Team Lowe's Racing Competition Report by Lance McGrew
- May 20, 2004
- Team Hendrick
The Team Lowe’s Racing Busch Series team has gotten off to an incredible start this season. We’ve managed to keep the momentum from last year’s championship with Brian Vickers flowing into the 2004 season with driver Kyle Busch.
I am quite satisfied with the way things are going and our ship is definitely sailing in the right direction. There is a tremendous amount of depth in our team roster and the same guys that pitted Brian’s car last year are now pitting Kyle’s car.
We started off the season in Daytona and I was very happy with the way Kyle handled drafting and how the No. 5 Lowe’s Chevy ran in traffic. Our qualifying effort was less than stellar, but the 14th starting spot was still an improvement over our 2003 effort of the 21st position on the grid.
During the race the Lowe’s Chevrolet ran in the front of the field all day until we got bump- drafted from behind and wound up hitting the car in front of us. The contact wrecked the grill on the front of the No. 5 car and damaged the duct work. Kyle’s car then began to overheat, so we had to bring it in for a while and try to cool the engine down. Our engine woes that day cost the Lowe’s team quite a few laps and we subsequently ended the race in 24th place. Disregarding the overheating issue, the entire team had a solid showing in Daytona and we were satisfied with the way the car ran.
When Team Lowe’s Racing got to Rockingham, we came to the conclusion that we were a little off of our game when it came to qualifying. In the fall of 2003, we sat on the pole with Brian at “The Rock.” When we showed up this year we brought a similar setup, but so many things had changed with the new tires and in the car bodies. So our first attempt at a downforce track this year was kind of a stab in the dark. Maybe the “5” team hadn’t hit the qualifying setup just right, but our race setup was pretty good and Kyle came home with our first top-10 finish of the year.
The next stop on the Busch Series schedule took us to Las Vegas, which is actually Kyle’s hometown. We had tested at the track earlier in the year and when we went back to race, the team had made only a moderate change to the car’s setup. When it came to qualifying, I felt that we should have done better than a 10th-place effort, but we just wound up slipping a bit during our laps.
When race time rolled around the car was running great and the No. 5 Lowe’s Chevy was up in the top five all day. Things were looking great until we were black flagged by NASCAR, who said that Kyle had jumped on a restart. So then it was the tail end of the longest line of cars for the Lowe’s team, all the way back in about 40th place. When things were rolling again Kyle took the No. 5 Lowe’s Chevy back up through the field all the way to 15th place. The team felt that we could have gained even more ground, but we just ran out of laps in the race.
Off to Darlington—the track they say is “Too Tough To Tame.” Well, the track didn’t seem too tough for Kyle because he snagged our first pole of the year. We started the race off in very good shape—Kyle was comfortable with the track and the No. 5 Chevy was running up front.
However, we then encountered a problem when the right-rear chain bolt broke. After the bolt snapped, the chain was then free and managed to wrap itself between the wheel hub and the brake caliper. Kyle radioed in and said that he felt as if something was falling out of the back of the car. We then made a bunch of pit stops to try to figure out what the problem was. Initially, we thought the chain had broken, but upon further examination we discovered it was the chain bolt that had been causing the problem. We wound up placing 17th that day with a car that should have finished in the top three. The situation that transpired at Darlington was very frustrating for Kyle, myself and the entire Lowe’s team.
On to Bristol, the next stop on our schedule. We actually did a one-day test at the track earlier in the year, Kyle had never driven there and we felt that he should get some seat time at the track before going there to race. Our driver didn’t get as much seat time at the test as he or I had hoped because early in the test the car got wrecked due to a stuck throttle and the team had to cut it short.
When we showed up at the track for the race weekend, things went smoothly and the Lowe’s Chevy was in place to start the 250-lap event at the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” from the 12th spot. During the race the car was a little on the tight side, but things ended up going our way at Bristol. We ran in the top 10 all day until we used some pit strategy to move up through the field. We got lucky when a late wreck took out some of the leaders and boosted the No. 5 Lowe’s Chevy all the way up into the third position for the checkered flag.
