Kevin Hamlin (left) seen here...
Kevin Hamlin (left) seen here in Victory Circle with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Childress.
The late Dale Earnhardt's...
The late Dale Earnhardt's black No. 3 Monte Carlo was renumbered, repainted and is now piloted by rookie Kevin Harvick.
CircleTrack.com spoke to Kevin Hamlin, crew chief #29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet to discuss life without Dale Earnhardt, the rise of rookie Kevin Harvick and many other topics.
CircleTrack.com: What has been the most difficult part of the transition from wrenching for Dale Earnhardt, who had all the years of experience to a rookie in Kevin Harvick?
Kevin Hamlin: I guess the hardest thing is just realizing the fact it has to happen. Its been kind of a tough thing just understanding why we had to a make change. It still kind of drags on everyday, of course. But as far as the actual nuts and bolts of it, when you get right down to it, you know were basically starting with a clean slate. Its different for me because Ive worked with a rookie before with Mike Skinner. Other than that I have worked with Butch Miller, Rick Mast and Jimmy Spencer and they were all a lot more experienced, and theres just things you have to remind yourself to remember that Kevin doesnt know. It just doesnt come second nature, where Dale pretty much told us what was going on. I even go to the rookie meetings, just to try to refresh myself on stuff that they tell the rookies. Its like I keep hammering in my head that these guys dont know that stuff.
It helps me out as well really, because a lot of that stuff you take for granted, they just dont know it yet. We have been pretty fortunate, Kevin is a rookie but he is a very talented race car driver, so thats helped us out a great deal. Hes got a good feel for the car. When we make changes he knows how to respond to what weve done.
CT.com: Are the setups on the car totally different between Earnhardt and Harvick? If so, how? If not why?
KH: They are and they arent, because theres a lot of factors involved in that, of course. From day to day everything changes, even from year to year to year with Dale, we always changed and tried to make things better and adjust our set ups. You always had your old faithfuls to fall back on when you kind of get crossed up or confused and had to decide where you were, your baseline you call it. I have been trying to go off those baseline setups and some of our good setups, but in todays racing there's so many things that change all the time being. I mean they have a different tire this year. We already found going to Vegas with Dale that we were going to have to adjust our setups a little bit. Not only have we adjusted them because we have a different driver, but just because circumstances change, you know the tires, aerodynamics and just the competition level is always getting knocked the next level up and you have to stay with it. So thats why are setups have changed mainly, if they have.
CT.com: What did it mean to the team to bounce back so quickly with the win in Atlanta?
KH: Well I think it made everybody realize that we do have a very strong organization, and that you know [pause], we can go on without Dale Eearnhardt. Its not that we want to go on without Dale Earnhardt, but we showed everybody that, yeah these guys can dig deep and they do know how to build good cars. It just let us know that we could go on. It was more to let the fans know that we were going to go on and try to go on strong and it was for them. You know we put forth all this effort and try to make this happen. All in all it was a lot of their support that helped us do that. It meant a lot to them as it did us, because that was kind of one of the big things that we did, we let everybody know that we were carrying on because Dale would want us to carry on and want us to race hard, and that we were going to continue and carry on the torch.
CT.com: How many restrictor plate engines do you built specifically for Daytona and Talladega? Also, what, in your opinion may be the next restrictor plate track and why?
KH: Between all the cars we do, our car, the #31 car, Mark's car and they have been doing motors for the #14 car and they did some for the #27 car, they probably have close to 12 or 13 qualifying engines. We probably have, Im going to guess around 26 race engines. After you get all those engines done, there is an unbelievable amount of hours in research and development that have gone into even building those engines.
I am kind of hoping that there wont be anymore restrictor plate tracks. I would like to see them have two less restricor plate tracks than they have right now. Id still like to race at those tracks, but try and figure out how to do it without using a restrictor plate. Unfortunately, I think, this is my opinion of course, our technology has outgrown those two facilities. Somewhere along the line theres probably something we can do to race there without using restrictor plates. Unfortunately we havent found it yet.
When Bill Elliott went 212 mph at Talladega we probably had 550 horsepower or something. Now we have 425 or something with a pretty good restrictor plate. They have all kinds of devices on the car to slow them down with spoilers and spoiler roofs. Theyve really throttled us back. Now if they let us just go wide open, who knows how fast we could go. Goodyear would probably have to spend an endless amount of money even to design a tire to go that fast. Its a tough situation.
They (NASCAR) have been juggling it now for a number of years and looking at all kinds of different things. Right now the races are really exciting because the cars stay pretty bunched up and anyone of the 43 guys pretty much have a chance to win. Everybody knows what the recipe for that is, it is for a bad crash to happen. When you have that many cars running that fast so close, evenly balanced when anyone of them can go to the front, it makes it weird. Something bad can happen. Not to say something bad cant happen if there's four cars running in that pack of cars running 200 to 220 mph. They are spread out a little bit more at some of the other tracks and you can usually get away from that mess.
Every week we have restarts at Charlotte, Michigan, Atlanta and those guys still have to use their heads for four or five laps until they get all spread out or the same thing can happen at anyone of those places. Its brought to everybodys attention a lot more at the restrictor plate race because, say at Talladega, you're running for a 188 laps without a caution out there in a big gigantic pack and its pretty tense. Harvick commented that it was more tense than racing at Bristol.
