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November 11, 2014

Luke Lambert

JENNIE LONG:  We're now joined by our final guest for the day, Luke Lambert, crew chief for Ryan Newman and the No.31 Caterpillar Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.  Thanks for joining us.
LUKE LAMBERT:  Thank you, guys, for having me.
JENNIE LONG:  Talk about your late race strategy going into this weekend's finale knowing that the first of the championship contenders to the finish line will be crowned champion.
LUKE LAMBERT:  You know, I think it's kind of hard to specifically lay out what that late race strategy is going to be.  It's going to be dictated by the cautions and the way the second half of the race unfolds.  There's a couple different scenarios that we see playing out, but the first part of the race we're going to do the best job we can to get our car up front and try to win, and keep that mindset in the closing stages of the race, but with keeping our eye on the other cars and what we've got to do to stay ahead of them, as well.

Q.  Just curious if you think that you guys not testing at Homestead puts you at a little bit of a disadvantage to the others who were all able to go down there and test.
LUKE LAMBERT:  Thank you.  That's an excellent question.  When we laid out our testing strategy for how we were going to use our allotted tests, we elected not to go to Homestead based on the fact that there was a tire test that was scheduled there where our company was going to be able to participate in.  We had an alliance car and a team car there at that test and used that opportunity to collect data and information that we needed to improve our package and verify a couple things for the Homestead race.
For us, we felt like it was more important to put our emphasis on a few of those races that would help it ensure that we had the opportunity to make it to Homestead, and I feel like that the things that we gained when we were testing there with the team car and alliance car are important, and as good of information as we would have gotten had we been there testing by ourselves, because even when you go test with your team and driver, conditions are never exactly identical to what they will be on the race weekend.¬† It won't be until we get all 43 real race cars there on‑site laying rubber down and the weekend unfolds that you'll get the exact conditions that we're there to race against.
I don't feel disadvantaged.  I feel like we're poised in a good position to perform based on the testing that we did.

Q.  Luke, has there been a lot of talk in the shop about the fact that this could be Childress's first title in 20 years?
LUKE LAMBERT:  That's a good question.  I mean, there's been a few comments back and forth, but honestly, I don't really feel like it's time for us to have this conversation yet.  Right now our focus needs to be on building the best race car, going through all the proper preparation steps to prepare the best car to get there this weekend, and plan the correct strategy, put together all the best approaches to the different sessions and then focus on executing.
We really just haven't been having those conversations about what this could mean for the company because I don't feel like it's constructive at this point.  I hope that next week we're able to sit back and have the discussion of the gravity of what this could mean, but right now that's not where we're trying to put our focus.

Q.  Let me ask something this way:  You've worked at Childress for a while.  What do you see out of Richard that you feel makes him a championship contender 20 years ago and today?
LUKE LAMBERT:  Well, you know, the cool thing about Richard is his personality and drive is what has allowed him to become the figure in the sport that he is today.  He came from somewhat humble background, worked hard himself to become a driver and to work on his own race car and take it racing when he didn't necessarily have the money to pay the bills to go do it, and he fought for decades to get to the level where he could contend for race wins and then championships, and that drive and fight that he has in him is what has kept him in the fight today and will continue to.
You know, I see him here at the shop very frequently, almost on a daily basis when he's not traveling to other obligations.¬† That never‑give‑up attitude that he has is a great example for all the employees here at RCR, and I just believe that that attitude is what has allowed him to still be in the fight for a championship this many years later.