Texas, what can I say except that the car was awesome. The team ran basically the same setup as we used last year with Brian and we definitely had the car to beat in Fort Worth. Team Lowe’s Racing sat on the pole for the second time in 2004 and Kyle led the most laps, 147 to be exact. Unfortunately, at the end of the day the Lowe’s Chevy wasn’t leading the race and the team finished second to NEXTEL Cup regular Matt Kenseth. As a whole, the team felt good about our performance in Texas. Granted, we would to have loved to win the race but we were still satisfied with how solid the car and driver were.
Team Lowe’s Racing then headed out to Nashville Superspeedway in Lebanon, Tenn. I was a little disappointed with our 12th-place qualifying effort. We had changed our qualifying setup before we got to the track and it was a much different setup from what I had previously run at Nashville. Throughout practice we adjusted the car and wound up being in great shape for the race.
The No. 5 Lowe’s Chevy ran superbly on race day and Kyle stayed in the top five throughout the race, and even led a few laps. At two laps to go, Kyle took the lead and we thought we might have our first win in the bag until the No. 21 car got into us and sent the No. 5 car spinning through Turn 2. The race ended under caution and NASCAR determined that Kyle had finished in sixth place. Team Lowe’s Racing was very disappointed with what happened at Nashville. We had a great car, maybe not the best out there, but at the end of the race with two laps to go, the car certainly was good enough to contend for the win.
Next we headed to Talladega for another attempt at a restrictor plate track. In the past Kyle has openly expressed that Daytona and Talladega aren’t his favorite places to race. He says those events are more of a car’s race than a driver’s race to win. Regardless of that, I think all in all the team did a great job at Talladega.
We qualified 13th, but with the new package for the Busch Series it really didn’t matter where you started in the field. This year your car could go from 30th to 10th in a matter of a few laps. However, when you start up front you do feel a little better about not having as much of a chance to get caught up in “the big one.” Some of the Busch Series regulars such as David Green and Bobby Hamilton Jr. took on the strategy of hanging around in the back of the field to avoid getting involved in wrecks.
In the beginning of the race, the No. 5 Lowe’s Chevrolet was running in the front pack until an overheating problem developed early on. The engine running hot was a major concern and I didn’t want our day at Talladega to end the way our day at Daytona did in the beginning of the year. In an attempt to cool the car down, Kyle took the Lowe’s Chevy out of the main draft and into fresh air behind the front running pack of cars. This tactic helped to cool down the engine somewhat but it still need more work. Lucky for us, a yellow flag came out right as we were struggling on Lap 45. The “5” team was able to bring the car to pit road for a full stop and some adjustments to the nose. The team really stepped it up as they went to work on the car pulling off tape, cutting a hole in the bottom grill and placing another grill on the outside of that. We definitely caught a break with that caution, if our pit stop had been under green flag conditions we would have only been able to pull tape off of the grill.
The No. 5 car restarted in the 29th place, but with the grill adjustments it did not take long for Kyle to take the car into the top five. When the end of the race was near the Lowe’s machine was sitting in fourth behind Hornaday and the cars of Earnhardt, Jr. and Truex, Jr. We thought that we might have a chance to work with Hornaday and get in front of the DEI cars, but a caution came out with two laps to go and the field was frozen.
Our fourth-place finish at Talladega was our fourth top-10 finish in as many races. We had a strong showing for Hendrick Motorsports at Talladega and so did our teammates at the NEXTEL Cup level. Jeff Gordon scored his first win of the season ending DEI’s winning streak at the track. Congratulations to Jeff, Robbie and all of the guys on the ‘24’ for their win.
On to Fontana, for the first of our two races at California Speedway this year. The interesting thing about Kyle and that track is that he had practiced on it back when he raced in the truck series, but he had never actually raced on it until this season. The lack of seat-time in Fontana did not seem to faze him very much and he has mentioned that he enjoys racing at the larger tracks like Texas, Michigan and Lowe’s.
