Richard Childress Racing’s newest crew chief Matt Borland has been on the job for a little over a month, but in that time the veteran racer has already made an impact on the Welcome, North Carolina-based organization.
Joining RCR in November to lead the No. 27 team with driver Paul Menard, Borland spent the last two weekends of the 2016 season travelling with the race team to understand how they functioned at the track on a race weekend. Borland described the opportunity to work with the organization over the final few weekends of the season as a “huge help” heading into this his first full year with RCR.
“It was a good eye-opener to see how RCR functions,” said Borland. “To be able to float between the teams during my first few races here, and then at Homestead to crew chief a car and understand how that process worked, how the communication worked with the team was big.”
While the off-season is in full swing, the work still continues in earnest. Since the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Borland has been a constant on the RCR shop floor, working on each of the team’s cars and familiarizing himself with the company in the process.
Joining RCR from Haas Formula 1 Team, Borland admits there has been a bit of a learning curve since coming on board in November. Working on F1 cars for the past three years, he has had to relearn much about the NASCAR cars and what changes have been made by the sanctioning body while he worked on the open-wheel cars. However, Borland hopes to incorporate some of what he learned on the F1 side into RCR’s NASCAR program.
“The cars are definitely very advanced in F1,” he said. “There are a lot of things they do on the electronics side that is far ahead of where NASCAR is, but I think NASCAR is starting to get into that arena quite a bit. At the same time, I feel like there are a lot of things NASCAR does that is ahead of where F1 is right now. There are just different challenges and logistics to each series.
“They are different, but I wouldn’t say one is necessarily ahead of the other technologically,” he said. “There are some things F1 does very well in terms of the wind tunnel and CFD (computational fluid dynamics), where they’ve really pushed the envelope very hard over the years. They have ways of doing things that are very advanced, and I feel some of that can transfer over to what we’re doing here at RCR very easily.”
While incorporating technology and lessons learned from his time working in F1, Borland says the biggest thing he has been working on since joining RCR is team building. With changes taking place on the No. 27 team – including himself – he has been taking time acclimate himself with the crew members on the team.
“We’ve spent a lot of time just trying to get to know everybody, how each person thinks and how they do things, so that we can build as strong a team as possible and hit the ground running come Daytona,” he said. “We don’t want to be learning and making mistakes in those first few races.”
The team has spent time in the simulator, going over how things went at Homestead, what was done on the No. 27 team compared to the other two teams, all trying to determine how the guys think and why things are done the way they’re done.
“It is amazing, you can be doing the same things, but the approach is coming from totally different angles,” he said. “It is important that while the pressure is low during the off-season to explore those things and understand how everyone thinks and approaches a project.”
One person within the RCR organization Borland is very familiar with is driver Ryan Newman. During the early 2000s, Borland and Newman were paired together as driver-crew chief at Team Penske, earning a total of 13 wins in NASCAR’s Premier Series. That relationship has been able to carry on throughout the years and has allowed Borland to feel at home right away at RCR.
“The relationship with Ryan has been great,” said Borland. “Sometimes when you get frustrated or things get hard, at least you have a person you’ve had a lot of personal history with that you can pick up the phone or go to and discuss things. I was over at his farm last weekend looking at a four-wheeler, but while doing that also just talking through things about RCR and getting some background on some things I may need to know as a new member of the organization.”
While the friendship with Newman is old and tested, Borland has been working to grow that same feeling with his newest driver, Paul Menard. The two have been acquaintances inside the NASCAR garage for years, but this new partnership has also led the pair to get to know one another much better.
“I always had a lot of respect for Paul. He’s done a great job and has improved his performance every year, it’s been very cool to watch,” he said. “We’ve been spending a lot of time together recently, just learning who he is, him learning who I am, trying to ask questions and figure out how he thinks about things, and just talking through different parts of the car and why those things are in the car, why those things worked, why they didn’t work as planned, all of those types of things. That way when the pressure is on we’re hopefully thinking on the same page.”
Although Borland indicated the overall team goals for the 2017 season will be set in the first weeks of January, his personal goals focus on building the best group of guys in the garage.
“My biggest goal is to continue a very well-functioning team and make a place where everyone is happy working and build on success every week, making things better and better,” he said.