Mike Neff · Monday October 29, 2012
Jason Ratcliff has been turning wrenches for Joey Logano all season. He led Logano to his second career Cup victory along with a fourth-place finish at Daytona in July. Ratcliff has a Nationwide championship under his belt, with Kyle Busch in 2009 and 2012 marks his first full-time season as a Cup crew chief. In our latest Tech Talk, he shared with Frontstretch the advantages of having the driver run Nationwide and Cup, how EFI can and cannot help with fuel saving, the effect of sideskirt adjustments and how racy the track is at Texas.
Mike Neff: We’re getting ready to head to Texas after running at very high speeds in Kansas thanks to the new pavement. Did you learn anything at Kansas that will carry over to Texas?
Jason Ratcliff: Kansas was somewhat unique because of the new surface. Goodyear brings a little different tire there, somewhat similar to what we had at Michigan. That tire we’ve seen a couple of times this year, the one we had at Kansas. It is different. I don’t know that there is anything we can take from Kansas to Texas. I do feel like we can take some things from Chicago and Charlotte. Those are two tracks that we did OK at here later in the season (seventh and ninth), for the one race at Chicago and the second race at Charlotte. I felt like we had a pretty good Home Depot car so we’ll take a look at those notes and go into Texas with a lot of optimism.
Mike Neff: Texas is in Texas, obviously. The weather is not as harsh as it is at other tracks. Has Texas stayed more consistent year-to-year vs. some of the other tracks that go through rougher winters?
Jason Ratcliff: Due to the weather, it has probably lasted a little longer, as far as the grip in the surface. It is slowly but surely depleting, though and the tire that Goodyear currently brings to Texas is a good race tire. It falls off well and the disparity between new tires and old tires makes for good racing. I think the grip level at Texas right now is optimum for really good racing, as well as the combination with the tire they bring. From what we had at Texas three years ago, I think it has definitely lost some grip.
Mike Neff: There have been quite a few fuel mileage races, especially in the last half of the year. I know you run two ignition boxes. Is it possible to program the ignition boxes separately to have two different ignition maps to affect your fuel mileage differently between the two boxes?
Jason Ratcliff: With EFI, we don’t have two separate systems anymore, it is one system. It obviously has some backups in case one of the sensors goes bad. There are so many sensors in the system — throttle position and air temp and oxygen senors and things like that — but there isn’t a backup box like we used to have. Early in the season, we saw some guys that had some failures. It’s not that the thing quits, it was just that early on we were learning about it and didn’t have enough experience with it. Now, I think, since we’ve had it for 30-some races, it seems to be a pretty solid system. Everyone has kind of figured it out now that we have some experience with the system. There isn’t anything you can do inside the cockpit to go from one system to a second one.
Mike Neff: Again with the EFI system, in terms of fuel saving, is there more you can do with the system to assist with fuel savings where it used to be up to the driver. Is there more you can do built into the system to save fuel?
Jason Ratcliff: You do it differently now than we did in the past now that you have a throttle body vs. a carburetor. Yeah, you can do some things with fuel maps, but it is still the ultimate compromise just like it was with the carburetor. For every tenth of a mile per gallon you’re going to gain, there is going to be a performance loss. It is always a compromise and what you’re going to compromise at Martinsville is different from what you’re going to compromise at Texas.
Our general rule of thumb is never give up performance. You just need it. Especially the way things shake out, you generally need to be able to go really hard on restarts because track position is very important. You need to be optimum all of the time. Saving fuel is still in the driver’s hands. What he does with the throttle pedal and what he does throughout the run, lifting a little early, waiting a little longer to get on the throttle. The concept is the same. You do have some tools that are different with the EFI, but ultimately it is the ultimate compromise of fuel mileage vs. performance.
Mike Neff:Joey runs a lot of Nationwide races and he’s pretty good in them. Generally speaking, whether it is at Texas or any track, are there pieces of it that transfer at all, are there pieces of it or does most of it transfer?
Jason Ratcliff: I think it does. As long as you’re at the same racetrack, there are things that transfer, but then there are a lot of things that just don’t. For us, I think the thing you can say we take away most from the Nationwide races is just seat time for the driver. He gets a feel of how the race progresses, how the track changes when it rubbers up or when it doesn’t. Him getting a feel for that gives him something to bring to us on Sunday morning. He can say “these are the things I saw on Saturday that we may fight as the track changes and rubbers up, and these are the changes that I was able to find on the race track, moving around to find different lanes as the tires wore out.” I think the driver benefits the most out of the Nationwide races but there are some small things that transfer.
Mike Neff: They cut about an inch and a half off the sideskirts throughout the year to where we don’t seal off the side of the car to the ground anymore. Has that helped at all to reduce the aero dependency of the cars and would some adjustment to the front of the car help things even more?
Jason Ratcliff: Absolutely not. It hasn’t helped anything. It has just taken downforce off of the car so it has just forced everyone to approach it differently. As far as aero dependency, you’re always going to have that. The lead guy is always going to have more air than the second place guy. I’m not sure what the answer is.
It’s not like you can make the second car a lot better. Anything you do to hurt one or the other, the lead car is still going to have the advantage. So until we figure out a way to take that advantage away from the lead car we’re still just going to keep chipping at it to do what we can to improve it. The sideskirts have definitely mixed it up and it has the teams thinking down a different path. You see a lot of different ideas and setups that guys are venturing into because of the long sideskirts, but I don’t think it has improved the disadvantage that the second car has.
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