The Racing Capital
of the World
Jul 26, 2015
February 15, 2014 | By Bruce Martin
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It was a day when Chevrolet drivers swept the top-five positions during Saturday’s Daytona 500 practice, but there was nothing positive for Chevy’s highest-profile engine supplier.
Three Hendrick Engines blew up and an oil line failed on another. That created an air of concern for Doug Duchardt at Hendrick Engines, as well as some of the top teams that hope to win next Sunday’s 56th Daytona 500.
Two of those that suffered engine failures were two-time Brickyard 400 winner and three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, as well as last year’s Daytona 500 pole winner Danica Patrick.
“Data that we have been able to look at would suggest that it’s something in the bottom end of the engine,” said Scott Maxim, director of engine track support at Hendrick Motorsports. “Really, until we get the engines further apart to be able to more closely analyze them, I really couldn’t see anything anymore than that right now.
“Moving forward, we will be alright. We will identify what we’ve got and we will make changes needed, and I think that we will be able to make corrective action. Certainly as well for tomorrow, we will be able to look the engines over closely and make sure that we are not going into tomorrow with an issue. Then after that, we will be all good.”
Duchardt is the general manager at Hendrick Motorsports who indicates the engine failures are a matter of his team “pushing the limit” to try to have the fastest engine possible for Sunday’s two-lap runs during qualifications.
“Across the board we are trying to do the best we can for qualifying tomorrow for those two laps,” Duchardt said. “We’ve worked through that process. Obviously we have been pushing the limit and we found the limit there. We feel like we understand what is happening. We will get the engines back over and tear them down from NASCAR. I think we will be able to confirm everything that is happening. The drivers have been consistent. They feel like it has been something in the bottom end of the engine. We think we understand what is happening there and we will take a look at that. For tonight and for the rest of the week when we go to race we don’t have any concerns with the Sprint Unlimited, or as we get into the twins or the (Daytona) 500.
“I think it is just part of us trying to maximize two laps for tomorrow. So it’s not a specific component issue. It’s just how we go about trying to minimize going around the track for qualifying.”
Another Chevrolet driver, Jamie McMurray at Chip Ganassi Racing, came down pit road to abort his qualifying simulation and that was an attempt to keep his engine from blowing up.
“Once we saw some things that were happening and saw some data, we knew they were on pit road getting to run again,” Duchardt said. “They had started a run when Tony (Stewart) had an issue. So we wanted to get them back in take some time, look at that data, understand where they were at and make a decision. I don’t think they had enough time to get back out. We wanted to be on the safe side with that. So we called Keith (Rodden) and Keith understands he has worked with us before when he was with the 5 car last year, so he understands how we work and go about things, so that was pretty easy.”
Stewart, who on Friday returned to a race car for the first time since he suffered a badly broken leg in a sprint car crash in Iowa on August 5, explained what happened to his engine during the second of two practice sessions on Saturday.
“Just something in the bottom end broke,” Stewart said. “It happened all at once. I was talking to Scottie Maxim (director of track support at Hendrick Motorsports) one of the head engine guys at Hendrick and went over everything. It’s a good thing about having the telemetry with the motor side is you can see what goes on, what’s happening, but it wasn’t anything that we knew with some warning. It just happened all at once. The good thing is we have a lot of depth at Hendrick, and the motor they will put in for tomorrow will be just as good as this one.
“We basically just went over what happened. He said the one that is coming down, our back-up motor here; it’s just as good as this one. Not really concerned about it. We only have to make a small run tomorrow. I’m pretty confident we will be fine.
“It’s just a motor. If it was getting ready for the race you would be a little more concerned. It’s just for qualifying. They pay the big check a week from tomorrow, not tomorrow.”
Tony Gibson is Patrick’s crew chief at Stewart-Haas Racing and said it’s not unusual that when one engine has a problem then others from the same supplier will also fail.
“Several times you will see two and three of them (engines) at the same time blow up,” Gibson said. “When you get into qualifying trim, you are asking these things to do a lot. They have to run hot and a lot of RPM’s, and a lot of crazy stuff. We will work it out.”
Patrick became the first female driver in NASCAR history to win the pole for the Daytona 500 last year, and entered SpeedWeeks hopeful of another front row start on Sunday.
“I’m sure they are going to dig deeper,” Patrick said. “Hendrick is great support for us. I sat on the front row last year. I sat on the pole. I’m sure we will get it together and it’s better it happens; I mean I only had a few hundred yards to go before the start/finish and then I would have shut it off. So I said ‘Man I guess I’m glad it did it then as opposed to being five seconds away from blowing up because that would have been tomorrow.’ We will get our arms wrapped around it. We will figure out what we can, but more importantly just get the next engine in and get going. I said, ‘Can I still start on the front row?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, but you have to start at the back for the Duels.’
“It was a concern when I saw Tony (Stewart) blow up and then I did. I was like ‘Man, are we doing something, but it doesn’t seem to necessarily be specific to our team I guess.’ But it’s something that we are doing in our family here and we need to figure it out. I was saying I bet other Hendrick cars are thinking ‘what’s going on’ so we have got time to hopefully figure it out. Definitely figure it out before the race.”
Patrick and others believe the timing of the engine failures is actually a good thing to happen this soon in SpeedWeeks rather than so close to the start of the Daytona 500. By then it would be too late to make adjustments and change engines.
“That is the only way to look at it at this point in time,” she said. “It’s definitely a departure from where we were last year when we unloaded and were very quick, and really we made one run in each practice and everything was perfect. This is different, but it’s a different year and that’s what happens. That is why when y’all ask what you expect for the year you have to really get into the year to start to set expectation levels because this is very different than the last time. I don’t doubt everybody in their effort and their ability to fix it, so yeah, the bright side is that it didn’t happen on qualifying, it happened before and we will get something else in there, and we will do our very best.”
By changing engines, Stewart, Patrick and Bobby Labonte will have to start in the back of their respective Daytona Duels on Thursday night.
Defending Brickyard 400 winner Ryan Newman was the fastest driver on Saturday with a speed of 195.346 miles per hour, followed by fellow Richard Childress Racing driver and rookie Austin Dillon at 195.211 mph. Another rookie driver, Kyle Larson, was third at 194.734 mph followed by 2007 Daytona 500 winner and 2003 Brickyard 400 winner Kevin Harvick’s 194.721 mph. Casey Mears rounded out the all-Chevy top-five at 194.704 mph.
Single-car qualifications begin Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern Time.