Justin Alexander’s Speedweeks Blog

FEBRUARY 20, 2015

Justin Alexander begins his first full season as crew chief of the No. 27 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Menards Chevrolet team. He will share his experiences of the week with RCRracing.com talking about what has been done, and his plans ahead as we near the “Great American Race” on Sunday.

 

February 22, 2015:
Morning of the Daytona 500

Well, here we are – the day of the Daytona 500. All the hard work leading up to this moment will be put to use and, hopefully, be worth it on lap 200 when the checkered flag waves.

I slept pretty good last night. Before going to sleep, I went over my car and race notes for today. Also played through a few scenarios in my head so I’ll be prepared if those happen.

I spent a large part of the morning with the car and Menards team. They are all great at what they do and I just wanted to work with them in getting the car ready for today.022015-justin-alexander-speedweeks-blog_article-1
I’ll have a team meeting before the race and go over everything with both the pit crew about pit stops, and behind-the-wall guys to make sure we’re all on the same page today.

I’ll talk with them about our race strategy and how we’ll handle different situations that might happen in the race. I will also go over the new pit road rules to make sure we don’t make any mistakes there.

I’ll get together with Paul and discuss our race strategy, how we’re going to handle pit stops throughout the race and what he can expect.

And, most importantly, I’m going to thank everyone for their dedication and efforts getting ready for this race. Not only in the shop, but here at Daytona all during Speedweeks.

Now, it’s time to go race.

February 20, 2015:
Friday Practice Sessions

The car ran well in the Duel on Thursday night, but I feel like we were lacking a little bit of speed. So we took the first session today and tried a few things during some single-car runs.

We found out some information that’s going to help us on Sunday, so that made me pretty happy. The first practice is the only we went out for because we just needed to make a few runs to test out slight adjustments.

Final practice takes place on Saturday and we’re only going to make a few runs in some small packs of drafting to make sure everything is ready to go for the Daytona 500.

February 19, 2015:
Whew – Made It Through Our Duel

Thursday night was the most nervous I have ever been for a race in my entire life. It’s also the most nerve racking race I’ve ever been a part of, as well. Not just as a new crew chief to the No. 27 Menards Chevrolet team, but in general because of all that’s at stake in the Duel 150s.

We aren’t guaranteed a spot in the Daytona 500 unless you finish in the top 15 of the race. Paul could’ve made the 500 based on last year’s owner points, but we didn’t want to leave it to that and preferred to race our way into it.

Our race was wild. Paul ran in the middle of a three-wide pack and the top in some side-by-side racing, as well. He’s always seemed to have some type of bad luck when it comes to restrictor plate racing, and that’s what I wanted to avoid on Thursday night.

I was just on edge during the entire race. Matter of fact, I got worse as the race went on and we neared the checkered flag. When it was over, it was a big relief because we were in one piece and made the Daytona 500.022015-justin-alexander-speedweeks-blog_article-3

I was pretty happy how the race went for us, but I wasn’t ecstatic with the finish we ended up with of 11th place. Like I said bef
ore, our goal for the Duel was to earn a finish of 15th place or better to lock in for the race. We did that, so that’s a good thing.

As a team, we laid out a strategy beforehand to utilize during the 60-lap event. It worked out pretty good and we were able to use a lot of what we planned. That’s not always the case at a place like Daytona.

When the caution came out, I knew we were cutting it pretty close to take fuel. So, that yellow flag actually helped us out as were able to pit, make some minor adjustments and load up on fuel. The other cautions really helped us out in making it to the finish.

February 19, 2015:
Day of the Duels

We are not going to partake in the final practice session they have on the schedule. Like I said, we made it through Wednesday’s practices and know we have a good car for our Duel 150.

Our goals for the race are to make it through in one piece and finish in one of the top-15 positions. That way, we are then locked in for the Daytona 500 and our starting spot is confirmed.

We are going to try and make it through the race with one pit stop and we might take two tires, we might not take any tires. We’re starting 12th and they get strung out single file style during the race. The plan is to ride safe and not get crazy running side-by-side or even three wide.

We’re going to try and stay in the front part of the running order because the problems seem to take place in the middle and back end of the pack. But, we’ll see how that all plays out in tonight’s race. Like I said before, we always have a pre-race plan. Getting to execute that plan at Daytona seems to be an issue.

February 18, 2015:
Wednesday Practices

Our main goals for the two practice sessions was to make sure our car was still good all over, and not to get caught up in any wrecks. Last year, we wrecked our Daytona 500 primary car and had to go to the back up.

