Race day obviously is the most important day of the week for NASCAR teams, but Tuesday is a big day on the calendar, also.
Most teams, including Trackhouse Racing, schedule debriefing sessions for Tuesday. It’s the only day of the week that all of the team’s top-level personnel – drivers, crew chiefs, engineers, management – gather in one room to go over the results of the previous race weekend and to look forward to the next one.
It’s a time to briefly underline the good things and, more importantly, to take a closer look at moments that might not have been so impressive – the idea being to make improvements both big and small so that victory chances the next weekend expand.
Much of the progress that comes from those meetings can be seen in results sheets from the 2022 season: Ross Chastain (two wins, 15 top fives, second in points) and Daniel Suarez (one win, six top fives, 280 laps led and advancing to the second round of the playoffs). The big action happens on Sundays, but a lot of the work can be traced to Tuesdays. And to things that might look small but can be very big.
Tony Lunders, Trackhouse Racing’s competition director, usually is the debriefing leader. Darian Grubb, technical director, also is in attendance, and team owner Justin Marks often attends, along with crew chiefs Phil Surgen and Travis Mack and, of course, drivers Chastain and Suarez.
Although Lunders runs the meeting, he stresses that it isn’t his show.
“I’m there to kind of promote discussion. I’d rather pull the cord and let those guys talk. If things get slowed down or stale, I try to move it along.”Tony Lunders
The focus of the meeting, Lunders said, is to learn from the past weekend, to analyze what went right and what went wrong, and to move on to the next race with knowledge gained.
“It’s a recap of the race, but it’s really trying to prompt conversation among the groups,” he said. “We want to make sure the teams are aware of what the other team is fighting, what issues they might have had during the weekend, what they did to solve those issues.
“We kind of poke the drivers a little. They’ve had a day to sleep on it. What are other details they’d like to add to the pile? We give the crew chiefs and engineers chances to ask those guys more questions, to push the conversation along. We want each team to learn from the other.”
Surgen said 95 percent of the meeting typically involves a review of the race just past. “The format of the meeting has kind of changed over the years,” he said. “Often we’ll start with a quick recap of practice and qualifying. There’s a quick review of that, then we’ll jump into the race.
“We want to hear from the drivers about the handling of the cars, whether there’s anything notable about that or about what happens on pit road, getting in and out of the pit box, the pit crew performance. Then the other part is from the perspectives of the crew chiefs and management and what they saw and want to discuss.
“Often the focus of the meetings becomes the things we can improve on, whether it’s mistakes, a missed call, a bad pit stop, whatever it might be. We don’t go too deep into what we did good. That doesn’t provide a real opportunity to do things better.”
Mack said some of the information that makes the discussion list during the debrief already has been batted around by team members on Sunday and Monday. It’s part of the natural environment of post-race.
“Everybody’s been talking on the plane home Sunday night and Monday at the shop,” he said. “But Monday gives everybody a full day to kind of calm down and regain our thoughts. Tuesday we get the whole unit together to discuss what we could have done differently and better. It’s a way for us to get together and put a final exclamation point on the weekend and move on to the next week.”
The meeting typically lasts an hour or an hour and 30 minutes, and all participants confirm that there are no doughnuts, no Danish rolls and no coffee. “We try to avoid any type of ‘doughnut opportunities,’ ” Mack said.
This is a healthy team.
According to Lunders, Chastain and Suarez – and, for that matter, all meeting participants – are encouraged to be open and blunt with their comments.
“I think that’s the time for that,” he said. “It’s a relatively small group of people, and they, especially the drivers, are fairly blunt. That’s the place where you’d want that. You wouldn’t have some of these conversations in front of a larger group or different audiences. We try to promote them being really open with their comments, as long as it’s constructive.”
Lunders said the meetings are not necessarily different after a weekend victory.
“Not as much as you would think,” he said. “And that’s partially because one of the teams lost. One team won, but the other one still didn’t achieve their goal. So there’s always something to learn. The mood might be a little lighter or a bit different, but we still have a lot of stuff to go through. It’s back to business.
“We come back down to earth pretty quick. A lot of times the celebration is over by the time the plane lands back home. In this business, there’s another always race coming. You have to switch gears pretty quick.”Tony Lunders
Lunders said changes sparked by the debrief typically don’t happen in the next few hours or even the next few days. The process continues to evolve with new information.
“A lot of times it’s about getting information that puts us on another path or gives us some homework to do coming out of there,” he said. “You might not be able to solve it in a moment. A lot of times it’s just us taking notes and going to work on stuff that comes out of there.”
In the end, said Marks, daily improvements in the shop and concentration on lessons learned from previous races will be seen on Sunday afternoons.
“One of the things I talk a lot about is controlling the things we can control,” he said. “That’s our preparation, our cohesiveness as a group and how hard we work. I think if we continue to focus on those fundamentals, the results will take care of themselves. That’s where the results came from last year -- putting really talented people in positions where they could succeed.”
And on Tuesdays, those people gather in a group to pick apart the previous race day, work through whatever changes that process might produce and begin targeting the next Sunday.