong.

My NASCAR friend didn’t see what the big deal was. He didn’t know if it had happened in NASCAR before, but his recollection of such things is not his strong suit. He essentially told me to “chill out”, which is what my twenty-one year old son likes to say when I get too parental with him. Maybe my friend is right. Maybe I should just focus on football, Thanksgiving and Christmas and then worry about off-season developments the New Year brings to the IndyCar series.

This whole concept of swapping crews at this point in the season really rubs me the wrong way. Maybe the off-season is already getting to me. Perhaps I fret too much about what NASCAR is doing, now that our season has been buttoned up and put away for over three weeks (it seems longer). Am I over-reacting to this or does this rankle others as well? I would be very disappointed if one of my favorite drivers pulled a stunt like this. What do you think?

George Phillips

Shameless Plug: In case anyone is interested, I was interviewed for a podcast last week for an end of season wrap up. This is the same site that interviewed me twice in May – Crimson Cast, which is devoted primarily to Indiana basketball, but also the IZOD IndyCar Series. We discuss all things IndyCar about this past season, comparisons to the 1993 season and what to look for in the next couple of years. It’s not short, but nothing I ever do is. Just click here, scroll down and click on the “play” arrow to the left and listen…and listen…and listen. – GP

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6 Responses to “Stick With What Got You There”

  1. Color me old fashioned George, but like you I enjoy sittin’ around the ol’ wood stove reading the morning newspaper. No pop-ups, no Bing. The paper also comes in handy for swatting mosquitos or admonishing the dog who will snatch my breakfast quicker than a Penske pit stop. What’s not to like?

    After that ritual I will read the Crimson Cast interview that you are so shamelessly plugging. (I suppose next you’ll get an agent)

    Regarding the tin-top news, I also believe in what they say down there in the hoots and hollers of Tennessee…………..”Dance with the girl what brung ya”. In the unlikely event that Harvick should win the chase, it should make for a very awkward celebration.

  2. Switching pit crews and/or crew chiefs is definitely more of a NASCAR phenomenon than in any other form of racing. Every few years, Richard Childress and Jack Roush switch either their pit crews or crew chiefs or usually both sometime mid-season when their teams are struggling to try to revitalize them. In my opinion, it rarely works, as teams really go up and down based on the quality of their cars more than the subtle differences in the quality of their crews. This is really more about Kevin Harvick being an egomaniac and whining about his pit crew not being fast enough. Clint Bowyer is a more copasetic dude and he gets along with anybody for the most part, so really it’s Bowyer who is being hurt by this if anyone… At least it’s better than when a few years ago Denny Hamlin had his pit crew completely fired because they made a mistake (but it was okay for him to make some really stupid driving errors at about the same time). The most notorious pit crew trade was that at Dale Earnhardt, Inc. as they started their downfall before Junior’s departure. His team members went to Michael Waltrip’s team and vice versa; both teams started their descent into suck that eventually resulted in Junior leaving for Hendrick and sucking even more. For the most part, Rick Hendrick and Joe Gibbs haven’t taken to this strategy of swapping team members around haphazardly, which may be part of the reason why they consistently remain the top two teams in recent years…

  3. It is a team sport and that was what Al Unser told me when I asked him about his fourth Indy 500 win. Team Sport. So, if Harvick were to win the Cup Championship, who gets the crew rings? Everyone? I think if I were the original crew I wouldn’t wear it.

    By the way, George, I haven’t subscribed to the Tennessean in years and I don’t miss it.

  4. Sean, I don’t follow Nascar closely so your post was interesting to me, but my favorite part was “copasetic dude”.

  5. Stephen_P83 Says:

    George, I halfway agree with you this time. I don’t think it’s ever acceptable for a driver to blame his crew for any sort of failure in a race. That sort of thing seriously bothers me and I’m annoyed to hear that someone changed an entire crew. I don’t see the point in doing that.

    What I do believe is acceptable is swapping out a single crew member at a time. Especially during the chase when the other teams are locked out of a win anyway. For example, if I’m a team owner and one of my two cars is placed 2nd in standings and the other is 12th, I want to put my effort onto the car with a chance of winning the championship. Let’s say car two had a front tire changer who is .5 seconds faster on average always. I would have no problem with an individual swap then because at the end of the day both crews are part of my team. If Dario wins the championship, it’s a title for the Target Chip Gannassi team. Racing is a team sport, but I see the team as the whole team not the individual car. If it’s down to the wire and only one car has a chance to win, it’s better for the team to put your effort into the car that can give the team a championship.

  6. Timnothhelfer Says:

    The chase is contrived competition and drama….as desperate as swapping crews or coaches.
    The real drama and changes will come with the next TV contract as the groves of money trees die en mass……PANIC and betrayal.

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