CHICAGO – Is subterfuge the secret to catching the Joe Gibbs Racing juggernaut during the Chase for the Sprint Cup?
Jeff Gordon said Hendrick Motorsports has kept a close eye on the competition to set the benchmark for improving in the 10-race playoffs.
“We know what we’re lacking,” he said Thursday during Chase Media Day. “You know what you’ve got to do to make your car better. How you do it is another challenge, and you learn from your competitors. We have spies everywhere. We constantly are looking at our competitors.
“We feel like, right now, we’re bringing the absolute best car we’ve had all year to (Sunday’s Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway on NBCSN), and we’ll do that for nine more weeks after that.”
JGR has won eight of the past 11 races in NASCAR’s premier series, a stretch in which Hendrick has only a victory at Daytona International Speedway by Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Has the team developed some setup tricks that have given it an edge on the field?
“I don’t call it tricks, I call it hard work,” Gordon said. “I think they’ve done a great job. I think they’ve used their time wisely (with) wind tunnel, computer simulation. A lot of things they are doing (are) working really well for them.”
He applies the same logic to Kevin Harvick, who has led the points for most of the season with Hendrick-supplied chassis and engines.
“We have the same cars, but what they’ve done with it has elevated them to that level,” Gordon said. “I’d say those are the areas we’re looking to improve on. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it is improving. I’m hoping it improves soon enough.”
Teammate Jimmie Johnson joked, “I didn’t know we had spies. I hope they found something cool!” when asked whether Hendrick had conducted successful reconnaissance on the competition, but he conceded the tight confines of the garage help in confirming the benchmark.
“When we park next to each other, everyone is looking at each other’s cars, and you can see things,” Johnson said. “The photos we receive during practice, you can see the attitude of the car, and how low it is, and speculate on springs and stuff going on, but it takes so many small details to separate yourself and find an advantage.
“I know our guys are digging deep, and I’m not sure if it’s been the spying aspect, but I know our engine shop is bringing more and more every week. They’re highly motivated. Our engineering staff is all hands on deck. (Team owner) Rick (Hendrick) has made it clear we’re going to get better and finish the Chase stronger than we started. Hopefully it’s with a championship.”
The six-time series champion was encouraged by a three-day test in Kansas Speedway this week.
“The ideas and packages we were trying, there’s been a lot of thought put into things, so I feel like we’re going to be better,” Johnson said. “It might not show in the first couple of weeks (in the playoffs), but we’re working hard to get an advantage that we’re used to having.”