|02/27/12 10:08AM||Daytona 500 Rain Delay, NASCAR, Phoenix, Sprint Cup|
Postponement creates logistics nightmare
With Daytona to Phoenix trip on the horizon, rain sets up shortened turnaround
By Joe Menzer, NASCAR.COM
February 27, 2012 9:59 AM, EST
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- A.J. Allmendinger wanted to make it perfectly clear that rain delays aren't real hard on Sprint Cup drivers.
"Obviously, you want to go race," Allmendinger said after the Daytona 500 scheduled for Sunday was postponed until Monday at Daytona International Speedway. "But we get to race when we get to race.
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"I know this sucks for people sitting out there in the stands because they've got to sit in the rain. But for us, we go in [our motorhomes] and we have push-up contests, we eat a lot of good food, and we have a good time."
The affable Allmendinger was only partly joking. Plus, he appears to have a good time just about all the time, no matter what he's doing.
But he's right. Sunday's rainout was merely a minor inconvenience for the drivers. It's the support staff around each of them that suffered the most -- and will suffer more if Monday's rescheduled 12:01 p.m. start can't go off as planned because of more rain that's in the forecast.
That's especially true with the next race on the Sprint Cup schedule being a long way away, geographically speaking, in Phoenix. Next Sunday's start is not so far away on the calendar.
"For me, it doesn't affect me much," Allmendinger said. "Whenever we get home, I'll still do the stuff I have to do -- media-wise and team-wise. I think our Phoenix cars should be done. More than anything, I think it's going to be a pain in the butt for the guys who drive the haulers. They have to get there, unload it, and load the other car and leave. So it'll be a little bit tough for those guys. But for me, no big deal."
Crew chiefs agree
Crew chiefs were in complete agreement with Allmendinger that the greatest burden of a rain postponement falls on the hauler drivers. Going from Daytona to Phoenix in a tall turnaround anyway, with many teams requiring 40-plus hours of travel time on the road to get from Florida back to North Carolina and then out to Phoenix.
Perhaps worst of all, it simply was not expected by, well, anyone.
"This has proved to be a historic event -- 54 years and the first time the Daytona 500 has ever been rained out," said Dave Rogers, Kyle Busch's crew chief. "Everybody wishes we could have raced [Sunday]. ... [Monday's] looking pretty bad, too, with an 80 percent chance of chance of thunderstorms. Then, as a race team, you start to think about the logistics. Phoenix is next week. It's a long trip for these transport drivers. If [this race] gets delayed too long, it could have consequences that bleed over into next week's event."
Jason Ratcliff, Joey Logano's crew chief who works with Rogers at Joe Gibbs Racing, said Sunday's postponement made him at least slightly concerned about keeping his team focused on the tasks at hand. The main difficulty with that, he added, is that they had to start planning for Phoenix and an adjusted schedule heading into that event even before the Daytona 500, the most prestigious race on the Sprint Cup schedule, was completed.
Or even started.
"I think the biggest thing for us would be getting prepared to go to Phoenix, actually," Ratcliff said. "Getting the race in [Sunday] would have been a plus as far as staying on schedule. ... For us, we're kind of looking toward next week because it's the West Coast. You go out there and you're going to be in Phoenix and Las Vegas the next couple of weeks. Obviously our cars are prepared -- but as far as the team being prepared to go out there in case we're here Monday or even until Tuesday, that's the challenge.
"As far as turnaround time, it will be difficult. Getting the truck back, from that standpoint, it will be difficult. As far as being prepared as a race team, we'll just have to start doing some of our prep work that we normally do at the shop here at the race track instead. Those are the things we're working on right now -- getting prepared for Phoenix and Las Vegas."
To put the travel aspect in better perspective, it's roughly 492 miles from Daytona International Speedway to the doorstep of Joe Gibbs Racing in Huntersville, N.C. And from there, it's 2,121 miles to Phoenix International Raceway -- or roughly 32 hours of driving time if the hauler drivers pay attention to speed limits.
The rain teased throughout the day Sunday before finally winning out and moving the Daytona 500 to Monday afternoon.Daytona 500 postponed
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So while Allmendinger participates in his push-up contests and eats to his heart's content, the hauler drivers watch each raindrop that falls at Daytona with an increasing and sometimes overwhelming feeling of complete despair.
They know their week, already demanding, gets harder with every hour that passes without the 500 being run. But Ratcliff said he wanted to be sure he wasn't making too much of it.
His men -- in fact, all the men in the Sprint Cup garage -- surely will be able to handle it. It's what they do.
"Really, the hardest part is on the truck drivers -- getting the trucks back [to the shop] and getting those turned around and cleaned up," Ratcliff said. "Thankfully, we're not too far from home. Eight hours up the road and we can be home and have this thing turned around. Other than that, it will go off without a hitch."
Todd Gordon, Allmendinger's crew chief, said the key for the teams who will do so the best likely will center around time management. That's why he, like Ratcliff, had his No. 22 crew members thinking about Phoenix even as they made final preparations Sunday for the season-opening race they have yet to run.
As the rain delay Sunday progressed, Gordon did not sit by idly.
"Probably the biggest thing is trying to utilize your time and that's what we're doing right now," said Gordon even before Sunday's race became officially postponed. "Because the thing I'm looking at is if we don't race [Sunday], I'm not sure about [Monday]. It might be Tuesday morning, but we're stacking up on two consecutive weeks.
"Phoenix is coming up and that's a long trip so we've got to get a lot of stuff worked out for that -- and then our Vegas stuff will leave [the Penske shop] before we come back from Phoenix. We're just trying to make sure that we can get our stuff prepared for the next two weeks that come after this."
Gordon added that because Daytona is a restrictor-plate race, there are additional adjustments that need to be made, anyway, once the hauler gets back to the shop, and before it can take off again.
"It's because there's a lot of stuff on this truck that is speedway-only," Gordon explained. "You want to get the truck back to the shop for a swap-out, to get this stuff off and get our short track and intermediate track stuff back on the truck. That's some of the stuff that we're talking about, just trying to make sure that we cover all those bases and being prepared for what's ahead."
Ratcliff admitted there is one more pressing issue facing all the teams as their Speedweeks stay in Daytona got unexpectedly extended.
"It's especially hard when you've been here for 10 days," Ratcliff said. "You accumulate a lot of dirty laundry in 10 days."
Maybe someone should have sent Allmendinger and a couple other drivers out to do it during Sunday's day-long rain delay. They certainly had the time to get it done.