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WATKINS GLEN -- When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Watkins Glen International for this weekend’s second road course race of the season, it will feature one key element that teams do only once a year – pit the car from left to right. As a result, teams spend a little extra time during the week getting accustomed to executing these ‘backward’ stops. Ford Racing spoke with the pit crew coaches for Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports, along with a key member of each team, to talk about this unique challenge.
MATT KENSETH, Driver – No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion
Q. IS IT AN ADJUSTMENT FOR YOU AS A DRIVER TO PIT WITH THE RIGHT-SIDE OF THE CAR AGAINST THE WALL AS OPPOSED TO THE LEFT?
A. It’s not really that hard. The pit wall is on the other side, but we’re all still going the same direction down pit road and we still stop in our stall, but it’s a little bit different. Another thing is it’s usually only a two or three pit stop race, at the most, and there are usually not a lot of cars on pit road because you’re usually doing green flag stops. It’s different, but I’m sure it’s more different for the crew than for the driver. The crew has to do everything backwards.
Q. FROM A VISION STANDPOINT IS THERE ANY ISSUE AS FAR AS GETTING THE RIGHT DISTANCE AWAY FROM THE WALL AND THAT SORT OF THING?
A. Hopefully, we can judge that at 35 miles an hour. If we can’t, then we probably need to be doing something else for a living (laughing).
Q. WHAT ROAD COURSE DO YOU LIKE BETTER? WATKINS GLEN OR INFINEON?
A. Watkins Glen. It’s just a lot wider and there’s more room to maneuver. It’s a lot faster and just seems to be better suited for our cars.
ED WATKINS, Jackman – No. 43 Insignia/Best Buy Ford Fusion
Watkins is a former offensive lineman for East Carolina University, who has been serving as a jackman in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for 12 years. Watkins has been associated with Richard Petty Motorsports since 2000 when he started a six-year stretch with the 19 team (2000-2006). He has jacked for the 43 team since the start of the 2007 season.
Q. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE WAY THESE PIT STOPS WORK AT WATKINS GLEN?
A. It’s a fun track. It’s one I look forward to every year. In fact, you’ve got the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard, which are circled, but Watkins Glen has always been a favorite one for me, not only because it presents a whole new realm for the race out there, but for us on pit road it brings a whole new challenge. Everything that you can think of on pit road is different. That’s the whole explanation of Watkins Glen. The car is coming from the left side. All of our other races the car is coming off turn four, heading down pit road off of your right shoulder heading into turn one. At Watkins Glen, they’ll be coming from your left shoulder, so the whole pit stop changes. When you leave the wall, say you’re normally leading with your left foot off the wall, at Watkins Glen you’re leading with your right foot. Everything is changed. The car is coming down from the left-hand side, so you’re picking it up from a whole new angle and it presents a whole new challenge for all the guys coming off the wall. We all have to hit at different angles that are all new, so it brings a whole new challenge in terms of preparation during the week. We look at film and study film and with us as a veteran group on the 43 car, we’ve been to Watkins Glen quite a few times so it’s more of a refresher. It’s kind of like when we come back to training came again and you get re-acclimated with everything and then you get right back into it. This week we’ll be focused in on Watkins Glen stops with the car coming from your left side. When I jack the car up it’s gonna be a road-course car, so the suspension droops a lot more to go over the rumble strips. The car is gonna be gassed on the right-hand side. I’ll be jacking and starting the pit stop on the left-hand side. It’s the only time we’ll do that and everything will be the exact opposite. Instead of pulling the right-rear tire, the jackman will be pulling the left-front tire. The tire changers will have to be taking their steps in a totally opposite manner. The jack, instead of exploding off to my right, I’ll be having to take a new power step and rotate to my left – run around and jack the right side of the car up. By then the second can of gas is going in, just like we do on a customary pit stop. A new tire is going on and we’re keying on the gas because, again, with it being a road course we’re just gonna be making green flag stops, so the car has got to be full. We’ve got to check off and make sure the car is full, new tire is going on and the lugnuts are being hit. The catch can man signals the car is full, the last lug has been hit and then I drop the car and off we go. We’ll probably make two or three stops and I’m looking forward to it because it’s a lot of fun. It changes up the routine and adds a whole new set of challenges.
