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Darian Grubb ‘absolutely impressed’ with William Byron in short time together

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There’s still 45 days left until the Daytona 500, yet Darian Grubb is already “absolutely impressed” with William Byron despite not having been to a track with him yet.

Grubb, 42, was named the crew chief of Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet in November. When the green flag drops on the season in February, it will be the Grubb’s first as a crew chief for a rookie driver.

Grubb appeared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” Thursday to discuss how his Hendrick Motorsports’ team has prepared to help the 20-year-old reigning Xfinity Series champion in his first foray into Cup racing.

“He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve met so far, to be able at that age, have that kind of focus in what he’s trying to do,” Grubb said. “He knows what his goals are and what he wants to accomplish. He’s been a phenomenal talent on the race track, and now from what I’ve seen behind the scenes here in the shop and working with the crew guys and getting to know people, he’s doing everything it’s going to take to make sure he has that performance.”

Byron enters 2018 having won 11 NASCAR races in the last two years – seven victories in the Camping World Truck Series and four in his Xfinity title campaign.

He’s paired with Grubb, who has 23 Cup wins in 295 races as a crew chief, including the 2006 Daytona 500 as an interim crew chief for Jimmie Johnson. Grubb won the 2011 championship as crew chief for Tony Stewart.

Grubb returns full-time to a crew chief role for the first time since 2015 with Carl Edwards at Joe Gibbs Racing. In 2016, he rejoined Hendrick as the vehicle production director. Last August, he was promoted to director of competition systems. In September, he was made the interim crew chief for Kasey Kahne for the final nine races of the year.

Kahne’s No. 5 team has now transformed into the new No. 24 team.

“I’m really excited about getting (Byron) on the race track and kind of let him refocus his efforts towards the track instead of having to do all the preparation and making sure he’s ready and … let him actually enjoy the fruits of that labor,” Grubb said.

That work includes frequent visits to the General Motors simulator located near Charlotte. That mode of preparation is not foreign to Byron, whose racing origins are in iRacing, an online simulator game.

“He’s able to actually take our setups and our race car, our aero performance, suspension settings and all these other things and go testing,” Grubb said. “We can go test there just like we can at a race track. Obviously the feel is not exactly the same, but we are learning some things as we go through.

“He spent enough time in there with the Xfinity program with JR Motorsports and our chassis and everything that we’re very familiar already with his style and what he’s doing. We’re thinking we can apply a lot of these things at the race track.”

While Grubb and his team may be familiar with Byron’s style, they have no “preconceived notions” about what he likes in a Cup car. The fact that Chevrolet is introducing its Camaro model to Cup and there are new ride height rules make deducing that even harder.

“There’s not a lot really that transfers over (from last year),” Grubb told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Everything is kind of fresh and new … We’re kind of putting together in our own heads what we think is best and how we’re going to handle the new ride height rules and the performance of the race car on track. For us, it’s more about we do have a new body, we’ve got to check for fender clearances and the travel of the race car and all those things. Then can we do pit stops once we do that? How do we manage getting tires out of the fenders and everything with the car being so low.”

Byron has five restrictor-plate starts and one win in the last two years. But he’ll arrive at Daytona with new spotter in Tab Boyd.

Boyd joins Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 24 team after previously spotting for Joey Logano.

The pair is already working on their chemistry. Grubb said Byron plans to be on the spotter’s stand with Boyd to watch the Feb. 11 Advance Auto Parts Clash since Byron is not in that exhibition race.

“They’re already going to sit down and review video and just kind of see how those scenarios of runs develop,” Grubb said. “It’s different from what he’s run in Xfinity cars from what we’re going to have in a Cup car. It’s a lot to learn and the more you pick up in the data and what you can see and what you think you can learn, then you can go out there and practice and try to apply those scenarios.”

 

William Byron announces spotter for rookie Cup season

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William Byron announced Tuesday that Tab Boyd will serve as his spotter next year during his rookie season in the Cup Series.

Boyd will spot for Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 24 Chevrolet after having worked with Joey Logano on the No. 22 Ford and with Johnny Sauter in the Camping World Truck Series.

Boyd will be replaced on the No. 22 by TJ Majors, the long-time spotter for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It was also announced that Byron, 19, has signed with sports and entertainment marketing agency, Wasserman.

The company represents 1,600 athletes, including Russell Westbrook, Andrew Luck, Alex Morgan, Giancarlo Stanton and Travis Pastrana. Byron is the only NASCAR driver represented by Wasserman.

High above crowd, spotters play key role in who wins and who doesn’t at restrictor-plate tracks

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STATESVILLE, N.C. – How the word popped up, spotter Joey Meier isn’t sure. Somewhere within his brain, as Meier described the madness around Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford at Talladega Superspeedway in an auctioneer’s call, the word emerged.

Energy.

Meier used the word midway through the May Sprint Cup race to alert Keselowski to a surging line of cars behind him. Keselowski moved to block the lane. Meier kept using the word. Team members began counting. The total reached triple digits.

Meier said energy 11 times in the race’s final two minutes. In sync, Keselowski’s car drifted to block whatever line charged. During the final lap, a 14-second snippet featured this Meier soundtrack:

Energy behind you. Up top. 

Energy up top. Energy up top.

Behind the 18. 24 bottom lane one back. 18 is clear. Two-wide behind him. 18 is clear. One back behind him, two-wide. No energy up top. 

Meier’s fast-paced traffic report helped Keselowski win the most recent restrictor-plate race.

As the series heads to Daytona International Speedway for Saturday night’s race on NBC, the role of spotters again is magnified. Originally employed as a safety feature, spotters have become a strategic element, studying race tape, analyzing pit road and surveying the competition, to give their driver and crew chief insights from above the stands.