We already tore up one car in the Sprint Unlimited and I didn’t want to tear up another one this week. This time leading up to the Duel 150s is pretty tense because you just want to make it to tonight’s race with your Daytona 500 primary car. So, we accomplished our goals in that respect.
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February 15, 2015:
Qualifying Day

I am not a fan of this format at superspeedways. RCR, as a whole, had a plan and it didn’t quite work out the way we wanted. It has nothing to do with how fast your car is, but everything to do with catching the right draft out there. We didn’t catch the right draft, so we were 25th on the chart and didn’t get to advance to the second round of qualifying. By the way, we missed that by 2/100ths of a second.
I hate to say this, but I kind of expected not to make it to the second round because anything can happen in this type of qualifying format. If I was in charge, I would go back to single-car qualifying, but then impound the cars until Duel night. Or, I would make everyone run five laps and then take their average speeds to determine the line-up for the Duel 150s.

February 14, 2015:
Great Start, Not so Good Ending

Going into the race itself, I was actually not as nervous as I had been last year in those final four races. I don’t know if it was because I had those races under my belt, or because it is a non-points race. I was pretty nervous for the start of those four races last year, but that wasn’t the case last Saturday night.

I was really happy with how we were doing in the beginning of the race. Paul was running up front, he had good speed in the car and led some laps. We got shuffled back at one point, but Paul was able to start driving his way back up to the front. I was happy when he did that because other cars didn’t seem able to do that like we were doing.

I was a little nervous because we had a lot of strategies in place of how we wanted things to play out for us. When the caution came out for a wreck just before the lap-25 competition caution, it was a breath of fresh air because I knew everyone had to pit now.

We came in to pit road in ninth place and had a great stop putting on two right-side tires and sent Paul back out there in second place for the restart. It was good knowing we didn’t have to pit for the rest of the race now.

I knew we had a great car and Paul had the talent to win the race. The next 15 laps were pretty good as we ran up front, but in typical Daytona fashion we ended up getting shuffled back. When you’re racing mid-pack lined up in two- and three-wide racing, you can pretty much count on something happening.

Sure enough, the No. 1 car got sideways in front of us and Paul made a move to the inside and just caught the back end enough to cause him to spin. From there, it was just hang on for dear life as he took seven shots during the multi-car wreck until the No. 27 Chevy came to a stop.

I was glad Paul was okay, but it was disheartening because I knew our night was over and we had a really good car. But, we did learn a few things on pit road that we are going to use for the rest of Speedweeks.

February 13, 2015:
On the Pole!

We can’t really take any credit for this pole, it was all luck of the draw. They had all 25 crew chiefs meet in the FANZONE and we were partnered with a fan for the drawing of starting positions. When it was our turn, there were eight positions left and one of those was still the pole.

The 12-year-old I was matched with had on clothing from a competitor. I, of course, gave him a mild hard time about that before we did the draw. He said why he liked who he liked, but that he did have “a little something” for Paul Menard.

When he pulled the pole position out, I tossed my arms in the air and acted like I was going to walk off the stage. I did that in partial disbelief because we were going to have to start first, and in partial celebration because we were getting to start first.

Starting on the pole means you have nothing to gain because you’re already in first, but you have everything to lose. It also means everyone else in the race is targeting to pass you.
The guys on the team were happy.

February 12, 2015:
In or Out for the Sprint Unlimited?

When we first started our planning for this year’s Daytona Speedweeks, the Menards Chevrolet team was not in the Sprint Unlimited. Then, some teams started to bail out of it because they didn’t have the time or funding to build another car for the exhibition race.

Not being in it is a good, and bad, thing for our team. Not being in it meant we didn’t have to worry about building a car for the race and adding more man hour efforts to the race. Then when I found out we were going to be in the race, I had some positive and negative thoughts.022015-justin-alexander-speedweeks-blog_article-4

The only negative is that it adds workload to all the guys. But, at the same time, I felt it was going to be a great chance for the No. 27 team to have a warm-up race with no points on the line.

It ended up being more of a positive thing than negative. Any race at Daytona is a big race because it is not like all the other tracks we go to each week on the schedule.

Being this was my first race of the year as the team’s crew chief, I was both excited and nervous for the Sprint Unlimited.

February 11, 2015:
Heading to Daytona Speedweeks

So, here it is, my first Daytona Speedweeks as the crew chief for Paul Menard and the No. 27 Menards Chevrolet team for Richard Childress Racing. I had four races under my belt as the crew chief in 2014 but this is a little different now as we start the 2015 season.

We kept most of the team intact, so that helped me out with knowing who the guys are and what they can do. But, it is also my first time in Daytona as a crew chief after being an engineer last season.

Once we got down here, everything just started to fall in place with the practices and on-track routine. The only difference for me is the final decisions are on me for all that we do on the car and on the track.

I am actually welcoming the challenge because I like being the one to make those decisions. The team keys off your emotions, so you have to be a leader in the sense of setting the tone for them and having them believe in what we are trying to achieve.