Q.  I know that a lot will be left on the track when you all get there, and I just have this question about whether you feel like maybe at this stage somebody comes with a rocketship, a car that will dominate because they've just worked and put more of their emphasis into it.  How much do you think will be machine, and how much of it do you think will be, and it's only a guess I'm sure, will be battling it out almost equal and it will come down to the driver and the communication?
LUKE LAMBERT:¬† Well, you know, auto racing by nature is‑‑ it requires everything.¬† It requires machinery, it requires a team working and maintaining that machinery and adjusting on that machinery, and then it requires a driver to get the most out of that machinery.¬† This race is no different than that in my mind.¬† I think that all the race teams are going to be in true championship form trying to prepare their equipment, bringing the best equipment that they have, but I feel like that it's still going to take all those parts, and hopefully from our standpoint, we've done all the right things to put the best machine on racetrack that we can, and that machine be good enough to win the race, and it is going to be up to the drivers from that point to make up for the differences and get the most out of what they have to work with.
It's going to be a battle of mental toughness because at any given point throughout the weekend, each of the four championship contenders is going to be in a situation that's less than ideal.  That's one thing I can guarantee.  You know, exactly what that's going to look like and who it's going to be, I can't say, but the ones that have the best mental toughness likely will be the ones that rise above and make up for whatever situation is presented.  I expect it to be a pretty dynamic event to watch, and I think that the driver is going to have a huge impact, but it's going to be a combination of all those components.

Q.¬† We saw last week it really does come down to the pit crew.¬† The stress is on, somebody makes a mistake.¬† What do you tell your team?¬† What's the last meeting you have with them before you leave to go to Homestead‑Miami?
LUKE LAMBERT:  Well, we're going to have the same approach we've had all year, and that's that we're taking this one step at a time.  We got here because every week we've kept ourselves in the fight, and we didn't go to the third race of the season and make it to the Championship Round; nobody did.  And throughout the Chase, nobody could assure themselves a ticket to Homestead the first race into the Chase.  Because of that, we've just been having to take everything one step at a time.  We will not be able to assure that we can be a champion the first run of the race, so we don't put that pressure on ourselves.  What we need to do as a race team is to just focus on what's just in front of us, and for right now that's that Friday morning practice.  When the race starts, it'll be the first run of the race, and then for the pit stop guys it'll be the first pit stop they do.  So the thing that I'm going to emphasize with my group is we just take things one step at a time, look at what's ahead of your, focus on doing the best job you can at that, and then we'll take things the next step as they come.
When things happen that we don't want them to happen, it's important that you put that behind you and focus forward on what's next ahead of you.

Q.  It's a different kind of situation where finally you don't have to win a race.  From a crew chief's perspective, how does that change what you observe during the race and how you approach it?  Do you pay more attention to what's going on with the three teams that you have to finish ahead of?
LUKE LAMBERT:  Yeah, thank you, that's an excellent question.  I think early on in the race, you've got to go out with the attitude of executing the best that you possibly can.  That means make the car as good as it possibly can be and just try to take the same approach that you would any week trying to win a race, because the moment you let your guard down in this sport and one of these races, you can find yourself in trouble really, really quickly.
I don't think that early in the race it will be very important for us to focus on what the other teams are doing because even if, say, the other three competitors are all struggling a bit on the very first run of the race, you can be assured that they're all going to do things to make their car better and be improving what they are working with, and we need to be doing the same thing, whether we start out better or worse than them, because you just can't let your guard down.
For the first part of the race for us, for me as a crew chief and our race team, we're going to be focusing on our problems, the things that we need to do to make our car better, and to improve our execution, and then once we find ourselves in the closing stages of the race where we've done one of our final pit stops and you can kind of see the final run, run and a half, maybe two runs of the race, how they're looking like they're going to unfold, then we can start kind of racing against our competitors.  If the scenario were to be there where we were battling somebody that wasn't a championship contender for a win and everybody was comfortably behind you, this is not a likely scenario, but if that was the scenario, obviously you wouldn't take a dashing risk at trying to capture the win that might cause you to crash and cost yourself a championship.
But I don't see that being the scenario.  I see these four cars are all going to be on point, and I think it would be very likely to see all three of them, four of them in the top 5 at the closing stages of the race.  I will not be very surprised if the champion isn't the winner of the race.