It’s little coincidence that eight of the last 10 restrictor-plate races have been won by four drivers. All four — Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Keselowski — have been with their current spotter since at least 2013.

“My spotter is definitely an all-star,’’ Keselowski said. “He’s been part of three of the four Talladega wins (Keselowski has had), and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.’’

BUILDING TRUST

Meier first started spotting for Keselowski in 2006, and T.J. Majors has been Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s spotter since 2007. That familiarity is important to a driver.

“You get to working with the same guy for a long time and you sort of get to where you speak the same language and he knows what you want and don’t want,’’ said Earnhardt, who won last July’s Daytona race, leading 96 of 161 laps. “As a driver, it just gives you confidence having somebody that you trust and believe in and you know is going to give you good information. You can drive the car with more confidence.’’

It often takes time to get to that point. Eddie D’Hondt was Jeff Gordon’s spotter from 2012-15. He guided Gordon to a record fifth Brickyard 400 win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Gordon’s 93rd and final triumph last fall at Martinsville Speedway during that time. This season, D’Hondt is rookie Chase Elliott’s spotter, a role D’Hondt also performed when Elliott was in the Xfinity Series.

Still, there have been challenges meshing, especially in restrictor-plate races where so much happens at once.

D’Hondt admits it took about 10 restrictor-plate races to “click” with Gordon and that didn’t come until they watched tape together. D’Hondt said that he and Elliott “really didn’t click at all” during the qualifying race in February at Daytona. They discussed what could be better afterward.

Two days later, Elliott won the Xfinity race after he jumped to the top lane to block a line of cars off Turn 2 and held off Joey Logano at the finish line. Elliott called that experience a big “trust-building day” with D’Hondt.

It’s not easy for a driver to hear a different voice in his ear. Regan Smith joined Tommy Baldwin Racing a month before the Daytona 500. He had never worked with spotter Doug Campbell until Daytona. They watched tape ahead of time so Smith could hear Campbell call certain situations.

“You know pretty fast how aggressive you can be with a spotter and how aggressive they’re going to be with you, so by the time we got done with the (qualifying race), I knew kind of where his aggressive points were and where they weren’t,’’ Smith said. “We sat down after the (qualifying race) and said, ‘Hey … this could be a little different, this was really good. You almost know as a driver if it is going to work with a spotter pretty quick.’’

PAINT A PICTURE

There are numerous challenges and many things drivers want from their eye in the sky. It’s not so easy.

“He’s got to paint a picture in my mind what is going on back there,’’ said 2015 Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano of spotter Tab Boyd. “You got to collect all the data before you make a decision. If you’re not getting all the data, you’re going to make poor decisions.

“I think about that when I’m up there (on the spotters’ stand) watching races. I act like I’m spotting a car sometimes. Most of the times … it’s ‘Oh my God, look out!’ That’s what it would it be if I spotted. That’s why I don’t spot. They’re good at it.’’

Billy O’Dea, now Paul Menard‘s spotter, was Kevin Harvick’s spotter for years before Harvick left Richard Childress Racing for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. One of O’Dea’s proudest moments came when Harvick nipped Jamie McMurray to win at Talladega in April 2010.

During practice that weekend, O’Dea watched Gordon make a late move along the frontstretch to beat Jeff Burton to the finish line. It showed O’Dea where the winning move needed to be made and he told Harvick that.

On the final lap of that race, Harvick was second, pushing McMurray. In turn 4, O’Dea radioed Harvick:

“You know what you’ve got to do.’’

With the start/finish line beyond the tri-oval at Talladega, there was still a long way to go. Harvick started to make his move off Turn 4. O’Dea stopped him.

“Not yet. Just keep coming. You’ll get him.’’

As Harvick went through the tri-oval, O’Dea was like a jockey telling his horse what was needed.

Stay on him … Go!

Harvick cut to the left, got inside McMurray and won by 11-thousandths of a second.

After screaming on the radio, Harvick said: “That played out to the T.’’

TROPHIES AND TROUBLE

Trophies adorn Meier’s office at the hanger for Brad Keselowski’s plane. Meier, a pilot, can look around and see all the success he’s had with Keselowski.

Still, Meier’s mind flashes back to a time he made a mistake and the consequences.

“I can instantly remember wrecking Robert Richardson at Talladega,’’ Meier said of an Xfinity incident years ago. “It’s one of those things that we carry with us. (Spotters) are important and our mistakes are magnified at these restrictor-plate races.’’

As he thinks about the incident, he sees Richardson on the inside of another car in Turn 4.

“I was being real aggressive,’’ Meier said. “We were coming around the corner and we were on the bottom and we had momentum. I figured the momentum was going to clear us and we didn’t and we stalled out. By the time I said ‘clear high’ we had stalled and he came up to get in that lane and we just wiped out five or six cars.’’

Afterward, Meier went to the garage and apologized to Richardson and the crew chief.

“You know for that split-second, even though the driver trusted you, that you broke his trust,’’ Meier said. “What it taught me, after that incident … I’ll tell Brad this all the time, I won’t tell you where you can go more than I will tell you can’t go. If I’m saying outside and you think it’s clear, go out there, but I won’t tell you clear unless I know it’s clear. That’s what I learned.’’

Sometimes, the difference between winning or a good day and failing to finish can be one call from a spotter, especially when cars run inches apart at Daytona and Talladega.

For such lessons, though, there can be rewards. D’Hondt thinks back to when Keselowski had to win at Talladega during the 2014 Chase to advance and did so.

“I went to Joey (Meier) after the race and you would have thought someone had handed him a million dollars because he made the difference,’’ D’Hondt said. “I understand that. It’s very rewarding.’’

It can be if one can handle all the stress.