By: Ashley McCubbin
After spending last season with Roush Fenway Racing, Luke Lambert moves to JR Motorsports to chase a NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship with Noah Gragson. The veteran recently shared his thoughts with NEWS FROM THE PITS entering the year.
ASHLEY MCCUBBIN: What are your thoughts going into Daytona next weekend?
LUKE LAMBERT: Excited to get going, getting the season started off with the 9 team and Noah. Excited about what we can do this year, and we’re just excited to get to the race track.
ASHLEY: What has the transition been like to JRM from Roush Fenway?
LUKE: I’ve enjoyed it. definitely been things to get up to speed on with the type of racing we’re doing in Xfinity compared to some of the recent cup stuff, but a lot of stuff is very familiar to me from different times in sport from Cup and even back in the Xfinity days.
It’s been fun with this new challenge and I’ve enjoyed getting to know my new team. There’s a lot of good guys here on the 9 team, and then throughout the company. it’s been nice and refreshing to get to know these people and excited for the future.
ASHLEY: What was the reason behind the decision to make the switch to not only JRM, but from Cup to Xfinity?
LUKE: It’s a great question. For me, I really wanted whatever my next step to me to be the one that gave me the opportunity for the most success, and by that, I mean winning races and running for a championship. This opportunity seems special. Noah has a lot of potential and I’ve watched him over the last few years as he’s progressed.
The opportunity to work for him was nice, and to be with the pedigree of a race team like JR Motorsports in this series is another big piece of that. I think all the pieces are here for a top-level run for the championship, and for me, that was what was most important. Whether it was Cup or Xfinity, it was important to me to be on a team that had a chance to win a lot of races and a championship.
ASHLEY: You spoke about Noah and the type of driver he has been. What has stood out as you’ve gotten to know him, and then what you’ve seen of him previously before starting this relationship together?
LUKE: Previously before I met him, I just watched on-track and watched him be aggressive, and excel at a lot of tracks that are driver’s tracks – where it means a lot for a driver to excel in low-grip situations; so that impressed me a lot.
Then since I’ve gotten to know him, I’ve been encouraged by just his confidence level in itself, but it comes with a lot of humility and he’s young and he has a lot of energy, but he’s really also focused on working hard and using all the resources that are available to us and important to perform at the level we expect to perform at. The work level that he has is great, and it has me excited in seeing he has what it takes to be successful and have a good time doing it.
ASHLEY: What track are you most excited to get to this season with Noah?
LUKE: Well, oh man, that’s hard to say because there’s a lot of special ones. Right now, I’m most excited to get to Daytona as that’s the next one. The short answer is whatever track is next. There are a lot of special ones on the schedule for me. I’ve really always enjoyed going to Bristol; it’s been a special place for me since I was a kid.
Martinsville is the same way, but I’ve had some really special times at Phoenix, any of the race tracks. I’m just excited about all the ones coming up and getting out there and starting to work together.
ASHLEY: What are the goals and expectations for working this season with Noah?
LUKE: I’ve got certain expectations that I think we’re capable of. I think right now the main thing that I am trying to stress is we have to take it one step at a time. So right now we have to focus going to Daytona, and running well, and then we’re going to take it to Fontana and onward. Our initial goal as a team right now is to consistently put ourselves in the top-five each week and capitalize on our first win as a team this year.
Once we’ve knocked down that goal, then we can go from there. but my expectation is start to the season out in that mode, and build from there, and take it one race at a time. We want to run for the title at the end of the year. We feel like we’re capable of that, but before we do that, we have to focus on the next race which is Daytona.
ASHLEY: A lot of people see a crew chief’s role at the track, but not what happens through the week. How do you go about preparing for a race weekend?
LUKE: It’s a very broad set of responsibilities, that starts with the details in how the car gets built, focusing on race engineers and using all the technical data that we have to come up with a set-up and use the simulation tools, and then follow through with the execution of building the car. Then there’s also working with the pit crew guys, which in the Xfinity Series, a lot of pit crews are Cup level guys that come down and work with the team so the crew chief doesn’t spend as much time. But really, just working on all the pieces that are required for a team to execute at the track.
But what you see at the race track is the execution of everything that we’ve practiced and prepared for all week. If you watch a football game or basketball game, the things that happen on the court are developed through practice and planning. All that is what allows that to happen, and racing is no different. The preparation of the work we do at the shop in preparing the car and how we’re going to execute at the track si the most important part. Then we just have to close it out when we get to the race track.
ASHLEY: How did you get your start in racing?
LUKE: As a kid, my dad used to take me to the race track as a race fan and just learning more about cars with him sparked an interest to get involved and compete myself. We went racing together when I was young in racing go-karts with my dad, and one thing led to another and I wanted to find a way to have a career.
ASHLEY: Was crew chiefing always something you wanted to do, or did it just come about over time?
LUKE: I would say that when I was really young in my teenage years, I really focused on trying to become a driver. as I got older and went to college, I became more interested in the crew chief path. I felt it was a better opportunity for me and from the time I was 19-years-old, that’s what I’ve been working for.