Racing at California Speedway is a little tricky and very challenging in terms of the car’s setup. The track is designed like Kansas and Michigan, two very aero-specific tracks. At Fontana, like the other two, you have to adjust for the aero effect rather than grip.
People also always talk about how fuel mileage plays into the races at California, as some teams will sacrifice speed to tune for fuel mileage. Team Lowe’s Racing doesn’t really approach the race any differently, we just try to make the car as fast as we can and if fuel mileage works out for us, that is great, and if not, there isn’t a whole lot we can do about it.
This year for qualifying and the race we had to go to our backup car after Kyle had a wreck in the first practice session. The No. 5 machine started the race from the 24th position in the field, but moved up into the top-15 around lap 30. The guys on the road crew worked their tails off to get the backup car handling well in the final practice session on Friday. The effort of everyone really showed when Kyle was on track during the race and was able to move up through the field.
Our pit crew was awesome as well. It is hard to pass at California and the pit crew helped out with a tremendous effort on pit road all day long. The team picked up spots every time Kyle came in for a stop.
At the end of the 150 laps, the No. 5 Lowe’s Chevrolet finished in seventh place, our fifth top-10 in a row. Kyle was also named Raybestos Rookie of the Race for the eighth time in nine races.
Our team ran well in Fontana and once again so did our Hendrick teammates at the Cup Series level. The DuPont team won for the second week in a row, and the No. 48 Lowe’s team finished in the runner-up spot to Gordon and the “24” crew. I’d like to congratulate those guys on a job well done.
The next stop on the NASCAR Busch Series schedule took us to Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis. The interesting thing about the race at Gateway this time was that we practiced, qualified and raced all on the same day. This was the first time Gateway had a one-day show. I liked the format, the guys on the team liked it, and I think the fans liked it too. It’s reminiscent of the kind of Saturday night racing a lot of people, including me, did growing up. For the team, the format is a lot easier on the crew members and you are able to concentrate more on the race setup of your car than the qualifying setup.
We brought a brand new car to the track—HMS Chassis No. 298—and had a solid fourth-place qualifying effort with it. Throughout the event the car was tight and it was something that Kyle and Team Lowe’s Racing had to battle with all day. We did make adjustments to the car’s handling during our pit stops, this helped to alleviate some of the problem, but we couldn’t make it go away entirely.
In the end, Kyle drove the No. 5 car to a fifth-place finish at Gateway, and the team’s fourth top-five finish of 2004.
Team Lowe’s Racing then headed off to the newly repaved Richmond International Raceway. We took along HMS Chassis No. 273, the same car that Brian drove when he won his first Busch Series race last August at Indianapolis Raceway Park. The car, the team and our driver were incredible—it was one of those weekends you just dream about having.
Kyle won the pole with the No. 5 machine and set a new qualifying record for Busch Series competition at Richmond. The Lowe’s Chevy was dominant and ran in the front spot for 236 of the 250 laps. With around 10 laps to go the race was red-flagged for debris and Kyle was in the lead with Greg Biffle right behind. Once the race went green, Biffle was right on Kyle’s bumper as another caution came out with five to go. When things finally got started again, Team Lowe’s Racing was able to hold off Biffle and take our car to Victory Lane with Kyle for the first time!
I am so proud of everyone on the “5” team for all of their hard work. The win was the culmination of everyone’s effort and determination to make this team a success. I am so pleased with how Richmond turned out for us—I could not have imagined a better weekend.
I am very pleased with how competitive Team Lowe’s Racing has been on the track this season. We have been fortunate to be able to run a lot of the same setups that the team ran last year in our championship season. In terms of championship standings, we are well ahead of where we sat in the points last year, right now we are actually sitting at the top of the points race. We are far ahead of where we expected to be at this time of the season and we also didn’t think we’d have sat on the pole three times just eleven races into the year.
What else can I say except that the “5” team is strong, our performances have been great, and our pit crew has been solid. I am definitely looking forward to seeing how the rest of the season plays out for Team Lowe’s Racing.
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- May 18, 2005