Racecar driver establishes a rapport with his crew chief his first year in Sprint Cup after a stellar open-wheel career. Crew chief is reassigned halfway through their second season together. Racecar driver begins working with another crew chief … who is fired shortly thereafter. Racecar driver is irate, tells the owner such. Another crew chief slides into a completely unenviable position.
Step right up, Brian Pattie. Here's your big chance.
Pattie, a 32-year-old native of Zephyrhills, began his career at Chip Ganassi Racing building a fruitful Nationwide series program, guiding Jamie McMurray and Reed Sorenson to wins and former Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti last season in his first NASCAR campaign. Then Donnie Wingo was separated from driver Juan Pablo Montoya, and Jimmy Elledge was terminated. Pattie learned during lunch on a Tuesday that he was in charge, 36 hours before qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Montoya finished 30th then went Monday and Tuesday to Pocono Raceway for what Pattie said would be the most important two days of their season. A car that finished among the 12 fastest at the test provided some hope and a launch point. Those two days completed, Pattie discussed a turbulent few weeks after Montoya qualified 35th on Friday for today's race at Dover International Speedway.
So, how are things?
We're trying some stuff, and it's not an overnight thing for sure. We're going in the right direction as a team. We're working really well together. Juan's communication is really good. We're doing a bunch of testing, and we think we'll get the ball rolling, so hopefully (by the time of the July race) at Daytona, we can start hitting the ball hard.
How sticky a spot were you in considering Montoya's open criticism of Elledge's firing?
We had a sit-down talk, a little ''come-to-Jesus" meeting, I guess you'd call it, Friday after qualifying (at Charlotte). When it first happened, obviously, it was a big shocker to people. I called (Montoya) once the dust settled a little bit because we were trying to get ready for Charlotte and I said, "Hey, dude, this wasn't … I had no idea what's going on. I'm going to help you as best I can," and I don't know if he understood that I was 200 percent behind him and would try to do this right. I figure if I'm going to spend Sundays away from family, I might as well do it with 200 percent effort, and he feels the same way.
I think the more we practice and see the changes that I make and he sees that I'm not a jerk, that I've been doing this for a while and understand I'm trying to feel what he's feeling, we'll be all right.
Did you call Elledge or Wingo for advice on working with your new driver?
We (crew chiefs) hang out every day at the shop. I'm really good friends with all the crew chiefs. It's not like we lack information. Obviously it was a shock, and once we got past the chaos that went on, it'll be all right. Jimmy is going to be fine, I'll be fine. In the end it will all work out, but obviously, I hate to see any friends of mine get fired. Donnie, I've leaned on him since I've been here, so now he's going to get leaned on a little harder.
How much pressure is there working for someone who will make personnel changes, driver or crew chief, so quickly?
It definitely keeps you on your toes. You respect a guy who wants to get better and isn't okay with running mid pack. And neither are we, so if a chemistry change is needed — not saying that anybody is doing a bad job or is not giving the commitment — if a little spark is needed, he'll keep you from getting complacent.
Have you been told you are interim crew chief, or is every position interim in that race shop?
You'd have to ask upper management about that. I'm just trying to do the best I can with what I have. It's a big challenge for me, and I think its through the end of the year, but if Chip and Juan find someone else they would like, I'll do whatever the company needs. I want to win races. I think I can do that shortly. We're going in the right direction.