We’re opening the choices to the current top 10 drivers in the Cup point standings, plus an “other” option.
Best Crew Chief
Behind every great driver is a crew chief calling the shots. NASCAR.com’s poll saw Rodney Childers, who works with Kevin Harvick, voted best crew chief with 63% of the vote. Second place, Chris Gabehart (Denny Hamlin’s crew chief), received 16%.
Who do you think is the best crew chief who can be found in the Cup Series garage?
When the caution flag waved 27 laps from the end of last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, crew chief Justin Alexander had a decision to make.
Austin Dillon was seventh. Pitting was the easy call — all the leaders came to pit road.
The key question was if to take two tires, four tires or no tires. Figuring a few of the leaders would take two tires, Alexander contemplated a quicker no-tire stop to pass those cars on pit road to gain track position.
In a command center 1,100 miles away at Richard Childress Racing in Welcome, North Carolina, a different option was presented.
Pit for two tires. Specifically, pit for two left-side tires.
NBCSN’s Marty Snider will give fans an inside look at the RCR command center during tonight’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App), showing what takes place and how the decisions there impact a race.
RCR’s command center, which was built about five years ago, has 10 stations for engineers and others to work and a wall-sized screen that can show various data about the RCR cars or any other car in the field along with the race broadcast. Computer programs also provide instant analysis of when to pit, how many tires to change and where each option is likely to put the car.
“Definitely the command center has helped,” said Alexander, who led the organization’s research and development and worked race days in the command center before reuniting as Dillon’s crew chief this season. “There’s more eyes on things than I can look at on my computer.”
With crew rosters limited, Alexander does not have either of his engineers with him at the the track. They work from RCR.
“As they feed me data, I can make better decisions,” Alexander said.
Dr. Eric Warren, RCR’s chief technology officer, spearheaded the effort to build the center. The technology has grown from analyzing timing and scoring to deciphering the car’s performance and strategies each team is likely to use in the race.
“The basic foundation of it is trying to learn what is the real performance of the car,” Warren told NBC Sports. “That way you are taking out things like weather, track position and laps on tires, all those things. As it gets more accurate in really understanding you’re an eighth-place car, then you can make those tradeoffs. If I take two tires and gain five seconds of track position, what’s my fall-off going to be and what’s my performance going to be?”
With such knowledge, teams can decide if such gambles are worth making.
Computer programs also study other teams and learn their tendencies and that can help plot strategy against.
Warren noted the key for Dillon came well before that last pit stop. Dillon had a four-tire stop on Lap 213 of the 334-lap race. That allowed the team to go with two-tire stops later since lap times did not significantly increase the longer the car ran on the same set of tires.
Dillon came in for a two-tire stop on Lap 245 under caution, a move that allowed him to go from 11th before the stop to eighth. The top six cars did not pit, meaning Dillon was second among those that had stopped.
A caution on Lap 307 when rookie Quin Houff made contact with Christopher Bell and Matt DiBenedetto trapped five of those six cars that had not pitted on Lap 245 a lap down, forcing them to take a wave around and not pit during that caution. That all but eliminated Ryan Blaney, who led 150 laps and pole-sitter Aric Almirola, among others.
“We knew, even an entire stop before, there were a lot of people that the way they did their pit strategy, they were going to be left exposed for a long period of time,” Warren said, noting Blaney, Almirola and others who pitted under green around Lap 290 and would remain a lap down until the rest of the field cycled through under green. “We actually altered our strategy way before those (late) cautions came out and kind of knew the likelihood of a caution happening (near Lap 307) was pretty high.”
That caution is when Dillon came in for two left-side tires, as the computer program suggested, and Reddick changed no tires, also as the program suggested. Dillon and Reddick went on to give RCR its first 1-2 finish in a Cup race since 2011.
“It’s starting to show that the speed of the cars are there,” Reddick told NBCSN’s Kyle Petty on this week’s Splash and Go. “Just taking advantage of some track position, taking advantage of some strategy calling played into our strengths, and it really showed that our cars had the speed on the older tires to be able to hold off the guys on four fresh tires.”
Warren also notes that while technology plays a key role in races, the human factor remains important.
“The relationship between the crew chief and the driver is critical because we might say 100% we definitely think you need to take right-side tires here,” Warren said. “The crew chief is going to know, even a little bit more than us, how far is the driver on the edge and maybe we’re not seeing a little damage on the car. My way of thinking about it has always been like we used to not have computers to do word processing, right? Well, now you have that and you can, so now you can spend time doing the next advanced thing. That’s the same with us.
“I don’t think the human element ever really is going to be replaced, at least not short term. I think it allows you to think about things more complex.”
