Mike Neff · Thursday October 24, 2013
Kevin “Bono” Manion continues to showcase his talents in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, along with turning the occasional wrench on an asphalt Modified. He has guided Martin Truex, Jr. and Jamie McMurray to victory, including last week’s Camping World RV Sales 500 with the No. 1 Chevrolet of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. Manion is a former Nationwide Series champion crew chief, having led Martin Truex, Jr. to back-to-back titles for Chance 2 Motorsports.
Manion is from Massachusetts, his career forever linked with Tommy Baldwin and Steve Park, who moved to North Carolina and roomed together as all three of them broke into NASCAR national touring series competition. His high-level racing career started at Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and Chance 2 Motorsports, moving up with the two Nationwide titles for Truex. The duo then came to the Cup Series, experiencing moderate success and made the migration to Earnhardt Ganassi when the organizations merged. On the box for Jamie McMurray since 2010, Manion has won four times with his current driver, including two of NASCAR’s most prestigious races: the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, respectively.
Manion sat down with Frontstretch.com this week to talk about the closing parade at Talladega, cooling more than just the brakes at Martinsville and whether aero is something to consider at the smallest racetrack on the schedule.
Mike Neff: I always like to start off with a review of the previous week and it is a pretty good one for you. How did the victory at Talladega unfold?
Kevin “Bono” Manion: It unfolded with a good car, good preparation and a good motor. It was a pretty good deal all of the way around.
Neff: Were you surprised that the last 15 laps pretty much turned into a parade?
Manion: Yes, I was a bit surprised; actually, I was really surprised. I was calling it the calm before the storm. Jamie took the lead, they all lined up behind him and they all got single file. I thought, “That’s kind of strange; they haven’t been single file all day long. Maybe everyone is catching their breath and just planning their move” with 10 to go, and then five to go, and it just never happened. Pretty surprised, but the car was really fast once it got to the front.
Neff: We’re now headed from the longest track on the circuit to the shortest track. Aerodynamics have a little bit of a role but nothing like they did this past week. Do you worry at all, going into Martinsville, about downforce on the car?
Manion: That is not a top priority. I’ve seen cars win there with no fenders on the front. The more we go forward, though there are definitely people taking better advantage of that or looking at that. It hasn’t been the number one thing in the past but, as we move forward, we might try some things in practice that would tend to help the aero side of it. But it seems like mechanical grip always outweighs it, so that will be our plan for the weekend.
Neff: It’s the second time at Martinsville with the new Gen-6 car. Did you face any challenges the first time or throughout this year that have caused you to come up with anything new for brake cooling, especially due to the car’s new configuration?
Manion: Y’know, the new car is a little lighter from last year so brakes for Martinsville and throughout most of the tracks have been a little more forgiving this year. We have designed a few different ducts because Martinsville is still one of the heaviest braking tracks that we go to. We’ve been able to maybe decrease the amount of fan by a little bit and a couple of small things like that. However, for the most part, it is still the biggest ducts that we can get and the biggest grille opening on the front. But there have been some shorter tracks this year that we’ve been able to downsize, for sure, from what we had last year.
Neff: I’m curious on cooling the cars at Martinsville. Last year, we heard from Slugger Labbe that keeping the car cool under caution at Martinsville is the biggest challenge since there is no air moving around when you’re going that slowly. Is that still your biggest challenge in cooling the engine?
Manion: For sure. We talked about aero a few minutes ago. We open the grille up a little bit more there for the safety factor of getting your nose beaten in, but the other factor is that pit road speed is so slow and the track is so slow so there is no air movement under caution. As a result, we have a pretty beefy engine fan, even though we’re weight conscious and one of the largest grille openings we’ll run all year for that one reason.
Neff: Last year at Martinsville, the undoing of Denny Hamlin’s championship run started due to an electrical failure. With the small track and the amount of time you are on and off the throttle, is there a need to run a beefier alternator than you run at any other track due to those conditions?
Manion: For sure. The most amp draw is at Martinsville among all of the tracks that we go to. There is one thing that we’ve done the last couple of years, which has been different from the past, and that’s add alternator cooling. So there is a duct in the nose for cooling the alternator, and it is one of the largest alternators we’ll run all year as well. We pay attention to amp draw quite a bit and try and take care of that little thing that is overworked and underpaid, so to speak.
Neff: You never hear that much about alternators until they go bad. Still on electrical stuff, do you run a bigger battery at Martinsville than you do at other tracks?
Manion: Nope, we run the same battery from soup to nuts around here.
Neff: Martinsville is always about keeping it on the bottom. Is there anything that anyone can do to make the second lane work?
Manion: No. (laughs) I’d like to say yes but, maybe on some restarts you can make a little ground around the top when they get all stacked up on the bottom. For the most part, though it is the bottom groove. You might find someone that can get up a little bit and make it work but not a full lane. Primarily, you just super glue yourself to the curb and carry on.
Neff: A final question about air movement. During the Late Model race a couple of weeks ago, Dillon Bassett broke an exhaust pipe loose about halfway through the race and had carbon monoxide poisoning by the end of the event. Do you do anything extra at Martinsville to help your driver avoid being overcome by fumes with the lack of air movement?
Manion: We do not. What we do, and most of the teams in the garage do, is they have air conditioner units that bring fresh air to the driver. Those units have filters. Some have CO filters, some do not. We do not run one. We do have a lot of blowers and a lot of cooling to the driver, along with heat resistant shields to keep the driver cool and comfortable.
Jamie McMurray has been on the pole at Martinsville but only has one top-5 finish in 21 career starts at the track. With Manion’s insight and preparation, though McMurray has a shot to go back-to-back after his successful weekend at Talladega.
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