Nick Harrison has a knack for the superspeedways. During the past seven superspeedway races in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, the crew chief of the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro has captured three pole awards with a variety of drivers. Working with Brandon Jones this season, the pairing secured Jones’ first career NASCAR pole at Daytona International Speedway in February and look to earn their second one together this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.
Superspeedway focus from the beginning
Harrison’s crew chief experience began in 2006 with the Sadler Brothers race team. Since then, the veteran crew chief has worked across all three NASCAR national touring series, building up his notebook and experience at all types of tracks across the circuit. Harrison really took to the superspeedways on the schedule, Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, and has since developed a strong level of confidence when it comes to those tracks.
“I think a lot of the success I’ve had at superspeedways comes from my past. I worked with James Finch at Phoenix Racing before coming to RCR, and we always put a lot of emphasis on the speedway races,” said Harrison.
“When I came to RCR, I had a lot better of an aero group to start with and everything I would need available to me to work with,” he said. “I think mixing the focus I had put on speedway cars previously with what is available to me here, along with keeping detailed notes throughout my career, helps the overall process. Really making sure to dot all my I’s and cross all my T’s with speedway cars is how I find the most speed.”
Since coming to Richard Childress Racing, Harrison has won three of the last seven poles at NASCAR XFINITY Series superspeedway races. Most recently was the pole award to kick off the 2017 season with Jones, however, Harrison also collected poles with Austin Dillon at the February 2015 Daytona race and the May 2015 Talladega race. Each pole award helps Harrison prepare his car and team for the next superspeedway visit.
“Past poles absolutely help out each time you go to visit a superspeedway because you know how to execute it,” Harrison explained. “The rule packages may change a little bit from year to year, but each pole award trains you a little bit more on how you did it and how to do it again in the future. So if you know how you did it and then know how the rules changed, you can orchestrate your team differently in order to achieve the same end result even though some things may be different. It’s definitely a very methodical process on how to qualify with good speed at these tracks.”
Each pole award also helps Harrison narrow down his process on how to set up the cars and what to focus on.
“One thing I focus on the most in set-up is the finish of the car and really paying attention to the aero side of things,” said Harrison. “Our aero group and fab shop is great and makes that part easy on us as a team to finish out the cars how we need them to be. I also focus a lot on drive line angles. We don’t build the motors ourselves, ECR does that and they definitely have power, but what we do is try to make sure everything compliments our motor and have our chassis and suspension components all placed dynamically to make sure we’re getting the most power to the ground.
“Talladega is a little bit bigger and more wide open than Daytona, so handling is probably not as big of a deal this weekend which means I can really work on trimming the car out and making it as fast as possible to put the team in the best chance to win,” he said.
Fast cars lead to success
Finally, when it comes to the superspeedways, Harrison doesn’t just have the poles, but also solid finishes to back his process up. In five XFINITY Series starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Harrison has led drivers to a collection of two top-five and three top-10 finishes.
“There are several different ways to look at these types of races,” he said. “I’ve had the most luck and won a few races in the other series before I came to work at RCR by trying to run up front and stay in the lead the whole race. I think that does two big things for your driver. One, the farther in front of everyone else you are, the less chance you have in getting caught up in someone else’s wreck. Of course, the danger of it is that other guys are trying to lead the race and swap the lead, but I think the best chance your driver and team have at the end is if you’re running up front and have the opportunity to swap for the lead.”
“The other thing it does is that it shows top drivers, like the Cup guys who come run the XFINITY races, that you have a strong car and are capable of doing what it takes to win the race,” he added. “You almost need to be up there in their vision for most of the race so those drivers know that you’re not someone to dump and to work with you instead. If you can show them you know what you’re doing and that you’re capable of running in the top-three or four at the end of these things, it can make a big difference on who will work with you and your shot at the win.”