Rudy Fugle is off to a great start as a NASCAR Cup Series crew chief with the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team. Fugle and his driver William Byron won the third race of the season and are third in points as the series takes a break for the Summer Olympics. Beyond those highlights, Fugle is just enjoying the challenge that comes with his role in NASCAR’s top series, and how everything is harder. He’s also still getting used to the races being much longer.
“There are weeks I walk in, and I’m like, ‘Oh gosh, this is going to take forever,’” Fugle told RACER. “Five hundred miles at Atlanta is a long race. Six hundred miles at the Coke 600 was a long race. I can’t imagine doing it when they didn’t have stages because it’s like, OK, here is our first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter. If you did 400 laps without stages — a different world.”
It’s the only nitpick, if you want to call it that, that Fugle has with his new position. He and Byron, whom he had a previous relationship with in the Camping World Truck Series years ago, are chugging right along. Byron has the second-most top-10 finishes in the series, and this year is more about Fugle getting his bearings than needing to build a team.
Fugle took the job with Hendrick after eight years in the Truck Series, where he won 28 races and two championships. The two garages are “totally different,” said Fugle, and there are nuances he’s learning with how Cup Series director Jay Fabian oversees things.
“Obviously, how you inspect the cars versus the trucks is way different, so learning all those things – and things I didn’t even know you had to be legal for; things like that,” said Fugle. “You hopefully find all those things out before you go to the track, but those are differences. How many times you go through tech … for qualifying and the race, it’s always the same. You have to be fully legal, but sometimes you get checked for different things for pre-practice.
“The Cup garage, the car chiefs and the lead engineers have a lot more say in leading the team, so you’re able to lean on those guys who have the experience to help more than probably the Truck garage.”
Fugle isn’t afraid to lean on those around him. He’s done so with Byron in a help-me-help-you environment. It helps make Byron feel like he has a pivotal role in the decision-making process. Byron’s maturity since the last time the two worked together also goes a long way, Fugle says, with Byron much better at and more comfortable in giving feedback.
“I guess it’s more of an even relationship when it comes to knowledge, but we still work just as hard, and we just know how to talk to each other,” Fugle said. “I’m able to say whatever I want to say, and he’s able to say whatever he wants to say, and there’s no worry about I’m going to make him mad or sad or whatever. There’s none of that.”
Fugle manages more people on the team side and doesn’t have to be as hands-on as he was in the Truck Series. Fugle also has more engineers to confer with, and decisions are rarely 100 percent from Fugle, but a discussion. He has one engineer at the track and at least two back at the shop to provide feedback.
“I’m still learning a ton and soaking up more information than a lot of other people, but I think it took almost until May,” Fugle said of getting comfortable in the role. “Getting through the West Coast swing plus a couple of races, then you have a couple of short track races like Martinsville and Richmond, and once we got through that, I felt like, OK, I know how to run a road race, a superspeedway race, a 550 race, and a short-track race. Just some of the intricacies of things we’ll fight in Cup cars instead of Trucks or Xfinity, where I had more experience.
“But for the most part, I feel like we know what we’re up against — we know what we have to be good at, we know what William needs in these cars and just have to fine-tune those little things.”
That same type of mentality is how Fugle will lead his group into the final few races of the regular season. The last four races — Watkins Glen, Indy, Michigan, Daytona — probably won’t help with the playoffs, but they are places Fugle wants to collect points and add wins to pad any cushion they have. Fugle wants to keep Byron in the top three in points for playoff seeding and momentum.
“In the meantime, if we have a failure or a wreck at Daytona or something that we know it really doesn’t affect the way our car’s been handing, we know we’re not going to go to those types of tracks (in the postseason),” said Fugle. “The goal is, how can we set ourselves up? All the work’s been done for the playoffs; that was two months ago. We went to a bunch of those tracks. Now we just have to translate all those notes and information into how we’re going to be successful.”