Ford Performance NASCAR: Rodney Childers Hoping For Another New Hampshire Win

RODNEY CHILDERS, Crew Chief, No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang – WHY DO YOU THINK KEVIN IS SO GOOD AT NHMS?  “Yeah, New Hampshire was always one of those places for me that I enjoyed and, honestly, I always had fast cars there before coming to Stewart-Haas.  To go there with him, we’ve missed it a little bit in the spring race in 2014 and we decided to use one of our tests in ‘14 to go back there for the fall race and we spent two days up there and I don’t think a test could have gone any better.  We learned a ton those two days and ended up leaving that test feeling like we were pretty much lights out, and everybody that was there with us we were a half-second a lap faster than all those guys.  We went back and we pretty much, with the old car, had the same four springs in it since that test in 2014.  We haven’t changed any shocks.  We haven’t changed any springs or hardly anything and we’ve been able to go through a lot of different rule changes and different aero packages and be able to adapt and make it work over these last eight years.  We just found something that worked for us and we’ve stuck to it and kind of made it better.  The key this year will be switching over to the Next Gen car and hopefully figure out what makes it go fast and hopefully some of those things that we’ve learned in the past will adapt to the new car and we’ll go up there and have some speed.”


WHAT IS THE LOBSTER STORY ABOUT THE ONE YOU HAD AT THE START?  “Kevin had the first one and I think that was when Keelan was still pretty small and he ended up breaking the arms off of it one day, and then mine – one of the dogs accidentally chewed on it a little bit one day.  The other one is actually sitting right here behind me.  One of them is still sitting in my office, so that way nobody messes it up.”


DO YOU FEEL LIKE WITH THE NEXT GEN CAR THAT IT WILL BE THE SAME AT NEW HAMPSHIRE?  “It won’t be the same, but if you look at the places like that – at Phoenix in the spring we had a really good car and ran right up front all day and had a shot of winning.  We lined up on the front row with the 14 on the last restart and Richmond we ran good all day and was fastest in the first round of qualifying and then ran up front and finished second to the 11.  So, if you look at those types of tracks, those are the ones we’ve actually been the best at.  Those are the ones he’s felt the most comfortable at with this car and even going to the simulator with him today, he hit the ground running.  You can just tell the places he’s comfortable with.  He’s made thousands and thousands of laps without the track being changed or things being different and he knows where every crack and every little seam and all that stuff is and how to manipulate the car and all that.  Those are big keys for us right now is that kind of stuff – going back to these places that he’s got a ton of confidence at and hopefully we can capitalize on that.”


FROM WHAT YOU CAN TELL IS THIS GOING TO RACE MORE LIKE GATEWAY OR PHOENIX?  WHAT TRACKS THAT YOU’VE BEEN TO ARE YOU USING TO PREPARE?  “I think both of those are key tracks.  I think Gateway, Phoenix, Richmond and even a little bit of Martinsville I would throw in there, just with the shifting and all that.  The paper clip shape of the track and how tight the corners are and how much shifting is gonna be going on.  To me, it’s gonna be extremely hard to pass.  It’s gonna be a lot like Martinsville in a way and you’re gonna be shifting a good bit.  It just depends what the pace ends up being and what the grip level is like when we get there, whether you’re gonna be shifting once in each corner or twice in each corner.  That will be key to figure out during practice and going forward, but all of those places are tools that we can use and notes that we can use throughout the year and hopefully all that will play a big key for us and go there and unload good.”


DO YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT THIS WEEKEND THEN?  “We were fast and ran up front all day at Phoenix and we were fast and ran up front all day at Richmond.  Gateway, we had a pretty good car.  I think our car was better than what it showed.  We qualified bad and had a hard time passing cars, but our teammate with the 14 was really fast all weekend and led some laps before blowing the left-rear tire, so we feel good about what we’ve got and what we’re taking and probably the most confident we’ve been in a good while.”


HOW HAS THE NEW PIT CREW DONE SINCE THE CHANGES WERE MADE?  “That part has gone great.  I think when you do things like that you really don’t know how it’s gonna turn out and those guys had one practice before we went to Nashville and they ended up P1 for the day at Nashville with only one practice together.  Every single race since then they’ve done a great job and have kept things clean and smooth and some of that is key right now.  You just have to not have the disasters.  You don’t necessarily have to be perfect every time.  You don’t have to be the fastest every time, but you don’t want to have those disasters during the race.  They’ve done a really good job of that and they’re all getting along really well, and with the road crew that’s key also.  Everything has been smooth with those guys so far and hopefully we can keep it that way.”


