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Crew chief Jason Ratcliff had to get used to driver Matt Kenseth and the way he likes to communicate.
Matt Kenseth performs a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway. One connecting rod in the car was found to be approximately three grams too light.
Friday, September 6, 2013
Communication between NASCAR drivers and their teams is vital for success, so when Jason Ratcliff this season became Matt Kenseth’s third crew chief in the past four years, Ratcliff knew how important quickly building a strong relationship with Kenseth would be.
But there was a problem.
“He sometimes speaks so fast that I have to say, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow down,’ ” Ratcliff said. “ ‘I’m hearing but I can’t comprehend that fast.’ ”
Ratcliff, a South Carolina native, was crew chief for Joey Logano last season at Joe Gibbs Racing after running teams for seven years in the Nationwide series. This year, Gibbs paired him with Kenseth, a veteran driver and the 2003 Cup series champion.
Kenseth, a 41-year-old Wisconsin native, left Roush Fenway Racing to join Gibbs this year.
The two have raced to quick success. Kenseth has won five races already this season, including the Bristol night race two weeks ago, and is sixth in the standings.
“It always evolves as we learn more things about each other and different things about each other,” Kenseth said of his relationship with Ratcliff. “We’re both pretty serious when it counts and both work really hard at it. I think we have to continue to work hard, continue to learn each other, continue to learn the cars.”
The biggest thing Ratcliff had to learn, he said, was that, unlike most of the younger drivers he had been paired with, Kenseth wanted to know everything Ratcliff and the team were doing with the car.
“It just wasn’t something they were interested in, wasn’t anything they were concerned with,” Ratcliff said. “With Matt, those are the type of things he enjoys. He’s a car guy. He enjoys understanding the race car. Not just at the race track, but at the shop. He is way more open and wants a lot more information than what I’m used to. Most drivers were like, ‘Bring the thing to the race track and I’ll go fast.’ ”
Kenseth and Ratcliff sat down and talked about the different approach and now, for the most part, Ratcliff makes sure Kenseth knows all the details of what’s being done with the car. It’s one of the reasons, Ratcliff thinks, the team has had a strong run.
“He just likes to be so involved in everything going in,” Ratcliff said. “And it’s good. It helps our communication all along.”
Ratcliff said while he was always confident his pairing with Kenseth would work well, he is a bit surprised at how quickly it has come together.
“I’m not surprised at the success,” Ratcliff said. “I felt like we could have this type of success. But I am pleasantly surprised at how quick we’ve seen it. To potentially go in the Chase as the top seed, yeah it’s a pleasant surprise.”
And, Kenseth said, after the season they’ve put together, he and Ratcliff are going into the Chase with designs on winning it all.
“I think we’re capable,” Kenseth said. “I think the team’s capable. I think we have equipment that’s capable. But once you get in the Chase, it’s so competitive. I think when you get in there, all 12 teams have a chance.”
“I felt like even before [Bristol’s] success that we were capable of going out and being competitive at all types of race tracks,” Ratcliff said. “When you go into the Chase, you have to perform at every one.”
But before they get there, the duo gets to run at Richmond tonight, a track both Ratcliff and Kenseth said they enjoy.
“It’s a fun track,” Kenseth said of RIR. “You have to turn good but you also have to manage your tires. It’s a fun track, one of my favorite in the series.”
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