Tech Talk · Mike Neff · Tuesday August 14, 2012
The Cup Series was in the Irish Hills of Michigan eight weeks ago and, in case you missed it, Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke his millennium long losing streak. As the series heads back to the two-mile oval with its fresh pavement, Steve Letarte is tasked with preparing the car for NASCAR’s most popular driver to try and make it two-for-two at Michigan International Speedway.
Unlike the old surface, where drivers could move from the apron to the wall to make their car work, the track is now practically a one groove race track. If the car isn’t working in the preferred groove, it probably is going to struggle to keep up with the cars that have hit on the setup. The tire, once again, is going to be different on this trip to Michigan but appears to be somewhere between the initial and the eventual tire that was used on the last trip. While Letarte and Earnhardt didn’t participate in the open test, they will have plenty of information from teammates to draw upon. Even though the cars are nearly running flat out around Michigan, the drivers do still have to lift, so the technology that we see at restrictor plate tracks still doesn’t apply.
With a tire change and two more months of age on the new surface at Michigan, the No. 88 team can’t just roll out the car that was so dominant in June and expect to dominate again. That said, Earnhardt’s driving style seems to mesh well with the big, sweeping oval and Letarte has figured out how to give him the feel he needs. Don’t count out the duo from back-to-back wins at the track.
Mike Neff: Obviously it is a special place for you guys after scoring the win on the last visit. Did you learn anything the last time that you are changing for this trip or are you pretty set after winning the last race?
Steve Letarte: I think we have a lot of good information to pull from. We had a test day there at the last race. We didn’t participate in the open test before this race. The tire has changed a little bit but it is kind of a middle of the road tire from the two they had at the last race. We feel like we have something that might work in the toolbox so we’re just excited to get up there and get going.
Mike Neff: Before the repave of the track you could pretty much run from the apron to the wall. It seems like, with the repave, it took away some of the available racing surface. Is it just going to take age getting back into the track before we get back to the wall again?
Steve Letarte: Yeah, it is going to be years before you get back up to the wall again. You used to run up high because there was a little bit more banking and a little bigger radius to the corners which was a little bit easier on your lateral load. Now that there is a tremendous amount of grip about one groove up, where there is the first groove with banking and that is where the preferred groove is. That is where you’re going to see the majority of your cars.
Mike Neff: Is the top not an option later in the race because of tire debris or is it just not an option because you can’t make any time?
Steve Letarte: It’s just the slow way around. You’re only out of the gas for just a second to a second and a half in each corner. You’re just not out of the gas long enough for running at the top to be an advantage at all.
Mike Neff: As wide open as the cars were after the repave, almost being flat out all of the way around, does any of your superspeedway technology transfer over to Michigan?
Steve Letarte: Not a tremendous amount. These cars have so much power. I really think people underestimate just how much power we lose when we go to a restrictor plate track. We have a ton, a TON of power when we go to an open track. Any time the throttle blade is closed, downforce is a priority and that is how you build your car.
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