Q. DO YOUR PIT CREW TEAMMATES LOOK FORWARD TO THIS RACE AS WELL?
A. We look at it as a challenge and look forward to it. There are a lot of teams out there that with it being a whole new choreography to the pit stop, they struggle. This gives us an opportunity not only to excel, but to really help AJ in terms of track position when he comes down pit road. He’s done a phenomenal job for us this year. He’s a very talented race car driver and he has a real good skill with road courses. He did real well at Sears Point and with his style of driving, I think Watkins Glen brings in a whole new facet for us as well. We know the car is gonna be up front and it’s up to us to keep that track position maintained and get him back out there so we have a good finish.
ANDY WARD, Pit Crew Coach – Roush Fenway Racing
Ward is in his second tour of duty with Roush Fenway Racing as pit crew coach and has served a total of six years in that capacity. He has been involved in a variety of roles within NASCAR for 12 years.
Q. WHAT WILL THIS WEEK BE LIKE FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE AS THE PIT CREW COACH?
A. The first thing that comes to mind is it’s backwards, meaning we pit the left side of the car first and then go to the right side of the car, with the right side of the car being at the wall. The 35 other races we run it’s the opposite. The left side is at the wall and the right side is the first side, so it brings a lot of different things into play as far as how we translate the hoses to the left side, removing the old tires and bringing them back to the wall. The fuel team has a little different routine because, again, it’s backwards.
Q. WILL IT REQUIRE MORE PIT PRACTICE?
A. On Monday we’ll go through and look at video from last year and get the guys familiar again with what they did last year and get themselves in a mindset that this week is different. It’s new everytime we do it. There are a lot of little frustrating things. We probably do 10,000 reps the other way and now we’ve got to try and unlearn all of that and go opposite for one week. During Watkins Glen week, we’ll do a lot more drills and a lot more stationary walk-through type stuff to try to gain the repetition that we’ve already built up for the other way and try to unlearn that a little bit, so that will be the main thing. There will be a little bit more emphasis on drills than just live pit stops like we typically do.
Q. DO YOU LIKE THE CHALLENGE THAT THIS WEEK BRINGS OR NOT?
A. The tough part is the pit crew really can’t affect the race in a positive way, so if they’re talking about us at the end of the day, then we probably did something bad. That’s probably the only thing that I would say is tough about it. We want to be behind the scenes in that race because it’s largely strategy. Maybe you won’t see a lot of passing on pit road with the performance of it. It’s a situation where you try to get them out as fast as you can, but a lot of times you’ll sit there a little extra time and make sure the car is full of gas, and it’s more about the strategy than it is about the speed of the pit stop, so we kind of take ourselves out of play a little bit. Our guys like to be a part of the mix. That’s what they do it for. They enjoy the excitement of knowing they played a big part in the race, but in road racing they take that away from us a little bit because it’s more about strategy and fuel mileage sometimes. It’s not as exciting for the guys as the speedways.
KEVIN NOVAK, Front Tire Changer – No. 6 UPS Ford Fusion
Kevin Novak is in his first year as the front tire changer for David Ragan’s No. 6 UPS Ford Fusion, but he’s no rookie. The native of Veseli, MN, is in his fifth year changing tires and third with Roush Fenway Racing. He worked for two years on the No. 6 Nationwide pit crew before spending last season with Jamie McMurray on the No. 26 Sprint Cup team.
Q. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT GOING TO WATKINS GLEN?
A. I think it’s pretty neat because we get to go out there and, instead of looking off to our right and seeing the cars come in, we look off to the left and see the cars come in. Everything is all backwards. We still have to hit our lugnuts the same, but we run around the car differently. The car comes in backward and then leaves backward. Just trying to stay out of your teammates way is a big thing.
Q. DOES ANYTHING ELSE CHANGE FROM A PREPARATION STANDPOINT?
A. Everything is pretty much about the same. We set up the pit box the same as we normally do. The cars are setup different with different camber in the front than we usually do, so the brake dust is horrible. You really can’t see the lugnuts well, but everthing else is pretty much the same and is kind of like a short track.