Like winning races.
Austin Dillon happy to ‘dictate the end’ of Texas race, celebrate for fans
Austin Dillon and his crew chief, Justin Alexander, had been paying attention.
They saw Cole Custer‘s dramatic win at Kentucky Speedway and did what they could to repeat that effort in their win Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, just without the four-wide pass to take the lead.
“Justin and I both talked about what kind of happened in Kentucky with Cole, the way they ran,” Dillon said after his win. “If you can get the track position at some point, you can be fast. You saw when we got out front, we had a hot rod.”
Dillon was asked whether Sunday’s win meant more than his victories in the 2017 Coca-Cola 600, which he won on fuel-mileage, and the 2018 Daytona 500, which he won after his last-lap contact wrecked leader Aric Almirola.
“Hell yeah, it does,” Dillon declared. “We took it from them. That feels good. … Either way we had to make it happen. So they’re both big wins in my career.
“This one, once again, we had to make it happen multiple times on older tires.”
Dillon added that “it was nice to also have the ball in my court, you know what I mean, to dictate the end of the race.”
The day was made better for Dillon as he got to celebrate his win in front of a grandstand that had an estimated 15,000-20,000 fans in it. TMS was just the fourth track to allow fans for a Cup race since the series returned to racing in May.
“Felt really good,” Dillon said. “I think it would have been awkward without them. That’s why I parked it right in front of them and let them smell that smoke, the burnt rubber. Everything I did was for those fans. I think they loved it.”
After he exited his No. 3 car, Dillon got a dig at critics of his NASCAR career, which had been spent nearly entirely racing for his grandfather at Richard Childress Racing.
“Not bad for a silver-spoon kid, right?” Dillon told NBCSN.
Does Dillon believe he deserves more credit from fans for his career success, which includes Xfinity and Truck Series titles?
“You got to have someone you don’t like,” Dillon said. “Maybe it’s just my background, where I come from. But I got a lot of people that love me, too. It doesn’t bother me at all really. They can either get on the bandwagon and love me… It’s okay. It’s part of sports. Haters are going to hate sometimes, but we’ll be all right.”
After his first Cup win since February 2018 and his first NASCAR win since a Xfinity victory at Michigan in June 2018, Dillon was looking forward to going back to RCR’s headquarters in Welcome, North Carolina.
“When you cross those railroad tracks, there’s a sign when you come in there,” Dillon said. “I can’t wait to get home because I know what it’s going to say on that sign: RCR goes 1‑2, and the 3 team brings home a victory at Texas.
“That’s my favorite thing to do, (go) home to all the hard‑working employees that have believed in me, those people matter the most to me.”
Austin Dillon used pit strategy and strong restarts late to win Sunday’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, marking the second consecutive weekend a driver outside a playoff spot won and secured a spot in the postseason.
Dillon’s third career Cup victory snapped an 88-race winless streak. It was his first win since the 2018 Daytona 500.
Dillon gained track position with a two-tire pit stop on Lap 307 and restarted second to Reddick, who took no tires.
“I thought more guys would do two (tires),” said Dillon’s crew chief, Justin Alexander. “I honestly was not expecting to be starting on the front row for that first restart.”
Said Dillon of Alexander deciding to change only two left-side tires on that last pit stop: “The call was the win.”
Dillon took the lead from Reddick on Lap 312 of the 334-lap race. Dillon held off the field on the final two restarts, the final one with two laps to go.
Afterward, Dillon went to the infield care center for treatment. The race was held in 90-plus degree weather and NBCSN’s coverage showed the temperature inside cars above 135 degrees. Dillon said in his winner’s interview with NBCSN: “I’m out of breath right now. I’m about to go down. I need a drink.”
“It’s always one of the most humbling sports you can be a part of,” Custer said on NBCSN about being eliminated in the crash a week after winning his first Cup race.
STAGE 1 WINNER: Ryan Blaney
STAGE 2 WINNER: Ryan Blaney
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Richard Childress Racing went 1-2 with Austin Dillon winning and Tyler Reddick finishing second. This was RCR’s first 1-2 finish in a Cup race since 2011 at Talladega Superspeedway when Clint Bowyer won and Jeff Burton was second) … Joey Logano’s third-place finish was his best result since he won at Phoenix in March, the last Cup race before the season was suspended by the COVID-19 pandemic. … Kyle Busch’s fourth-place finish was his best result since his runner-up finish at Atlanta in early June. … Aric Almirola overcame brake problems and a penalty for violating the blend line to finish 10th, marking his seventh consecutive top-10 result.