Q.  What was your thoughts as you watched the last lap unfold last week, this past Sunday?
LUKE LAMBERT:  Well, you know, at the beginning of the lap, I definitely was not happy with the position that we had gotten in as a race team, and I felt like that maybe our strategy hadn't put us exactly where we should have been, and there may have been some things we could have done differently to be in a better position.
As the lap unfolded, I was just curious if it was going to be possible for Ryan to mount any sort of charge to be able to get door to door with the 42.  I guess maybe when it was initially happening, I was watching it on the Fan Scan and from a rooftop view.  I could see him get to his inside and I could see the 42 beginning to roll around, and then I kind of saw the contact, but I wasn't really sure if it was going to be able to keep us in front of him or not, and then I looked off of Turn 4 and saw him coming with us having the advantage.
I guess I was a bit in shock kind of just watching it all unfold, and then I was pleased to see that it was what it needed to be for us to transfer.

Q.  This has been statistically your best season as a crew chief, and I just want to know what this means overall for your race team, the team overall.
LUKE LAMBERT:¬† You know, I think that this is‑‑ I'd have to say this has been a huge year for us as a race team.¬† I've felt very blessed to have this opportunity to work with this group of guys and for us to have the time together that we've had over the years.¬† We've slowly been making subtle changes to the team, but we had a good season this year because of the work that has been put in on this 31 team over many years.
I'm very proud of all the people involved on the team that travel to the racetrack and then also throughout the shop because I feel like that it's taken years of hard work to have this opportunity, and I'm just very proud of everyone involved, and it means a lot to me personally to be a part of it.

Q.  You just seem to be considered the underdog given that you don't have a win yet this season and the other three teams have.  However, you've got Ryan Newman with considerable experience that certainly showed up in that final lap in Phoenix.  Do you think the way you guys raced your way into that final four, do you think that gives you a little extra momentum?
LUKE LAMBERT:  Yeah, I mean, I think maybe it does give us some momentum, but I would say that it's hard to argue that the 4 car doesn't have momentum, too.  I feel like that all of us have pretty fair stake in this Championship Round, and I feel like that the momentum that I feel for the 31 team is more based on the performance that we've had at this style racetrack.  Some of our best races have been on this tire and on this similar style racetrack.  We don't go anywhere exactly like Homestead, but we go to some other tracks that have similar banking angles.  For me, that's where I feel the most confidence is I feel like our setup package that we've run at these style racetracks has been one of our best.  We've struggled to get the results at Texas because of issues that happened in both of those races, but some of our best race cars have been at Texas on this tire, and then some other racetracks that I compare and consider to be similar, Kentucky and Chicago, were really strong races for us, and I feel like that's going to translate.
I really like where we're at as a race team going into this weekend.

Q.  The question really is from race fans that we talk to.  Being in the media, we hear this comment, and I guess it could be answered by any crew chief, but how in the heck do you guys keep up with the changing technology year after year and to top it off the rule changes that go with the technology?  Do you guys sleep at night or just lay in bed saying, well, how in the world am I going to take care of this?
LUKE LAMBERT:  You know, I think that racers, particularly at this level, are unique individuals, and we're all probably quirky in one way or the other, a little bit obsessed with technology in some way, shape or form, and we're all crazy about cars.  We're all kind of constantly driven to find an advantage, and I know myself when I'm reading Popular Mechanic or any kind of scientific journal or just watching Discovery Channel, I'm always constantly thinking, how could that apply?  How could we use that?  It occupies my mind, not because I feel burdened by it but because it's my passion.  It's what I love.  It's what I grew up wanting to do.
I think that a lot of people in this sport, engineers and mechanics and crew chiefs, have that mentality because it is their passion, and it's what allows us to have the stamina to do it for this 36‑race season, and that constant focus and mental concentration on making better race cars and integrating technology is what pushes these race teams to continuously get more advanced and to use more pieces of information and technology from all different venues, whether it's the computer side or the material science side or whatever the technology comes from.¬† You constantly see new things getting infused into the sport, but it's just because there's a lot of smart people that spend a lot of time thinking about it.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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