Photo by Dustin Long

No secrets: From setups to strategy, group chat among some crew chiefs shares all

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CONCORD, N.C. — As Martin Truex Jr. led fellow Toyota driver Carl Edwards at Dover earlier this month, crew chief Cole Pearn plotted his strategy, wondering what Edwards’ crew chief, Dave Rogers, planned to do.

So Pearn asked Rogers.

He messaged him, actually.

“Come on man, throw me a bone,’’ Rogers recalled Pearn’s note. “Tell me when you’re going to pit.’’

Pearn, Rogers and his fellow Joe Gibbs Racing crew chiefs are on a group chat with Andy Graves, group vice president, technical director for Toyota Racing Development, USA. They share information throughout the week and an occasional quip — often by Pearn. The chat doesn’t stop when the race starts.

Group chats are not new in NASCAR among crew chiefs on the same team or alliance. Graves recalls a more modest system in place at Hendrick Motorsports when he served as Terry Labonte’s crew chief from 1997-99.

With team computers showing each car’s setup and pertinent information, crew chiefs know what their teammates are doing at all times. Joe Gibbs Racing has incorporated Furniture Row Racing’s Truex so that the information available to each team is if they truly were teammates.

Even with all that information to both Toyota teams, the group chat provides answers to questions about key issues, setup notes and other matters. The more a crew chief knows, the more informed their decisions can be.

Still, what about asking a teammate/competitor on strategy that could hurt them?

It’s all fair.

“What did you tell him?’’ Edwards asked Rogers upon hearing of Pearn’s Dover request. “Get back to you in a minute?’’

They laughed.

No, that’s not what Rogers told Pearn.

Before Rogers revealed how he responded, he recalled that weekend and the struggles Rogers and Edwards had with their car during practice. It was confusing because the setup had worked so well previously. As they tried to figure out how to be faster, Truex posted quick times.

Rogers told his engineers to get Truex’s setup and they would change Edwards’ car to match what Truex had with his.

Edwards went faster.

So when Pearn’s request came during the race asking about what lap Edwards would pit, Rogers responded in the only way he could.

“I told him what I was going to do,’’ Rogers said.

As Graves watched the exchange on the chat, he beamed.

“It’s competitive inside, but not to the point that we’re willing to jeopardize the good of the whole,’’ he said.

That’s the message ingrained in the teams. There’s a closeness between JGR and Furniture Row Racing that is different from when Michael Waltrip Racing was with Toyota. The group chat for JGR and MWR crew chiefs primarily was used during restrictor-plate events at Daytona and Talladega.

It’s used constantly among JGR and Furniture Row Racing.

“There’s no question that each one of us wants to be the top team every week,’’ Rogers said. “If you didn’t, you don’t belong in this sport. But we all know that our unity and our sharing of information is going to separate us from the field. It’s a heck of a lot easier to beat four guys than it is to beat 39. So if we work together, and we can separate our group and fight amongst ourselves, our odds of winning are better.’’

Pearn said the openness will keep their working relationship strong.

“Once you go down the path of hiding from each other is when most teammate relationships break down,’’ he said. “You hide one time, and it’s easier to do the next time, and you just slowly drift apart.’’

Another key to the group chat is that Graves can add his insight on matters, including things during the race the other crew chiefs might be too busy to notice.

Graves noticed during that Dover race that Dale Earnhardt Jr., running outside the top 10 at the time, was saving fuel to make it to the end based on his slower lap times. Graves altered his crew chiefs to the maneuver. In the end, it didn’t matter when Earnhardt was collected in the 18-car crash late in that event, but it could have.

The cooperation was evident Thursday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Truex and Edwards were staged next to each other on pit road during Coca-Cola 600 qualifying. Before the final session, which would determine the pole, Rogers walked over to Pearn and talked briefly. Truex went on to win the pole.

“There’s no information that is not shared,’’ Rogers said.

As a result, Joe Gibbs Racing has won seven of the first 12 points races this season, and Truex seems on the cusp of winning.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick still No. 1 after quiet Vegas

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Kevin Harvick didn’t have a flashy night Sunday in Las Vegas, but it didn’t keep him from retaining the No. 1 spot in this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings.

After winning the Bristol night race, Harvick finished in the top 10 in the first two stages in Vegas before placing 10th at race’s end.

Kurt Busch’s win at his home track vaulted him into the top 10 as 12 drivers received votes.

More: Playoff standings after Las Vegas

Here is this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 1): In the last eight races he’s won three times and finished outside the top 10 only twice.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 5): Placed fourth for his 11th top-five finish in the last 14 races.

3. Alex Bowman (Last week unranked): Finished fifth for his second top five and fifth top-10 finish in the last six races.

4. Denny Hamlin (Last week unranked): Left Vegas with a third-place finish to snap a three-race streak of finishing outside the top 10.

5. Kurt Busch (Last week unranked): Snapped a 46-race winless streak with his victory and advanced to the Round of 8.

6. Kyle Busch (Last week No. 3): Finished sixth after a “dismal” night. He has four consecutive top 10s.

7. Brad Keselowski (Last week No. 5): Finished 13th to give him two finishes outside the top 10 since he won at Richmond.

8. Chase Briscoe (Last week unranked): Opened the Xfinity playoffs with his second consecutive win.

8. Chase Elliott (Last week No. 2): Led 73 laps, but had to settle for a 22nd-place finish in Vegas.

8. Joey Logano (Last week No. 3): Finished 14th for his second straight finish outside the top 10.

Also receiving votes: Erik Jones and Chris Buescher.

NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

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Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

 

Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings