LAS VEGAS, Nev. ? If you accept the consensus among NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers and crew chiefs, the new competition package introduced this year for the Gen-6 race car provides more latitude with setups and heightened adjustability.
According to six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson, that also makes it more complicated.
And communication between driver and crew chief remains critically important.
"The one thing that we have found right now with the ride heights like they are and the options you can run for springs ? you can make a change to a spring in the car and affect your ride heights and completely change the way the geometry works in the car," Johnson said Friday, prior to the weekend's first Sprint Cup Series practice at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"As you look at it initially, you think 'OK, this will free the car up.' You send it onto the race track, you come back you are plowing tight. It's like 'Wait a second. What's going on?' You have to look three or four layers deeper to understand the way everything works together and they are like 'Oh, I see, it changed ride heights, which changed this, now I see why the car is tight.'"
Accordingly, the interlocking nature of variables in the setup makes the crew chief's job more difficult.
"There are more steps involved with making a decision now," Johnson said. "I feel like communication still is key, but the thought process on the pit box is more important than it's ever been, because a simple change affects more things now."
NO HOME GAME
Kyle Busch is a Las Vegas native, but that doesn't guarantee a warm reception from fans at LVMS for the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
"This is a vacation destination for a lot of race fans, so there are a lot of out-of-towners that do come here," said Busch, whose talent and brash demeanor have aroused the passions of fans both for and against him. "It's not 100,000 from Las Vegas will be sitting in these grandstands.
"I'll bet you it's like 20 or 30 [thousand], but it's just part of the deal. Plus, I'll tell you this ? when I was coming up through the ranks, I won a lot and probably won too much and didn't make very many friends. So I'm not sure I have many pulling for me anyway, because I kicked their butt too much."
Matt Kenseth and wife Katie have a third daughter on the way, due in about three weeks.
The driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota hasn't lined up a relief driver, as Paul Menard has done this weekend. Reigning NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton will drive for Menard if wife Jennifer Menard goes into labor this weekend with the couple's first child.
Last week, Paul Wolfe, Brad Keselowski's crew chief, missed the Sprint Cup race in Phoenix after flying home to witness the birth of his son, Caden Paul Wolfe.
Kenseth has another solution for his wife's impending blessed event.
Asked whether he had a backup plan, Kenseth quipped, "Not really. I just told her to have her on a Monday."
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