DO YOU GUYS HAVE A NEXT GEN CAR FOR PIT CREW PRACTICE TO WORK ON MAKING SURE WHEELS DON’T FALL OFF DURING THE RACES?  “Yeah, I think all of the big teams do at this point.  We all have Next Gen cars with the right suspension, the right parts and all the right stuff on there to be able to mimic exactly what we do every week.  For us, we have one person that is in charge of that car.  The setup gets changed every week to exactly what’s going to the racetrack – the heights, the cambers, everything about it is changed to exactly what’s going to the track, so it jacks the same, it pits the same and all that stuff.  I think if you’re gonna do things right, that’s the only way you can do it, but I think all the big teams are to that point of trying to mimic exactly what they’re doing at the racetrack.”


HOW WOULD YOU GRADE YOUR TEAM’S PERFORMANCE THIS YEAR?  “It’s definitely not been what we want, for sure.  For our team, we’re expected to go out there and win eight or nine races a year and when you don’t do that it’s a huge disappointment.  To come off of last year and not be able to capitalize there, you want to go into this new car and come out with a bang and I think we’ve all see that we obviously haven’t been able to do that and it’s taken a lot of adjustment from a memory standpoint, whether it’s driver, crew chief, road crew – everybody involved – it’s just trying to get our hands and arms wrapped around it and figure it out and go out there and compete, but, overall, I think you’ve also seen a wide variety of people winning.  Maybe last year we would have never thought there could be 16 winners going into the playoffs, but this year it could happen.  The guys that think they’re safe right now might not be safe, so it could definitely change a lot.  There’s a lot of racing left.  I keep looking at the calendar and I’m like, ‘Man,’ I know the races are kind of counting down, but you look at those races and for a crew chief you look at how those races play out – what happens in those races, whether it comes down to restarts or pit stops, tire strategy or these road courses anything can happen.  You just have to keep focused and keep plugging away and hopefully get better and we do feel like we’ve gotten better and better.  The road course stuff and going to Road America is a little bit of a struggle for us, but I think we finished about 30th there last year so to finish 10th was a huge improvement for us.  To be able to qualify bad and move up the whole day was important, but I think the key was Nashville and being able to run with the good cars all night and having a really good race.  I hope that was a turning point for us and we can keep moving forward from there.”


WHAT HAS SURPRISED YOU THE MOST ABOUT THE NEXT GEN CAR THIS YEAR?  “I don’t know that I’ve honestly been that surprised about many things.  I feel like most of it has gone exactly how I thought it was gonna go, even down to specific racetracks and how it was gonna race.  I can’t say that I’ve been too surprised about any of it.  Even the wheels coming off and all that.  That was something we talked about last November and December of how all that was gonna go and how many times it’s gonna happen, so I think all of it has kind of gone to plan for me and what I had in my head.  The only thing that hasn’t gone to plan is us going to victory lane, so we’ve got to get our hands around that and get focused on that and hopefully do that soon.”


THE LOBSTER IS THE TROPHY THIS WEEKEND.  DO YOU ENJOY LOBSTER?  “I don’t eat a lot of lobster.  I love it, but most of the time I look at the menu and see how expensive it is and I just go for something cheap, but I’m probably a once a year lobster guy.  I like it all different ways, but most of those lobsters are about 20 percent of what we get handed in victory lane.  Those are a little bit massive and was that Denny a few years ago that was scared to death to even hold it?  But, overall, I love lobster.”


WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR?  “For us, our expectation is to win a race in these next five races and put ourselves in the playoffs and kind of get our stuff together and be ready for the playoffs.  Maybe we haven’t been the strongest all year, but you’ve seen that year after year that people have been able to get it together at the end of the year and come on strong and I know the guys here at the shop are working hard.  All of the people at Ford and the engine shop have really made some good gains and I feel like we’re definitely headed in the right direction.  I think, for us, it’s just hitting on it every week.  You don’t have those notebooks of 20 years of those things I was talking about at Loudon that have worked for us for eight years straight.  You have to come up with what’s gonna work that particular weekend and hopefully that stuff just keeps playing out week by week.  We have learned a lot and hopefully we can start contending every week and have some more shots at winning some races.”


WHAT TRACK ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THE MOST IN THE REST OF THE REGULAR SEASON?  “Honestly, I think this weekend is probably my favorite.  We’ve worked really hard and to have four races there as a crew chief and he’s got four as a driver and we’ve got three together, so hopefully we can go and do the things that we’re used to doing up there and qualify well and have a good pit stall and be there all day long.  I think some of it is gonna come down to pit stops and track position and hopefully we can do those things the best that we can and be right there with them at the end.”


CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE GOOD MEMORIES YOU HAVE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE?  “It’s always been a great place for us and just a lot of confidence every time you go there and sometimes confidence is key.  You’ve seen that with us going to Bristol every year.  That Bristol Night Race has always meant a lot to me and Kevin will tell you a million times that it seems like Rodney works harder when it comes Bristol Night Race time.  Maybe I do.  Maybe I don’t, but it really just comes down to confidence more than anything.  Every time we’ve gone there we’ve been fast.  We have four wins, but you look at the ones that we didn’t win.  We completely dominated one race in ‘14 and one race in ‘15 and ran out of gas on the white flag lap of both of them.  And then there were other ones in there too that we probably could have won also.  I mean, it could be seven or eight as much as it could be four, so just a lot of confidence and like I was talking about I think the places like this are key for Kevin.  I think going there and it’s the same racing surface.  It’s not something that has changed recently.  It’s not a new road course.  It’s not something he has to learn all over again, and I think it fits his driving style too in a way that he wants to get around the racetrack.  I think that will be good for us.  I think just that place in general is a lot of fun.  The weather is always pretty good.  I know some years it wants to rain, but, overall, it’s nice and cool and it’s a good change from burning up down here for sure.”


WHAT HAS THE DYNAMIC BEEN LIKE AS THE CREW CHIEF WITH AN OLD-SCHOOL RACING BACKGROUND TACKLING THIS NEW CAR WITH A BUNCH OF SPECIFICALLY CHANGED ENGINEERS?  WHERE DO YOU GUYS MEET WORKING ON THIS CAR AND HOW HAS IT CHANGED FROM LAST YEAR?  “You’ve kind of hit it on the head there.  Maybe a guy that’s fresh out of school comes in and thinks that this car is perfectly normal and the same stuff that he studied in college and is just gung-ho about working on it and all those things.  For somebody that’s been in the Cup Series for 20 years and has built their own cars and sit there and cut quarter panels off and replace them, and fenders off and replaced them, and changed this and changed that – just detail cars to death every single week it’s tough.  Mentally, it’s tough and you’re just trying to figure out what do I work on and your whole pace of things each week has changed this year.  Your whole layout of everything that you’ve done for 20 years is different, so I’m not gonna say that I can’t do it.  I definitely can do it, it’s just different and your mind has to kind of get trained to that.  For me, I have great engineers that I’ve kind of been around for a long time and we all believe in each other and we went through good things and bad things this year, but we’ve made all those decisions together.  None of us have pointed fingers and said that you screwed this up or I screwed that up.  We’ve tried to do the best that we can do every week and it’s not been from a lack of effort.  Everybody has worked extremely hard and all of us are trying to get it sorted out and put Kevin back in victory lane where he deserves to be.”


WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST HURDLE FOR YOU ABOUT WHAT THIS CAR CAN AND CAN’T DO?  “For me, it’s really the simple things.  For somebody that’s fresh out of college they would think that the independent suspension in the back was simple, moving this mount to this position or this spacer to this position is gonna do this to the geometry in the rear of different things, whether it’s anti-dive or whether it’s anti-squat or jacking or all those different things you can do.  For me, all that stuff was truck arms and a track bar.  I knew exactly what to do and when to do it.  I knew what each track needed from that standpoint and those things are consistent with the old car too, but you had that long history and you had that confidence of what to change and what to do.  With this new car, I would have to go ask my engineer, ‘Can you put a little bit more anti-dive in the right-front or can you put some more anti-squat in the right-rear?’  And then he’s got to make that change of where this spacer needs to go and where this mount needs to go and all those kinds of things to where before it was kind of all on me and I would tell them exactly where to move things and how to do it.  So, some of that has been probably the biggest thing for me in learning about the shocks.  The shocks are just so much different.  For somebody like me I built shocks back in the day and I went through that and knew every little detail about them and the new stuff is all built the same pretty much and you just turn the screws where you want every week and the same goes with the notes with shocks.  These shocks always worked at this track and these shocks always worked at that track, and it doesn’t matter anymore.  You just need to forget about that stuff and worry about the new car, so I think just those simple things with the race car, those are the things that I’ve had to get my arms around the most and understand the most and I feel like we’re finally getting to that point where we’ve got our arms around it and we can keep moving forward.”


WHAT’S YOUR GRADE WITH THE NEXT GEN CAR SO FAR?  “I think you all know me good enough that if you’re not winning, you suck.  My grade right now is a D.  We need to be doing a lot better and our guys, like I said earlier, have worked really hard and it’s not been from a lack of effort, but we need to be winning races and doing the things that we’re supposed to be.”


