Tech Talk · Mike Neff · Monday September 3, 2012
The regular season comes to an end this coming weekend at Richmond. Kyle Busch is in the thick of the wild card hunt and is heading to one of his best race tracks on the circuit, while crew chief Dave Rogers has one shot to make or break the title hopes of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Rogers is dotting all of his I’s and crossing all of his T’s to make sure the team has every chance to be a part of the 12 teams in the Chase for the title. He talks this week about testing, tire durability, having Busch as his driver and setting up cars to go fast or be comfortable.
Mike Neff: We’re heading to Richmond this weekend. It is the last race before the Chase and the whole Wild Card scenario is hanging thick in the air. Kyle is very good at Richmond, knowing the circumstances surrounding the weekend and what is at stake, how aggressive can you be with your setup and strategy knowing that if you go too far, you could knock yourself completely out of contention?
Dave Rogers: That is a great question. We won the last three spring races there, but we haven’t won in the fall, yet. It is a little different animal there in the Fall. We went to Loudon with a completely different package and really ran well. Kyle thought the front end was extremely positive and did everything he wanted it to do. So we’re going to Gresham on Monday to test our Loudon front-end versus our Richmond front-end and see which one he likes with the Richmond package.
Loudon and Richmond are a lot different. Richmond you need a lot of forward drive while Loudon you’re typically tight off. They’re different race tracks, but we’re going to run both front-end geometries across the front of the car and see which Kyle likes better for a Richmond style track. We’re bringing our car that we raced at Loudon so I know we have a really good piece. I am confident going in there. If there is a track on the circuit that you had to pick for your final race to determine your Chase fate, it might as well be Richmond for us.
Mike Neff: Testing two geometries on the front of one car, how much do you have to change to do one versus the other, without giving away any trade secrets?
Dave Rogers: We’re actually taking our Richmond backup car. It has our backup motor in it. All of the front end changes, there are a lot of them, are all preset. We set them all up at the shop last week so we’re ready to do it. It will be a 45 minute changeover for the guys but that is what they enjoy doing. They enjoy working on race cars, so it is no big deal for them. If we are up in the air we’ll stick with what we’ve had at Richmond for the last few races because it has worked well there. If Kyle thinks the new package is better, then we’ll unload with that but we won’t be afraid, if we’re not happy with the car in Happy Hour, to go back to Old Faithful because we know it can run up front.
Mike Neff: Our weekly EFI question because we’re still learning so much about it. Knowing how fuel mileage has become more and more important in races these days, do you go for more horsepower, knowing you need to get a win to ensure you’re in the Chase or do you go for more fuel economy?
Dave Rogers: We’re going to have to see how it plays out at Richmond. It can definitely be a fuel mileage race, we won a race that way not too long ago. That is a trade off because it is possible, if you take some fuel out of it, you can actually take out some bottom end torque and make your drive off last longer. Your car might drive better and you get better fuel mileage. We’re just going to take a look at it, when we’re there, and see what we think it is going to take to win the race. Usually, if we have a good car, we’ll bank on taking all of the power we can get and if they beat us on fuel mileage, so be it. If we feel like we’re a 10th place car and we feel like we’re going to need to steal one from somebody, then we might be more aggressive on fuel mileage settings and try to make it work that way. You just have to try and maximize your odds based on the situation.
Mike Neff: Like any strategy play, there are different ways to approach them. It seems like a lot of teams are approaching races with the road course strategy of looking at when the end of the race is and calculating backwards to discover the best time you can take fuel and make it to the end. Do you look at your fuel like that or do you approach it like you mentioned, take the best car and make them come take it from you?
Dave Rogers: The wave around rule has changed that a lot. Now people can take a chance and if they get caught a lap down they can just take the wave around and be back on the lead lap. In years past, if you pit as soon as you get a chance, you get caught a lap down and you’re in trouble. On a road course you can pit under green and not lose a lap. Richmond it is a big deal. You’ll see people short pit, not pit as short as soon as they get in the window, but as soon as they think they can suck everyone else into pitting with them. If you short pit and you lose a lap, and the winner stays out for 15 or 20 laps and you get caught you can take the wave around but now your tires have 20 laps on them and are really worn out. You have to factor in track length, tire wear, tire fall-off, all of that into it.
Mike Neff: The tires that Goodyear has been bringing to the track of late have been ridiculously durable. Jimmie Johnson ran 130 laps on his left side tires at Michigan and they looked almost new when they came off of the car. Does the hardness of the tires allow you to be more aggressive with camber settings in order to have better turning while abusing the tires?
Dave Rogers: We’re not more aggressive with camber settings because if you are, you still see the excessively high shoulder temperatures. If you get a lot of high temperature in the shoulder of the tire from leaning on it with too much camber you can blow it out. But you are right that, if you aren’t doing anything really crazy with the tires, they are very durable. I think Goodyear is in a tough spot. What we do is crazy.
We push every aspect of the cars to the limit. The tires, the motors, everything is on the edge. Goodyear is in a position where, if someone goes overboard and they have a tire failure, it looks bad for Goodyear and consumers question what they are doing. That is a bad situation, especially for a public company. So they have to bring tires that are, for lack of a better term, idiot proof. Don’t let us mess them up. Based on that you get a harder tire, a more durable tire, and it does impact your pit strategy. Looking forward to 2013, everyone is aware of the situation and NASCAR is doing a couple of things with the new body that is going to allow Goodyear to back off some of that and get more aggressive with their tires. I think we’re going to see some really great racing next year.
Mike Neff: Setting up the car in general, softer versus harder. Softer is a easier ride on the driver but it generally isn’t as fast as the harder setup. In specifically dealing with Kyle, do you have to focus on driver comfort or is he willing to be uncomfortable in order for his car to be faster?
Dave Rogers: Kyle is great about, “give me whatever is the fastest and I’ll deal with driving it,” and that is one of the many reasons you love working with him. He doesn’t really care how it feels as long as it is good on the stop watch. But he does have an amazing feel for a race car and he can tell you if something is too harsh that is going to turn a fast lap or five laps but isn’t going to be good in the long run.
The softer versus harder is really aero versus mechanical, so when you go to Richmond you’re going to be a little bit softer, when you go to Texas you’re going to be a little bit harder. You just balance that aero versus mechanical based on the track and the situation you’re presented with.
Mike Neff: When you set up for Richmond, you always hear about setting up for a race and building flexibility into the cars. With Richmond being so important and staying at the front of the pack crucial, how many changes will you have available that will take an extensive amount of time?
Dave Rogers: It is so tough to pass on the race track these days that you like to do a lot of passing on pit road. You build your car with adjustability, having spring rubbers in both rear springs and you try not to go all of the way down or all of the way up on the track bar, same with the wedge. But you do want to be close enough that you can make all of your adjustments with air pressure so that your tire changers and carriers can change the four tires and get the car off of pit road as quickly as possible. Pulling or pushing in a spring rubber can add ¾ of a second to a second and a half to the pit stop. That translates into coming off of the pit lane first or fifth. It is really competitive on pit road and you really don’t want to have to make more adjustments than are truly necessary.
There is no doubt that Rogers is going to be under the microscope at Richmond but he also feels supremely confident with the driver behind the wheel of his car and the confidence that Kyle Busch has when he heads to the ¾ mile track in eastern Virginia. Rogers knows that, if he makes the right calls, not only will they be visiting Victory Lane on Saturday night, but they’ll be competing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup over the final 10 weeks of the season.
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