The Frontstretch: Finding Speed Within the Rules at Talladega - Tech Talk with Bono Manion by Mike Neff -- Tuesday May 1, 2012

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Kevin “Bono” Manion hails from the Modified crazy Northeast and cut his racing teeth alongside Tommy Baldwin and Steve Park. He’s led teams to two Nationwide series championships and wins in the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400. He leads the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops team for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates for driver Jamie McMurray. He joined Frontstretch for this week’s Tech Talk in anticipation of the Cup series first visit to Talladega for this season.

Mike Neff: We’re getting ready to go to Talladega and thinking about how you make a car go fast on a restrictor plate track. We all know it is very aero dependent. Is there anything on the suspension side of things that you can do to get any kind of speed at Talladega or is it all pretty much dictated by the body?

Kevin Manion, crew chief to the No. 1 team, joins us for Tech Talk this week.

Kevin Manion: Sure, everything is speed: motor, body, even suspension. As much as you’d like to think ‘I don’t have to worry about the chassis setup there.’ You don’t have to worry a lot about it. They limit your rear spring, they limit your rear shocks. So on the front end you get your splitter set to what the least amount of drag is, and you learn that at the wind tunnel. What we do with the rear suspension—we work on how we can get the car to travel more. The height of the truck arms, position of the spring. It is somewhat limited by all of the NASCAR gauges, but there is still a little wiggle room in there. That is a few of the things we do in the back.

Also rear camber and rear toe, something you can do in the back of the car for more scrub on the tires. Basically scrub is the number one thing we look for in the front of the car. Toe settings, caster settings, every time that driver turns the wheel that’s speed, that slows the car down because it is scrubbing the tire. It also takes power assist, the power steering, so the horsepower loss is minimal but it is something you pay attention to. That is why sometimes, like at Daytona, you run a manual steering box now that the track is paved because you can manhandle it there and it isn’t bumpy there anymore. The front suspension, we look to get the tires to turn and have the least amount of drag or scrub in the tires.

Mike Neff: A while back there was a story that came out that the Hendrick teams painted their cars for superspeedway races because there was drag created by the edge of the decals. Do you guys mess with painting or do you decal, or is everything wrapped these days so that it is smooth from the wraps?

Kevin Manion: Well, our cars are also painted. I know the No. 42 is fully painted letters, numbers, all of the sponsors, but their paint job is definitely easier. Ours, with the camo, it is kind of hard to paint. What we do, they use a decal material that is a lot thinner. The car spends upwards of four days in the paint shop just painting, clearing, wet sanding, clearing, wet sanding, to get it completely smooth. Is there a drag advantage? I don’t know of anyone at our company or anyone that I know of who has actually gone to the wind tunnel and proven that, but if you think about it, common sense would say that if you make something sleek and look good with no edges lifting up, strictly for drag purposes you’d think it would be better.

Mike Neff: You mentioned earlier that NASCAR has you in a tight box as far as the rear end goes. What are the parts that they limit and do they actually give them to you or does it depend on the part?

Kevin Manion: You have an option of rear spring. They give you the rear shocks, actually you buy them but they hand them to you. You buy the rear springs as well and they hand them to you. Then there is locations, spring location, rear end location. That is plus or minus a go/no go gauge that is plus or minus a quarter inch or so and 70/1000ths of an inch on the spring hat and perch. They mandate the size of the perch. It is a fairly tight box but there are still a few tricks of the trade that you can get done under there.

Mike Neff: There has been discussion this weekend, because of the noses of the Childress and Turner cars being cut off thanks to the ol’ ‘it doesn’t look right’ violation. When you guys work with the templates, and specifically the area between the templates, is there any kind of an idea what you can and cannot do before you’re going to fail the ‘eye test’?

Kevin Manion: Well the ‘eye test’ might look good to you but looks bad to them y’know? You generally know the areas that you can and can’t mess around with but it still makes you awfully nervous any time you go to Daytona or Talladega. Here at Richmond it was surprising to hear them come down that hard on Nationwide cars. At least cutting noses off is a pretty hard decision. I’m not totally sure what happened over there but I’ve been in a situation like that before where something didn’t fit or look right. They end up confiscating the part and pieces or, in my case, the whole car. It is a slippery slope that we try and maneuver down and it is unfortunate that—in NASCAR’s eyes—it is fairly clear. You’re not supposed to do this and you’re not supposed to do that but, as competitors looking for a slight edge and so on and so forth, it is a hard question to answer the eyeball test. It is no fun.

Mike Neff: When you get ready to go to Talladega do you worry about fuel mileage? I know you want to squeeze everything out that you can but are there settings with the new EFI system that will allow you to get better fuel mileage down there?

Kevin Manion: Absolutely, it is a little more controllable. There are some things you can do. As far as a Speedway race, when your pedal is to the floor the entire time maybe not. Both of the Speedway races generally don’t come down to fuel mileage although they have in the past. I’ve been the product of one less stop than the other manufacturers. With this EFI it is a lot closer for all of the teams. And with fuel you just pit with the group you’re running with. So that is what you need to do, you need to have a partner, you need to be in a group. You can’t be the guy who says ‘I’m going to stay out and do it by myself’ because speed wise you are just off way too much.

Mike Neff: Throttle response is always the discussion when you’re dealing with plates. With the EFI system, can you set it so that the instant you let off of the gas it will slow the engine more dramatically than a carburetor?

Kevin Manion: There are engine brake settings that you can set. I know Talladega is next week but I haven’t looked at the engine side of it, yet. That is part of our Tuesday meeting. The driver, when he’s in the draft, will have to either use the brakes or let off the gas pedal. That is a good point—that when he let’s off of the gas you can have the engine brake turn on. And that is something you can calibrate with just a few strokes of the keys on a computer. You can have it turn on at certain throttle positions or certain RPMs. It is quite tunable, for sure. I don’t think we’ve reached our full expectations of what we can do in there, yet. There is still a lot to learn and a lot of different settings you can utilize for sure.

Manion and McMurray’s first restrictor plate race of the season was less than stellar with the No. 1 Chevrolet ending up in the 31st position, 14 laps shy of the race distance after a crash. McMurray has long been a good plate racer, and Manion has worked with some of the best plate crews and cars in the business, so this coming weekend in Talladega could be a big shot in the arm for the organization. Manion will also be working on his side project when time provides, getting a modified ready to run during the New Hampshire race weekend. Last year they won the race but failed post race inspection with Ryan Newman behind the wheel. They’ll be trying to redeem themselves this season.

Contact Mike Neff

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