When NASCAR announced the Xfinity Series would hold a doubleheader this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, crew chief Taylor Moyer’s reaction wasn’t necessarily an enthusiastic one.
The 32-year-old crew chief for JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet wouldn’t only be preparing for a doubleheader. He would be preparing for a doubleheader with two different drivers.
The first would be the “Boss Man,” Moyer’s nickname for team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., set to make his lone start of the year Saturday. The driver for Sunday’s race is former Cup Series driver Daniel Hemric.
In his second year working on the No. 8 car, Moyer wasn’t even concerned about having to come up with two different setups for the No. 8 car.
He was worried about seats.
“I had nine drivers last year and I’ve got three this year (Earnhardt, Hemric and Jeb Burton) and the way we did the nine last year, other than the Boss Man, everybody ran the same seat shell,” Moyer told NBC Sports. “We run a (Hendrick Motorsports) carbon fiber seat shell, and it’s mounted in the same place in the car and everybody got poured for a custom insert. So interior swaps are very easy. We have a great interior guy at the shop, but even we could do it. You pull out one insert, you put in the other one, you adjust the steering wheel, the steering column … You swap out the steering wheel for whatever size wheel they want. And you put pedal extensions on. So we have that down to a science.”
Unfortunately, that science only applies under normal circumstances in a normal season. This year has been anything but that, with the doubleheader at Miami the latest NASCAR oddity in a COVID-19 world.
Saturday’s race is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET (Fox) and Sunday’s is scheduled for Noon ET (FS1).
While Moyer’s team can switch out car setups in roughly 15 minutes, switching from Earnhardt’s seat shell to Hemric’s isn’t so easy. With the inclusion of taking a brake assembly apart, it’s a process that will take roughly two hours.
“The Boss Man’s seat shell was custom built for him when he was at Hendrick back when I was there,” Moyer said. “He sits in a very a unique seat position. Sits real low, leans way back, like laying back in the car, kind of like his dad. He sits with his legs very wide open. His is a very, very different seat shell than all my other guys are on. And I know changing a seat shell, with all the componentry that goes with it, is probably out of the question for Homestead with the time they’re giving us to change, it has to be the same car.”
When the team had Hemric try out Earnhardt’s seat shell, Moyer said “his feet wouldn’t touch the pedals even though Dale’s not that much taller.”
The team poured Hemric a one-time insert for Earnhardt’s shell and then added pedal extensions and a new throttle pedal assembly and other “little Daniel idiosyncrasies.”
“Then luckily NASCAR’s letting us bring a couple additional crew members to the track and one of which is our interior guy from the shop, but that was the biggest concern,” Moyer said of the seat shell swap. “It wasn’t set up or anything like that, it was how do I physically in the time allotted let both drivers be safe and comfortable in the race car.”
Then Moyer can worry about the races. What difficulties are there in preparing two setups for two drivers who will be racing in different parts of the day?
“Maybe we over simplify it, but I don’t worry about stuff I can’t control,” Moyer said. “When we ended up racing Darlington a day later (due to rain), you can’t control the weather. Who knows when the races will actually fire off. So it all boils down to both guys. I was blessed to work with Dale a lot when he was at (Hendrick). I was the test engineer for that team. So I’ve tested a lot at Homestead with Dale. I feel like he loves to rip the wall. And I just want to put a car underneath him that’s very predictable out of the truck that he feels like he can put everywhere and is in complete control.
“Even if we don’t unload lightning fast, like he has to be a little tightened up so we don’t have it slip out from underneath him. I think confidence off the truck for him will be key. I’m using a little bit of what I know from last year working with him as his crew chief at Darlington. I know as the race goes, if he is passing cars and he is in a good mood it is lights out. It’s easy. I know if I miss it off the truck or I make the car too loose, and it’s slipping and sliding it’s gonna be much more of a chore than just freeing up a little bit if I’m too tight off the truck. With Daniel, we’re just gonna pick up where we left off at Atlanta.”
Saturday’s race will be Moyer’s second working with Earnhardt after he directed Earnhardt’s run last year at Darlington. But Moyer and Hemric have seven races together this season. They’ve finished sixth or better in the last four races, including a fourth-place finish at Atlanta.
“You have the differences of the pure little things of setup that one of us likes and one doesn’t,” Hemric said Thursday in a Zoom press conference. “I think Taylor and our engineers … they’ve done a great job of trying to get us to where we feel like our baseline is gonna suit both of us. Obviously, for me I get to be a part of the team and be very integrated into the process for the race on Saturday and as that happens, I think it will be enough for us to lean on.
“Dale’s a very practical race car driver and a guy when you look at what works and what doesn’t and I think he believes in the direction that we’ve chosen to go down for his race and hopefully it’s close enough where we can just fine tune it for myself.”
Moyer will have two goals this weekend: to get his boss and NASCAR’s 15-time most popular driver one more win and to get Hemric his first NASCAR national series victory.
Which provides the most pressure for the sophomore crew chief?
“That’s a tough one,” Moyer said. “I’m sure Junior Nation would carve my face into a tree somewhere, maybe as a monument if I get Dale another win. But I think Daniel is a good friend of mine now. We spend a lot of time together. And I want to see the kid win. Whether it’s me crew chiefing or not. He’s a super strong talent. And I don’t know, he’s got six seconds now and man, he’s right on the cusp.”