MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Feb. 6, 2018) – If there’s a positive slogan on hand just for the No. 1 OneMain Financial Chevrolet in 2018, it might well be “third time’s the charm.”
The last two seasons, the team and driver Elliott Sadler have gone to the last laps of the championship race with a title squarely in their sights only to be turned away both times. It’s a situation that everyone—from crew chief Kevin Meendering to Sadler to every crew member—is constantly aware of, and a situation that, if the group has anything to say about it, will be rectified this year in Florida.
The Keys to the Championship for the No. 1 team are pretty simple: keep doing what they’ve been doing the past two seasons and find a way to seal the deal at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
Here are five Keys to the Championship for the OneMain Financial team in 2018:
AVENGING MIAMI, PART II: Sadler did everything right leading into Homestead. He earned stage points at a prodigious rate, won the inaugural Regular-Season Championship and stayed the course during the six races leading up to the Florida finale. Had it not been for some on-track haggling with fill-in driver Ryan Preece in the final laps, Sadler might well have come up roses last season, but teammate William Byron finished ahead of him and claimed the NASCAR Xfinity Series title, leaving Sadler a sick second for the second straight year.
“I guess we’ve got to figure out a way to finish better at Homestead,” said Meendering, with a laugh. “I feel like we had a good season. We didn’t win any races, and obviously we’d like to win races. If we didn’t reach a goal last year, I’d like to say we want to win more races.”
WORKING THE PLAN: Before 2017 even started, Sadler and Meendering sat down and planned their strategy for getting back to the title race. That plan—to earn every point possible via the stages and claim the regular-season champion bonus (15 points)—worked to perfection. Sadler entered the seven-race Playoff with plenty of points to manage, and he easily qualified for the title race to set up a challenge for the overall crown.
“I hate to say this, but every race comes down to Homestead now,” Sadler said. “I think I said this a lot of times last year, but our whole season is about Homestead. Our goal is to win a championship...to do that you have to run well at Homestead. Getting stage races and the points, all that sets you up for that. That’s a small building block that gets you to that goal and that chance, but it doesn’t play out like that at Homestead.”
Meendering agreed, citing two straight years of Final Four appearances. “Last year I felt like we performed a lot better there (at Homestead) and put ourselves in position to win the championship, and that’s all we can do really.”
CONSISTENCY: Consistency has never been a problem for the No. 1 team at JRM. Over the past two seasons, Sadler has made 66 starts in the NXS and earned 26 top-five (including three 2016 victories) and a whopping 54 top-10 finishes. That latter stat computes to 81.8 percent of his finishes in two seasons were 10th or better, and his top-five percentage was nearly 40 percent. That is consistency with a capital C. The only thing missing from the 2017 resume was a victory, but it wasn’t like the team did not have opportunities to win. Sadler had Darlington in the bag until a late restart, and there were other races where he challenged for victory but was denied. Keeping that level of performance is paramount for Sadler, Meendering and the rest of the No. 1 team in 2018.
NEW PIT RULES: How NASCAR’s new pit crew restrictions play out will be a major component of 2018 for all teams. The new rules trimmed one member of the team from weekly travel, and that is usually the interior mechanic who doubles as the tire specialist. The No. 1 team has all of its key players back, including car chief Tyler Jones and engineers Adam Wall and Kevin Walter. Danny Earnhardt Jr. and Jeffrey Schmidt are back as the main mechanics, too. How pit stops will be handled is anyone’s guess prior to Daytona, but that will be a key to race strategy for Meendering. In all likelihood, pit stops will be slower in 2018, given the standardization of each team’s tire guns and the new personnel rules, at least until the specifics are tested under fire. Getting on and off pit road will be a key for the No. 1 team, as it will for every other team on pit road.
“It makes everything more difficult,” Meendering said. “It’s just trying to overcome those deficiencies of having fewer mechanics traveling on the road, less guys working on the car, fewer mechanics. That’s the biggest challenge that we’re going to have, fewer people working on the car and limiting mistakes.”
That said, Meendering did mention the fact that he has his entire team back, and that should help a lot. “We have a great team, and we managed to keep all of our guys,” he said. “That’s going to help us the first five or 10 races of the season when everyone is trying to get acclimated and figure out their jobs. I feel like we should be able to hit the ground running.”
BODY DOUBLE: After a season with new aerodynamic rules, NASCAR again moved the goalposts with the introduction of composite bodies for all races except those at Daytona and Talladega. Along with that change, NASCAR’s introduction of the Hawkeye scanner system for body regulations will be a fluid situation until the teams—and NASCAR—figure out all the bugs that can be expected with any new machine or inspection procedure.
“It’s essentially going to be the same as it was when they introduced the Laser Inspection Station,” Meendering said. “It took everybody a few races to get used to it, but a few races into the season, nobody will talk about it anymore. Guys aren’t going to get through it, guys will miss qualifying...you don’t see that as much in our series. I don’t expect it to be a huge deal.”
Article by: Ron Lemasters | JR Motorsports
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