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From the Pit Box - Ernie Cope at Kentucky Speedway

Ernie Cope has been with Richard Childress Racing since 2012 as crew chief for the No. 33 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. That year, the Tacoma, Washington native guided six different drivers to a fifth-place showing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Owner’s Points standings on the strength of two wins, 16 top-fives, 24 top-10s, two pole awards and 1,207 laps led.

He’s been part of the NASCAR landscape since 1996 serving as a crew chief for Geoff Bodine in the Truck Series. He enjoyed his most success as a crew chief at Kevin Harvick, Inc. starting in 2008. During his four-year tenure, he led KHI to its first Nationwide and Truck series wins, and when they closed shop he left with five victories in NNS and nine in Trucks.

This year, the cousin of 1990 Daytona 500 champion Derrike Cope once again has his hands full with eight different drivers and Cope’s Great Eight Club has produced two wins, nine top five and 12 top-10 finishes.

Q: How do you set the No. 33 Chevrolet up for Kentucky Speedway?
The biggest battle you have at Kentucky is the various bumps around the track. It is very important to set up our Chevrolet so it handles through the corners, but also doesn’t start to slide all over the place because of those bumps. They aren’t too much of a problem in the straightaways, but if they get the car bouncing too much in the turns it can cause it to go more sideways than is needed.

Q: How does the track change during the race?
Kentucky usually gets loose at night so you’d like to have your changes all set to go as the sun goes down and the track cools. The air temperature also drops and it causes you to watch changes in tire pressures and how the motor reacts to the cooler conditions, as well. I like night racing, it’s fun and exciting and there seems to be a different attitude amongst everyone around the track.

Q: What are the keys to success at this track?
The keys to success at Kentucky change throughout the night. In the beginning, you just want to make sure the car goes over the bumps okay and the car isn’t loose into the turns. But, you still want the car to turn through there and handle the bumps. As the race goes on, the track starts to loosen up. We have to have our tire pressures and pit strategy ready to go because they will change as the race goes towards the checkered flag. The major key to success for this is going to be – race to the end and earn those two spots we left out there last time when it rained. (Matt Crafton finished third in his Nationwide Series debut earlier this year at Kentucky)

Q: What is your favorite memory from Kentucky Speedway?

Oh, that’s easy because it’s still fresh in my mind. It was the last time we were here in the spring. It was Matt Crafton’s debut in the Nationwide Series, he was fast in both practices, didn’t qualify quite where we wanted to and he did everything he could to make up for it in the race. He led laps, ran in the top-five all night and just did a great job. But, this time we’re going to go there with the attitude we’re getting those two other spots, race to the end and take home the trophy. So, that would be a new favorite memory, wouldn’t it? But, for now, it was the last time we were here and everyone on this No. 33 Rheem/Menards Chevrolet team did a great job.

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