Sunday marked the first time since the July 2018 Daytona race that RCR had two cars finish in the top 10. The last time two RCR cars finished in the top 10 at a track other than Daytona or Talladega? That was 2017 at Darlington.
Ace Dillon arrived at 6:30 a.m. Sunday. He weighed 9.1 pounds and was 21.5 inches. Austin Dillon spent a few hours with his son and wife Whitney before flying to Miami for the race.
“You’re just kind of like starry-eyed kids and you feel like you are 18 years old, but it ain’t that way anymore and you’re about to get ready to have a baby,” Dillon told NBC Sports of arriving at the hospital early Sunday morning. “It was funny on the way in, it was kind of surreal. We go through the process and the baby comes out into the world and it just blows your mind.”
Dillon said mother and son were fine afterward, noting “Ace was a stud.”
But Dillon had to leave by about 10 a.m. to go to the airport for his flight. He made it to the track about halfway through the Xfinity race and had time for a quick nap.
While this day had been circled for his son’s birth, Sunday also had special meaning for Reddick. It marked the return to the South Florida track that witnessed Reddick’s victories and Xfinity championships the past two seasons. Few drivers seemed to have been such a perfect fit for this 1.5-mile track as Reddick, who helped revolutionize running along the wall in the Xfinity Series.
Expectations were high for Reddick. He delivered with his first Cup top-five finish. But when it was over, Reddick had mixed emotions.
“I feel like if I could have just gotten ahead of those guys, what if, right?” Reddick told NBC Sports after the race. “I was definitely a little tighter than I needed to be. That was going to make it very challenging for me.
“We thought we were going to make the right adjustment to help us, but we couldn’t quite get our Chevy Cares Camaro to rotate better into Turn 1 like we have been wanting. We really couldn’t find that answer and, unfortunately, I think that is what held us back from being able to break through tonight.”
The more Reddick runs at the front, the more experience he and his team gain in making the right adjustments to take command late in a race.
“It’s me trying to figure out what I can do to the car to make it better,” he said. “It’s (crew chief Randall Burnett) figuring out what adjustments, what knobs can he turn better. On the Xfinity car we kind of had that notebook, we kind of knew what we could do to make those adjustments that I needed.
“On these Cup cars, they just drive a little bit differently. Because of that, it’s kind of like starting from scratch for him and myself and trying to predict that next step the track takes with the 400- and 500-mile races that we have and understanding that the next step is going to be another learning curve we’re going to have to tackle.”
Still, Reddick couldn’t be too down, saluting his pit crew’s performance. Reddick also was happy with something he didn’t do Sunday night while running close to the wall.
“i don’t feel like I stepped over the edge and made the Tyler Reddick rookie mistake,” he said. “Granted that could have been very well what held me back from being that little more aggressive to win the race, but it was going to be hard (to gain to pass the leaders late). I was just trying to play it smart. I guess that’s the biggest thing, I didn’t do anything extremely stupid to on the racetrack hurt our car, damage it or back us up through the day. We were able to get to the front and stay there. That made for a much smoother day than we’ve had in the past when we’ve gotten the good runs.”
Sunday’s race wasn’t easy for Dillon. His car’s handling was off early and he complained about it to crew chief Justin Alexander. The proper adjustments helped but NASCAR penalized Dillon for an uncontrolled tire on a pit stop. That dropped Dillon from fifth to 26th on Lap 175 of the 267-lap race.
Dillon climbed into the top 20 on Lap 184. He moved to 15th on Lap 195. He was 10th by Lap 211. After green-flag pit stops, he was back to 10th on Lap 219 and stayed inside the top 10 the rest of the race.
“We ended up having a very fast car,” Dillon said. “At the end of the race, we were a top-four car. The pit road penalty with the loose tire getting away, that hurt us, but we were able to drive from dead last up to seventh and you don’t usually do that. That was pretty special to get a seventh-place finish with the day that we had with having baby Ace. I was very pumped for that. Reddick had a good run also.”
While Richard Childress Racing had one of its better days in recent seasons, Dillon suggested more such days could be coming.
“I feel like people have been sleeping on us a little bit,” he said. “Since we came back from the quarantine, our No. 3 team has been pretty stout. We had an up-and-down race at Darlington, the first one we were good, the second one we were OK. Past that, the Charlotte races we flexed our muscles.”
Dillon finished 14th in the Coca-Cola 600. He followed it by placing eighth at the second Charlotte race, sixth at Bristol and 11th at Atlanta before finishing 37th at Martinsville after exiting the car early when he was overcome by fumes after early damage.
“We’ve had good cars for the last couple of weeks and it’s been fun to be a part of,” Dillon said. “I feel like we’ve got a good group, the 8 and the 3.”