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August 1, 2013

From the Pit Box - Ernie Cope on Iowa Speedway

Crew chief Ernie Cope discusses racing at Iowa Speedway and the series debut of Ryan Gifford

Ernie Cope has been with Richard Childress Racing since 2012 as crew chief for the No. 33 Chevrolet. That year, the Tacoma, Wash., native had six different driver’s behind the wheel en route 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 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He enjoyed most of his 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. Before moving to RCR Cope left with five Nationwide victories and nine Truck wins.

This year, the cousin of 1990 Daytona 500 champion Derrike Cope once again has his hands full with seven different drivers, to date, and Cope’s Seven Club has produced one win, six top five and seven top-10 finishes. This weekend, he’ll add his eighth driver to the mix with the NASCAR Nationwide Series debut of Ryan Gifford in the No. 33 Rheem/Menards Chevrolet at Iowa Speedway.

Q: How do you set the car up for Iowa Speedway?
A: “Setting the car up for this .875-mile track is a kind of tricky. Because it’s not a 1.5-mile track, which we race on the most, you can only use some of what you put in the car for those tracks. And, it’s not a one-mile track like Phoenix. So, you have to take a little bit from each of those set ups to get what you need for Iowa. If I was to pick a track’s set-up most like what we’ll use this weekend, I’d have to go with the one we used to use at Nashville.”

Q: How does the track change during the race?
A:
“We are racing under the lights this weekend and that causes you to have your adjustments ready for the beginning, middle and end of a race. Depending on how hot it gets, the adjustments can be more involved. If the air temps stay pretty close, then the track temp won’t be changing too much, either. One thing for sure is we will start to lose grip on the exits of turns two and four as the race goes on, so you have to build in those adjustments.” 

Q: How does the track change during the race?
A:
“We are racing under the lights this weekend and that causes you to have your adjustments ready for the beginning, middle and end of a race. Depending on how hot it gets, the adjustments can be more involved. If the air temps stay pretty close, then the track temp won’t be changing too much, either. One thing for sure is we will start to lose grip on the exits of turns two and four as the race goes on, so you have to build in those adjustments.” 


Q: What is the key to success at this track, especially with Ryan Gifford making his first Nationwide Series start?
A:
“This is the second time this year I’ve worked with a driver making his first Nationwide start. The other was Matt Crafton and that turned out pretty good for us there in Kentucky. I have a lot of faith in what Ryan is bringing to the team this weekend and I know he’s been successful on both dirt and asphalt in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East races. But, the overall key to success for Iowa is keeping up with track and maintaining track position. If you can be good at both of those as the race goes on, then you’ll have a great night.”

Q:What is your favorite race memory at Iowa Speedway?
A:
“You know, it’s kind of an odd one. When you hear about a new track being built, you just hope they do everything right on the inside in regards to garages, layout, pit road entrance and exits and the track itself. Rusty (Wallace) had his hand in this design and I knew he would know what would be best from a driver’s standpoint on all of those things. So, my best memory at Iowa was the first time I went there and saw that another great track was built. They did a good job.”

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