We have tested down there (Atlanta) with restrictor plates before and actually almost went faster. Your corner speeds are pretty high. Its a balance between aerodynamics, how good the tire grips and how fresh the asphalt is at any of these places. A few years ago at Atlanta we were going really a lot faster than we go right now because it was freshly paved. Theyve (Goodyear) made the tires better and better and we kept going faster and faster. Well now theyve tried to back off on the tires, but we are starting to make our aerodynamic package better and better. Theres been good racing going on there and that is they're looking for - good racing. At anyone of these tracks we go to, there has been as many guys hurt at Martinsville in different divisions than Talladega. You can get hurt anywhere, or get killed, actually.
CT.com: What are the major differences between a standard engine and a restrictor plate engine?
KH: They make the cylinder heads a completely different design. Even though our compression ratio rule is 12:1, the cylinder pressure doesnt actually seem the same compression as it would in an open motor. The restrictor plate only lets a certain volume of air in there, so there's only so much of it theyre able to squeeze no matter what your static compression ratio is in the engine. The cylinder pressures are still not the same when the engine is running. These motors are built to run around 6800 rpm on a restrictor plate. In unrestricted stuff we will run 8800 to 8900 rpm. Obviously the pieces dont have to be as strong in the restrictor plate engine either, so you can use a lot lighter components to try to keep the momentum up in the engine. The main thing is the weight of the components because the rpms you turn are not as hard on stuff, so you can really lighten stuff up a lot.
CT.com: What did you think about NASCAR giving Ford a break on the rear spoiler for Talladega? Do you think Chevy is now at a disadvantage?
KH: Obviously I am going to stand the way I want to hear it because we have a Monte Carlo. I dont know how they came to that call. I know that they took the numbers from the wind tunnel. I dont think they had Fords in the wind tunnels that were representative of what really good Fords were. Our car wasnt the best Chevrolet we had when they took the cars from the Bud Shootout. That wasnt our best car and Im sure the Ford car they took wasnt Rusty's best Ford car. The Dodge that they took was really, really good and the Dodge and the Fords were so close together that I dont understand how they couldnt figure out why a Dodge would be way over here and a Ford would be way over there. They should have known that those two should have been closer together.
If they were going to do anything, I dont know why they wouldnt do something to slow us down versus speed the Ford up. Im glad they didnt change our aerodynamic package so we didnt have to go through all the headache of going to the wind tunnell and looking at it again. All in all I dont think you saw what the cause was or the effect was of it from Talladega because Talladega is a totally different track than what Daytona is as far as handling goes in the race. The biggest difference was maybe in qualifying at Talladega. When they got to the race I dont think it made that big of a difference.
CT.com: How do you think Kevin is doing thus far? How much more do you expect of him this season?
KH: Id say he has definitely exceeded our expectations. We came into this deal knowing he was a really good driver thats why we wanted him to drive our car. Richard (Childress) was building a Winston Cup future for him anyway for the third team we started. As far him sitting down in the seat of this car and taking over, what hes done has been amazing. We expected to run decent, but we didnt expect to run great. And weve run better than great. I believe weve just had some misfortune. For example, the guy that won the race at Bristol was chasing us. I believe had it not been for the flat tire Kevin would have already won two races this year. Their were a couple of other races we had a really fast car and we just didnt finish there with it. There are guys every week that can say that, but you know Bristol, I honestly believe that had we not had that flat tire there was no way anybody was going to beat us.
CT.com: How do you think NASCAR should slow the cars down, by aero, engine or a combination of the two, or something entirely different that hasnt been looked at yet?
KH: The problem with that question is that I dont have a clue. Weve all kicked our ideas in and you know we were all big supporters of the package we have now. When we went to Daytona and tested, without racing it when we tested it, you know running with packs of cars out there we thought it was going to be a good package for everybody. We thought maybe it would slow them down where we could put a bigger restrictor plate on it and maybe give the engine more response where maybe they were going to lift in the corners and make handling play a bigger role into the race. Well as its turned out that hasnt been the package we may need either.
Now a lot of the drivers dont like this package. Its an ongoing thing that they (NASCAR) are trying to figure out. Everybody has an idea and they take it, listen and sort through them, and say OK lets try this. Various things are tried at different tests and theyve got stuff right now that theyre looking at trying to figure it out one more time. Were all kind of helping with some input about that and saying lets try this and lets try that. Everybodys still working at it pretty hard trying to make the race better and safer.
CT.com: What is the greatest challenge you face as a crew chief?
KH: I guess just trying to make sure that everyone stays focused on what our goals are. We are going to get into a race stretch this year that weve never done before with 20 straight races or something without a weekend off in there. I guess my job is try to make sure that we plan far enough ahead. Have the guys in the shop here where theyre really well organized. Trying to give everyone any time off we can give them during the week, because the guys that go on the road are going to be very, very busy this year. You know, you have to keep everyones mental state good. Thats easier to do the better you run. If youre having problems and youre not running good, youre struggling every week. Thats a very tough thing for a crew chief to do, to keep these guys all pulled together and focused. The better you run the easier that is to do.
CT.com: What tips do you have that might help out a Saturday night racer?
KH: No matter what division youre racing in, yourre local tracks or you travel to a few tracks, you just need to pay attention to everything around you. If your getting beat by somebody look at their stuff real hard, try to figure out why youre getting beat. Go back and go to work on your stuff, try and make it better than their stuff. Thats what this whole thing is, it's a big game and a big challenge, to try to have the best of everything. You want to have the best driver and the best equipment for that driver. Dont ever give up on your game. Always try to get to that next step. Even when your on top you cant give up, you gotta try to take it to the next level when those guys are still chasing you. Believe me, when you are on top the guy thats running second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth or tenth, hes trying to get on top. If you kind of get there and get complacent and happy with what youve done somebodys going to catch you and beat you. Have fun and try to make the best out of every situation.