Working under the watchful eye of a NASCAR tech inspector, crew members scramble to try to
Sixth In A Series
Chuck Carruthers watched as the two busted-up MJ2 Racing cars disappeared into the attic of a team hauler. He sighed with disgust and frustration.
"I've never had a season like this," he said. "It's maddening because I don't know what to try next. Nothing we do seems to make any difference to the cars.
"It's obvious the teams that are doing well and know something we don't."
That's an unusual place to be for Carruthers, crew chief for the two-car MJ2 team competing in the NASCAR Grand National Camping World West Series. The veteran crew chief is traditionally the answer man for most other teams looking for advice on chassis challenges.
But not this time.
The recent change to soft springs and huge sway bars is all new to Carruthers and has put him in the position of asking questions instead of answering them.
"I'm calling everyone I know," he said. And everyone offers advice, but none of it seems to work.
After five races, Jeff Jefferson had a single Top 5 finish - a third at Phoenix - and had fallen to 10th in the standings. Rookie Jim Warn's best finish was Eighth in the season-opener at Roseville, California. He was 15th overall and Third in the rookie standings.
At Iowa Speedway, instead of unloading speedway cars with bodies shaped to take advantage
The team struggled at Iowa Speedway, where drivers from the East and West series met for a combined race on the circuit's fastest oval.
Warn's speedway car was trashed at Phoenix and its replacement wasn't ready in time for the trip to the Midwest. Jefferson tested his speedway car at the Iowa oval, but parked it into the wall before the session was over.
When MJ2 arrived at Iowa, instead of unloading speedway cars with bodies shaped to take advantage of the high-speed aerodynamics, the team uncorked a pair of pug-nosed Monte Carlos more suited for short ovals.
"I don't think it will make a lot of difference," Jefferson said as the car went through tech inspection.
He was right. The bodywork was the least of his problems. His short-track car is simply a bad car. It's something Carruthers refuses to believe.
"Racecars are racecars," he said before the season began. "They are just machines. As long as the basic platform is right, they really are all the same."
He says that as a man who has built dozens upon dozens of cars and has crewed for some of the top amateur and professional drivers in the nation. But it is an opinion not held by everyone in the business.
Fabricators building cars in the assembly line-like operations at places like Roush-Fenway contend each chassis has its own personality, created back when the first pieces of steel were fused during the car's creation. It may be the quality of the weld, the minute differences in the composition of the steel tube, or some other seemingly insignificant difference in the car's DNA.
It is the reason cars such as Rusty Wallace's "Midnight" become legendary while others end up one-race wonders destined to be salvaged for their parts.
The MJ2 cars were picked by Carruthers from Kevin Harvick's former Busch team.
Good car or bad car, it was the one Jefferson had to race that day. Stuck with chronic handling problems, he qualified a disappointing 28th. Warn, with an identical setup under him, started in the 14th spot.
"It doesn't make any sense, does it?" Jefferson said. "Basically the same car and drastically different results.
"When we test in the same car, Jim and I run almost the same times, but in this car, I'm always slower."
It didn't take many laps into the race for Warn's advantage to disappear. On lap 10 he was tagged in the rear by another car and spun coming onto the front straight, stopping sideways right in the racing line, with his teammate's car bearing down on him.
"For a few moments it looked like we were going to have a very short race," said Mike Warn, who is backing the team. "I thought we were going to take out both cars at once."