BROOKLYN, Mich. — Crew chief Rodney Childers admits this has been a challenging season learning the new car.
He told NBC Sports in late June how the new car is a “learning curve every weekend for me. I knew how to do that stuff year after year after year with the old car and the old tech procedures and all that kind of stuff.
He made those comments before the series raced at Nashville Superspeedway. That was the most recent time the Cup Series had a 50-minute practice session instead of the abbreviated sessions held at most tracks.
Kevin Harvick was 29th of 36 cars on the speed chart in practice at Nashville. But that practice proved to be a breakthrough session.
“What turned our corner, I felt like, was having 50 minutes of practice at Nashville,” Childers said Sunday after Harvick won at Michigan to snap a 65-race winless streak. “We unloaded. We were absolutely horrible, and we changed everything on the car to start the race. We qualified up front and ran up front all night, and we’ve done that ever since.
‘So having 50 minutes of practice, being able to change stuff after (practice), it has changed our season. Every week we learn, and hopefully we’re getting that a little bit better. … We just have to keep pushing and try to run with those guys and we have. If we can do that in the playoffs and be consistent and get through a round or two, we can make some noise.”
Harvick went on to finish 10th at Nashville. He’s had three other top 10s in the six races since that weekend.
That’s a sign that Harvick is getting more comfortable with the car. He admits he’s looking forward to returning to tracks a second time this season. Michigan marked the eighth track in the last nine that the series was visiting for the first time this season.
Cup is back Richmond for the second time this season on Sunday. Nine of the last 13 races of the season are at tracks the Cup Series goes back to a second time this year (that’s not including Bristol, which was dirt in the spring but on the concrete in the playoffs).
“I’m really happy that we’re going back to a lot of these race tracks that I can actually open up a notebook and not fire off out of the pits and say, ‘Well, I wonder how far I should drive it in today? I wonder if it’s going to hit the limit or be tight or loose?’” Harvick said.
“At least going back, the thought processes will be way different for us as far as setups and things like that. I think we’ve learned a lot. I think those setups will be different, but I’m really looking forward to being able to open the notebook and have something there.”
Sunday’s race continued a challenging two weeks for Kyle Larson.
He was fast at Michigan but a pit road speeding penalty on Lap 123 dropped him from third at the end of the second stage to 26th.
“I’ll have to look at that,” Larson told NBC Sports after the race. “I didn’t even think I was close to speeding, but, obviously, I was. We’ll look at the data and see where I messed up.”
It took him 20 laps to climb into the top 10.
He restarted on the outside of the second row on the final restart and pushed Kevin Harvick into the lead. In his duel with Bubba Wallace for second, Larson’s car got loose and he fell back, finishing seventh.
It is his fourth top 10 in the last seven races. One of those races he finished outside the top 10 was the Indianapolis road course race two weeks ago. He crashed into Ty Dillon. Larson said he “made a big mistake.”
Larson hopes for better fortunes this week. He seeks to repeat last year’s Knoxville Nationals sprint car victory this week. Larson’s qualifying night is Thursday. The Knoxville Nationals main event is Saturday night.
“I have to have a really good prelim night (Thursday) to get locked into the A (main Saturday) to have any shot at getting back,” Larson said.
His challenge is that Cup qualifying at Richmond is scheduled from 5:50 – 7 p.m. ET Saturday. He likely would not have enough time to return to Iowa for the Nationals if he is in any of the other races before the A main.
“If I’m not locked in, then I won’t back the track back,” Larson said.
Martin Truex Jr. fell out of a playoff spot with Kevin Harvick winning at Michigan. That added to a frustrating day for Truex.
Confused about the team’s strategy, Truex questioned the team’s tactic after the second stage. Crew chief James Small noted the challenges they were having on restarts.
“I thought we were on one strategy, and then we lost some spots on restart and we switched strategies and gave up stage points to try to do the other one,” Truex told NBC Sports. “Then we’re gonna pit again, and I was just kind of confused.
“(Small) is doing his best up there. We just need to be faster. We need to figure this thing out a little bit better, and I need to do a better job on the wheel.”
— Dustin Long (@dustinlong) August 8, 2022
Truex heads to Richmond 19 points behind Ryan Blaney for what would be the final playoff spot.
This weekend’s race at Richmond could be quite a battle between the two.
Blaney won the pole there in the spring, won the first stage and led a race-high 128 laps before finishing seventh. Truex won the second stage, led 80 laps and finished fourth.
“Richmond, we were really good in the spring, but we were probably the second-best car,” Truex said. “We need to figure out how to be better than that. … We’ll go fight hard like we always do.”
Said Blaney of Richmond: “We just try to build off of that and what did we need later in the race to try to stay up there.”
The secret to Ty Gibbs’ success? Sleep, he says.
While Gibbs spends much of his waking hours focused on racing, the 19-year-old said Saturday after his fifth Xfinity win of the season that sleep is key for him in being a better driver.
“I think the biggest thing, and if you go look at all the research behind it from the best athletes in the world, is sleep,” Gibbs said after his Michigan win. “Sleep is the biggest thing for me, to be able to get 10 to 12 hours of sleep every night is very key, I feel like, to success.”
Gibbs, who finished a career-high 10th in Sunday’s Cup race in place of injured Kurt Busch, cited athletes such as Tom Brady and LeBron James, who have stated sleep is important to them.
Brady’s strict health and wellness regimen calls for about nine hours of sleep a night. James has said he gets at least eight hours of sleep a night.
Gibbs said the extra rest is helpful in his prep work for races, “like simulator time. I feel like you’ve got to be very rested for that because the screens affect your eyes a little bit and make you more tired. So, making sure that I’m just balancing out my time.”
He admits he used to be on iRacing until 3 a.m. and then go to the shop at 7 a.m. Eventually, he decided that he was “going to get the most sleep” possible.