Q. WHAT WILL THINGS BE LIKE BEFORE YOU GET TO THE TRACK?
A. We’ll probably practice more because it’s like we’re learning a new position.
Q. SOME TEAMS WILL OPT TO HAVE THEIR FRONT TIRE CHANGERS MOVE TO THE REARS FOR THIS RACE AND VICE VERSA. IS THAT A BIG DEAL FOR YOU?
A. It’s pretty easy to go from a front tire changer to a rear tire changer at the road courses because when you run around the car you’re running the same way, and if you still change fronts at a road course like Watkins Glen, then you have to run backwards and it kind of messes with your head. It’s pretty neat to do it either way, especially if you stay on the fronts because then the jackman pulls your tire whereas he usually doesn’t.
Q. IF YOU END UP CHANGING THE REARS IS IT A DIFFERENT TECHNIQUE BECAUSE USUALLY THE FRONT CHANGER FINISHES BEFORE THE REAR CHANGER, RIGHT?
A. If I’m still changing the front tires, then we would be ahead even more because the jackman, the way he pulls the tire is he pumps the jack and pulls with his left hand, so he’s gonna be pulling the front tire on the left side of the car, which is the first side, and then the rear tires, they would have to run to the car and they would just be behind the entire time. It’s kind of a big thing for a rear tire changer at this point when you get to the right side because you need to slow down and make sure you hit your lugnuts correctly and all five of them. You don’t want to be going wild and hitting a whole bunch of lugnuts, but the fronts will generally be ahead on all the cars.
Q. SO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO THE CHALLENGE?
A. Yeah, I think it’s pretty neat. I like doing backward stops.
ERIC WILSON, Pit Crew Coach and No. 9 Jackman – Richard Petty Motorsports
Wilson is in his third year as pit crew coach for Richard Petty Motorsports and jackman on the No. 9 Budweiser Ford Fusion driven by Kasey Kahne. A native of Corpus Christi, TX, Wilson learned his craft in 1996, courtesy of Junior Johnson, who taught him how to jack a car that first year. Later that season, Wilson was part of the No. 11 team that won the World Pit Crew Championship competition at Rockingham.
Q. WHAT WILL GO INTO THIS WEEK’S PREPARATION?
A. It’s backwards and it’s one race, so we try to keep it that way. We don’t do anything extra for it. We show up on Monday and try to look at some of last year’s video on it, and we’ve got some good notes that we’ve taken on different scenarios and different things you have to do behind the wall as far as hose pullers and stuff like that which affects what goes on there when we do it backwards. It’s one race out of the season and we don’t try to mess our pit crews up for the other ones. It’s hopefully two stops, sometimes three, and I kind of approach it as we’ve got a bunch of athletes who have trained hard all year long and we try to just look at our video, prepare ourselves and then we just try to go in there and let them be athletes, let them have fun, and just kind of let it come naturally. At the end of the day, we might be running around the car backwards or getting there a little different, but you’re still jacking it up, knocking five lugnuts off and putting on tires. It tests the mental side of their job, but we try to not let them think too much about it, to be honest with you, just go out there and do your job and make it easy.
Q. WILL YOU DO MORE LIVE PIT PRACTICE?
A. We probably will. We’ll do bunch of left-side stuff and get to that first side and how we get set up for that, and then the transition around the car. We try to really look at that. That’s gonna be our focus is how we start out and then how we get from the first side to the second side of the car because everything else is basically the same. It’s the transition around the car and to the car that we’re gonna probably focus on and look at the most.
Q. DO YOU LIKE THIS WEEK?
A. I like it. It’s a challenge and you’ll see some groups that will do better with it and some individuals that do better with it than others. Everybody is built different and some can handle changes like that a little bit better than others. We probably do practice a little bit more on it, but, at the same time, it’s two or three stops and I don’t want to have to jeopardize what we have to do next week, so I make sure they stay in check and we’re not tearing knees up or ankles up because we’re doing something that your body is not really prepared week in and week out for. We might do extra, but it will be controlled.