Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Crew chief Mike Ford plays it by the book, while rivals gamble. But then he's got Denny Hamlin at the wheel

  Mike Ford (L) and team owner Joe Gibbs. Ford's coolness under pressure is almost menacing (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   POCONO, Pa.
   Mike Ford is a regular Cool Hand Luke when it comes to tight, taut finishes like Sunday's stretch run in the Pocono 500.
   And the veteran crew chief is looking as championship-cool as his driver, Denny Hamlin, who pulled off another late rally and charge to victory, his fourth tour win of the spring.
   Gas mileage worries, angry rivals...all in a day's work for these two.
   The first half of the four-hour race was methodically boring, but then with the storm-delayed start, and the threat of perhaps another storm later, drivers and crews were anxious to get to the halfway point and make the race 'official' and then start racing hard.
   That's the game plan at a lot of these tracks lately:  boring early, hot as blazes late.
   "I think it's just like Talladega:  guys don't race until they have to," Hamlin says. "That's just a product of the distance of the races...and  knowing you're going to have cautions at the end. 
    "I don't think anyone pushes it at the beginning.  You don't go three-wide or four wide. 
     "But then we were four wide for the lead at one point (late).  Where else are you going to see that?
    "There is a lot of single file racing here, but it's because we drivers are in conservative mode for the first half. 
    "We know it's a long race. 
     "But when the winner comes from 16th with 30 to go, what more can you ask for, really?"

   Denny Hamlin: victory number four of the season, and it's still only spring (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Yes, Hamlin, though dominating, had to come from deep in the pack down the stretch.
    And Hamlin said he was worried about having to get through traffic....though he did it very aggressive and very quickly, slicing around like a knife.    
     "We hadn't passed about (worse than) third all day long, which is relatively clean air," he said. "Clean air is very, very big at this track; every position you gain, it's that much better.
     "So I was fairly nervous...because we had had a tight car all day. We turned wrenches on it every time we came on pit road. 
    "So you never know how your car's going to react back there (in heavy traffic).  Especially with 30 to go.
    "But we had no choice. We had to pit when it was our fuel window (35 laps to go at this 2.5-mile track).
    "Other guys were going to try to stretch it.  That's kind of how the game plays: When you don't have a winning car, you have to throw caution to the wind.  Those guys were able to do that. 
     "We had to play it safe, and race the guys we knew we raced all day, and knew we were going to have to race for the finish.
     "So I was nervous. But after about three laps, when our car was just cutting through traffic unbelievably, I knew it was going to be a matter of beating Kyle (Busch) or Kevin Harvick -- Whoever I raced in that sequence, I had to beat them to the front."
     Ford conceded that mentally "that was an extremely long race for us. 
    "The first hundred laps went pretty eventless.  I knew Denny was making laps, wasn't really pushing the car. But that made it difficult to adjust, knowing  he was leaving a little bit out. 
    "But you get the first half of the race here at Pocono clean....and you know the second half is going to get pretty active. And I was real concerned about that. 
     "It turned out that way  -- You had (rivals using) different tire strategies, different fuel strategies. Then you had guys on three different sequences of tires at the end of the day. It added up to a pretty eventful end to the race. 
    "Track position was key. And the key for us winning were the two restarts that Denny made after we gave up track position (on pit stops).  You didn't want to give up track position, but you needed fuel at some point."
    Yes, Hamlin has good cars, and yes he drives this tricky track extremely well. But Sunday's run was, well, amazing in some respects.
   "We were really good off the tunnel turn," Hamlin said. "It seemed that was our strong point.
    "But at certain points of the run we were better at different places. 
     "We got to working on the bottom side in turn three, and I just found a little speed there. The patch (new asphalt in turn three) is no longer a huge advantage, so I was cutting across that....a much different line than what guys were running.
     "I just search around and seem to find what works. We've won here in different cars, using different lines.
     "The thing is I've got cars good enough to where I can run 80 percent all day and still be able to keep up with the guys. 
     "That's what makes it easy for me to look really good -- the fact that I don't have to push my car over the limit and it still has speed."
    Which, for their title rivals, has to be more than somewhat worrisome.

     [Note: You can use Twitter as an easy headline service for mikemulhern.net stories, with our instant Tweets to your mobile as soon as our newest NASCAR story is filed. And mikemulhern.net is mobile-friendly for viewing. You can also use the orange RSS feed button as a quickie headline service on your laptop or home computer for mikemulhern.net stories, by creating a Live Bookmark RSS feed on your web browser's toolbar. Or you can create a Google Alert for mikemulhernnet.]


 The skies were menacing at Pocono Raceway, but then they cleared (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com