I’m still very upset over the issues that AJ has faced in the #44 car the last couple of weeks. So don’t expect a positive spin on what happened in Richmond Saturday night.
AJ started off the race weekend mediocre in the two practice sessions on Friday, and then somehow managed to pull out a 17th place starting spot in qualifying that afternoon. When he started the race, he didn’t make a huge advance forward, but rather a slow and steady progress through the first half of the field. He was fighting no grip coming off the corner, but overall was pretty happy with the car.
Working his way by cars one at a time, he managed to crack the top ten by lap fifty. The #44 PVA.org pit crew was on top of their game and got AJ positions on pit road each time he came in, and then AJ continued to pick off spots on the track. By lap 110 he was up to a race high position of 7th.
Unfortunately, a minor air pressure adjustment on a stop did not help AJ’s loose off condition, and other teams made their cars better. So by lap 165 he was barely hanging onto a top ten spot. Mike Shiplett chose to make a wedge adjustment to try and help with forward bite, only to have it backfire. Instead of helping the loose condition, the change made the car tight in the corner. With no grip in either the front end or the back, AJ was forced to simply hang onto it and steadily slid backwards through the field.
The team tried to reverse the wedge change on the following stop to get the car back to where it was, but apparently the track had changed by that time as well. Shiplett could never get the car back to its earlier top ten performance. A very frustrated AJ asked him to check with the other teams, but at that point none of the RPM stable was looking very good.
With changes in mind to try and help the no grip situation, Shiplett urged AJ to “just hang onto her” until they could get the car fixed up. At which point AJ came on the radio and said that for once he would like to have a car that didn’t just have to hang onto. Obviously discouraged by having a good car that went to crap, AJ managed to keep the #44 out of the wall and off the other cars he was racing as he slowly slid back to a disheartening twentieth position.
Every time the caution flew the team made changes on the car, but nothing seemed to help. And unfortunately, each late race caution put one or more cars back on the tail end of the lead lap. A couple of those lucky dog and wave around recipients had better handling cars than AJ at that point, and even the mediocre top 20 run he had going was lost. He managed to hang onto the lead lap and brought the PVA.org Dodge Charger back in one piece in 23rd spot.
I have to admit that I was very disappointed after the Atlanta finish, but the team struggled throughout the whole race there. What made Richmond even worse was that AJ had a good car at the beginning of the race. He wasn’t the only one who had a top ten car turn bad, but it is still the worst feeling to sit and watch, not to mention listen.
Obviously I’m not a crew chief or engineer, and I don’t envy the decisions that they have to make on top of the pit box. But I still can’t understand why it doesn’t seem to be getting better instead of worse. Something has got to change. I don’t know what, but RPM needs to figure some things out if they want next year to be a success.
Obviously the drivers aren’t in the same equipment as far as engine and chassis go, and superficially I can understand that they need to put all of their eggs in the #9 team’s basket. But if they can’t make the other three teams more competitive than they are, the information gained isn’t as valuable as far as the whole organization goes. Right now it seems like the only thing they are learning is what not to do.
All I can say is that somebody needs to figure it out, because I am so sick and tired of my driver outperforming his team that I could scream. He deserves better, and if I didn’t feel that way then I wouldn’t be a true AJ fan.