WE OFTEN SEE SPLIT PIT STRATEGIES AT THIS RACE.  CAN YOU TAKE ME THROUGH THE DECISION-MAKING OF THAT ASPECT AND WEIGHING TRACK POSITION VERSUS TIRES OR GETTING OFF A CERTAIN GROUP OF CARS?  “Even with the old car it was a little bit that way.  You look at the race that we won with Brian (Vickers), it was on a different pit strategy, which split things up there.  I pitted before everybody else and kind of rode around saving tires until the next caution came out and everybody else pitted and we stayed out and pretty much led the rest of the race.  You look at the one with Kevin a few years ago, where we stayed out and was able to hold them off and that really comes down to somebody that has had a really good car all day, but has never gotten to show it.  They’ve either been stuck in traffic and haven’t been able to pass and they haven’t been able to pass and they’ve never gotten track position or they’ve had bad pit stops – those types of things.  Those situations are still gonna happen and it all depends on whether those cautions fly at the right time or not.  And then you have other guys that unload off the truck that are dominant in practice.  They qualify well.  They have a good pit stall and they stay in the top two or three the entire race and have dominant cars, and sometimes, like the last one we won, we didn’t have the dominant won and the guy that finished second had run up front all day long.  So, no matter what you’re gonna have that at Loudon and I think the shifting part of it is kind of gonna exaggerate some of that.  I think you can kind of park it in the middle of the corner and still get off the corner because you’re able to shift like that.  Before, you had one guy.  We’ve always been able to kind of free roll off of both pedals better than everybody else and if you can free roll two miles an hour faster through the center it just ends up being a better race car and more lap time, and now you can be two miles an hour slower through the middle of the corner and still beat the guy off the corner behind you and he doesn’t have a prayer.  That’s where I think it’s gonna change is how much does that affect the racing.  Is there multiple lanes?  From what we’ve seen the car doesn’t really work very good down on that very bottom lane.  It gets kind of messed up with the rear geometry the way it is, so I think you’re gonna see everybody in that second and third lane and pushing it up as high as you can in the center.  You’ll just have to see.  I could be completely wrong.  It could be two-wide racing all day and it could be the best short track race we’ve had all year, so we’ll just have to go from there and see what happens.”


DO THE CAUTIONS HELP OR HURT A CREW CHIEF’S STRATEGY?  “I’ve enjoyed that side of it.  It gives you a lot of opportunity.  You look at this last week at Atlanta and we were able to do things to just place him up front three different times.  We didn’t have a car that could run up there, but we were able to place him up there and have a shot.  If you can do that at Loudon, it’s gonna be that much better.  It gives you a lot of opportunity.  There have been other tracks that I’ve died for a caution to come out and we come in and put tires on and we can’t pass anybody back, so we’ll just have to see how the tire wear is and how long the runs are.  It seems like we’ve kind of got longer runs there over the years than we have at maybe some of these other places.  If it turns into a race like Richmond or has got really long runs, you’ve got to have a car that can hang in there and be good on the long run.  You can’t have tire issues, so this one could go either way.  It could have caution after caution or it could go long and get spread out and really just come out to rolling and turning the corner good.  Hopefully, it might turn into that.  I think that might be our best case, but we’ll see when we get there.”


WHAT ONE TRACK WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MAYBE COME OFF THE SCHEDULE?  “It’s hard to say.  The one that hurts my heart the most is putting dirt on Bristol, just because I love it so much.  Bristol is a completely incredible racetrack and I’m perfectly fine with running dirt somewhere, I just don’t want to do it at Bristol.  I want to have those two shots at Bristol every year.  On the other side of it, I completely understand.  It’s been a good show every time we’ve done it and been a great race and the fans have loved it, so I’m good with that too.  There’s not many that I just despise.  I think all of them are OK.  I’ve kind of been on that bandwagon of maybe some of them don’t need two show every year, but it seems like all of them have done really well this year.  The fans have showed up and supported us and done all the things that we want to do as a sport.  It’s hard for me to pick out one that I would just completely throw out at this point.”


WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST PET PEEVE?  “Just details.  I can’t stand somebody that wants to halfway do anything.  Anybody that knows me, it doesn’t matter if I’m on vacation or where I’m at, I’m cleaning or doing something or making something better as much as possible.  To me, it’s unacceptable to do anything halfway.  I’ve been so fortunate to be here with people that believe in me and the guys on the 4 team have that same expectation and I don’t have to preach it.  They’ve known for nine years and they all have the same outlook and same desire to be good and you can normally come look at our pit box at Phoenix at the end of the year and it looks exactly like it did in February when it got to Daytona and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  It’s not supposed to look ratted out or like it’s been used up.  You’ve got to keep your stuff nice and take nice cars to the racetrack.  You can’t be perfect, but you can certainly try to.”

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