Mike Neff · Thursday July 11, 2013
Tony Gibson is leading Danica Patrick’s Cup Team through its first season of competition. Being on the top of the pit box for the second most popular driver in the series comes with a ton of pressure. With not just a rookie driver behind the wheel, but the most well known female driver in the last 10 years, he has to dot every I and cross every T to make sure that the cars are as prepared as they can be in order to give his driver every chance to succeed.
Gibson has been the head wrench turner in a national touring series in NASCAR since 1995 and has been around the sport of auto racing for much longer. While he’s not one of the most well known chiefs in the garage, he’s guided drivers to three Cup series wins and has 276 starts under his belt. With the series heading to Loudon this weekend, Gibson will be calling on all 18 years of his experience to get the car to roll through the center of the corner, come off with a ton of forward bite and lead the final lap to score the win in Loudon. Before heading to the Northeast for the weekend, Gibson sat down with Frontstretch to talk about last week’s battle at Daytona and this week’s challenge at Loudon._
Mike Neff: We’re rolling out of Daytona, how do you feel like your evening went at the World Center of Speed’s July extravaganza?
Tony Gibson: I thought it went really well. We had a really good car and ran up front most of the night. We had a great opportunity again to do really well. We got shuffled back a little bit on the next to last restart of the night and fell back to about 18th or somewhere around that. There at the end, her and Dale Jr, coming to the checkered they had got up to seventh and right before the line she came down a little bit and got clipped by the 38. It wasn’t his fault, we just came down on him, and we ended up 14th. All-in-all it was a good night We ran strong, the performance from the car and from Danica was good. Just a little mistake at the end kept us from a top 10 but I was proud of everyone and proud of the performance for sure.
MN: Okay, here is a question that I understand if you don’t want to answer. All we hear about when we go to Daytona, is that it’s all about the car and the aero and the driver doesn’t have anything to do with it. You have four guys at Hendrick Motorsports and three cars from SHR, and yet Jimmie Johnson could drive away from anybody he wanted to. How do they make their car that much faster, and yes it is just nano seconds, but it is still faster when everything about plate racing is so tightly controlled for everyone?
TG: Well, it could be fuel mapping. The ECU fuel mapping has a lot to do with your power these days. They could have been a little bit more aggressive on the fuel mapping, as far as the power goes. They could have been pushing the issue. He’s in pretty good shape in the points there and when you’re in his position you can take a little more risk with things like that. We’ve seen two to three tenths per lap just based on fuel mapping. It just depends on what kind of risk they’re willing to take. It could have been something just like that that gave him the edge to make him that much better. I don’t know car-wise that you’re going to find anything that is going to do anything that big. I’d say it would be in the engine department and the fueling mapping of the ECU that would show up like that.
MN: And when you say fuel mapping you’re talking about running the engine leaner, which makes it hotter but also makes more power and pushes the chance of it blowing up?
TG: Whatever makes more power. There are certain settings where you can richen or lean out certain cylinders and it makes more power. It just depends on how much of a risk you’re willing to take with it to generate that power. It is very easy to sit there and have three to four more horsepower than another guy, just based off of the fuel mapping.
MN: However, when you do that, you run the risk of your engine not lasting for the length of the race.
TG: Well it is a short race too. It isn’t a 500 mile race and it isn’t the first race of the year, you can take those risks. We didn’t do it because we have to finish races. We need to make sure we stay in the top 25 in points and other guys are trying to make the Chase and all of that so everyone else had a lot more to lose than they did.
MN: Now we head off to Loudon, a flat, one-mile track after you just ran on 31-degree banking over two and a half miles. From a broad perspective, rolling the center of the corner always seems to be the most important thing to do at Loudon. Is that how you see it?
TG: That is your biggest hitter at Loudon. Rolling the center is number one. The second most important is the exit of the corner and having forward drive. Third is the entry into the corner. That place has a tendency to be a little bit free getting into turn three but that can be managed by braking and other things. The main priority is going to the be rolling the center. Being able to get off of the brakes and roll with speed through the center of the corner.
MN: Some crew chiefs noted, when we were talking about Sonoma, that wheel hop can be exaggerated by the configuration of the rear of the car to try and get drive off, because that is where you make your gains out there. You mention getting off of the corner is your number two concern at New Hampshire. Do you risk generating wheel hop getting into the first and third corners by trying to get better drive off out of two and four?
TG: It isn’t as much as it is at a road course. At a road course, a lot of times, you’re trying to turn and brake at the same time so you’re unloading one tire more than the others. At a place like Loudon, a lot of times the guys are trail braking, so they’re still in the throttle a little while they’re applying the brake. It is also all straight line braking. Once you start to turn you’re off of the brake. That’s the difference between the road course and wheel hopping versus Loudon. Now you can still wheel hop, don’t get me wrong, if you have a lot of rear brake in it and things like that, but it is less likely to happen there than at a road course just because of how you enter the corner under braking vs. a road course.
MN: Loudon is a mile track and it isn’t the aero dependency that Daytona is, but there is always some dependency on the air. Do you build in more travel in the front of the car to get the nose down as fast as possible coming into the corners?
TG: That’s the whole idea. You want to get the splitter down as quickly as you can, because you want the transition of the car to be done by the time you get into the corner. You want it to be down and set on the stops and you want all of that to be over with. NASCAR gives us a quarter inch of variance in our heights between max and min, and we try to run to the min side to keep that transition under braking as quick as possible to get it settled down before you have to turn.
MN: Are you limited on the gearing you can run in your rear end up there? I don’t remember if that applies at all tracks or not.
TG: Yes, we have gear rules just like every other race track. They usually give us two options of gears. Same things in the transmissions. The transmissions we have a little bit of leeway there for different restarts and different size tracks and pit road speeds. The gearing, we’ll always have a low gear and a tall gear. They’re usually within 10 points of each other so there won’t be a huge swing in the options, but we have two everywhere we go.
MN: Getting out of the corner and getting the drive off, does it come down to driver preference as to the RPMs you turn when you come out of the corner to manage wheel spin or does it all come down to the engineers?
TG: The driver has a lot to do with that. You want to be able to roll mid corner speed so, the more mid-corner speed you’re rolling, the closer that gap is from minimum speed to maximum speed. It is like starting from a dead stop and mashing the gas, you’ll sit there and boil the tires vs. mashing the gas at 20 or 30 miles per hour.
The faster you can roll the center you’re already carrying more speed off so your chances of wheel spin are down because the wheels are already rotating and spinning. You’re not going from a dead stop to max, so that distance is closed up a little bit. The driver can change that a lot just based on how he gets into the gas. If he stomps on the gas or does he start part throttle in the middle of the corner and start feeding gas to it? Most of your good drivers they’ll start putting gas to it, whether it is at tip in on throttle, they’re trying to get back to the gas as soon as they can so that they carry that little bit of speed to keep it from going from stop to wide open.
MN: When you get to Loudon, what is your favorite food to eat?
TG: I like the boiled shrimp with the old bay seasoning on them. We usually go a couple of nights a week and get the boiled shrimp. That is definitely my favorite.
Tony Gibson may be under a ton of pressure because he’s trying to win in the Cup series with a rookie driver who has more spotlight on her than anyone since Joey Logano came into the sport. Then again, he may not be under any pressure because if his driver fails, many of the fans expected that. One thing is for sure, Gibson won’t take the easy way out. Gibson works his rear end off to put the best cars on the track and also to ensure the overall success of his team. If the 10 rolls into victory lane sometime this season, Gibson will have been a very big part of that success.
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