Mike Neff · Thursday November 14, 2013
One year after clinching the Sprint Cup title at Homestead, Paul Wolfe and his No. 2 Penske Racing team return to hand the title off to another organization. Wolfe has enjoyed the first pit stall all year and representing the sport as the Cup winning crew chief, but the year as not the success that his team had hoped for. With one win and a chance to be the highest finishing non-Chase team the 2012 champs are heading to Miami with a goal of winning the race and preparing for the off-season with a ton of confidence.
Wolfe sat down with Frontstretch and spoke about last week at Phoenix and driving through the dogleg and the loads that the cars see there vs. the loads that will be felt at Homestead. He also touched on the lack of braking needed at the oval in Miami along with preparing cars for the upcoming test in Charlotte.
Mike Neff: Phoenix wasn’t as successful as you had hoped for but you did almost score a top 10 finish. How do you feel your weekend in the desert went?
Paul Wolfe: It was kind of up and down. Not exactly the result we were hoping for. It was a tough race with the way the tire strategy played out. We knew, going into the race that the tire strategy was going to dictate the result. At the end of the day, if one caution had fallen a little differently for us we may have had a better shot at it. The way the caution fell on the fuel strategy that we were on it just didn’t play out for us. I think the best car did end up winning, which doesn’t happen some of the times the way those races play out.
The 29 was pretty strong all race. The 5 showed some pretty good strength and the 48 at times. However, I felt like we were kind of in that fifth place range, as far as all out speed in our car, and I think she showed that when we were out front and leading some of the race. In the end of the day we just didn’t end up on the right side of the pit sequence and we ended up getting pretty far back there. It seemed like, once you got off of the pit sequence and got out of the top 10 the cars just drove really poorly back there, no matter who it was. We kind of found ourselves back there and we just weren’t strong enough to push forward.
Neff: Did the tires that they brought this year fall off, in terms of lap times, very much at all?
Wolfe: No, they were pretty similar to race one. They brought a different left side which was supposed to have a little more grip and a little more drivability. We may have seen a little bit of difference there. We had a smaller stagger than we had the first race which made us a little bit tighter than we were at the first race. We didn’t see a drastic difference from race one to race two.
Neff: They are still divebombing the apron on the back straight. Do you like that? Does it make it harder for you setting up a car knowing you have to build in durability to bounce across that transition multiple times?
Wolfe: I wouldn’t say so. Obviously it isn’t great to continuously do it. It is hard on your splitter and things like that but overall I don’t think it really hurts anything. The interesting thing about the track in general, when you stay on the track let alone go down across the apron, that section of the track is the max load. From that standpoint, you’ll find yourself doing things to your setup to keep your car from dragging or bottoming out through there. In the corners you don’t see nearly the load that you do on the back straight so sometimes you compromise things on your setup in order to not bottom out through the dogleg.
Neff: Now we’re heading to Homestead. While it is a mile-and-a-half track it is different because it is a true oval and not a D-shaped or Quad oval. When you approach a true oval like that does it change your fundamental thinking on the setup of the car because you don’t get the lateral loads through the tri-oval or quad-oval?
Wolfe: You definitely do see a small difference. Interestingly, there are some other characteristics that you see at Homestead that you don’t see at a lot of race tracks. We were just talking about the loads the car sees. At our typical Intermediate race track, you usually see your max loading of the car at what we call the 1/3 or right before center of the corner as the car compresses into the banking and your loads stay pretty equal through the remainder of the corner or they’ll die off a little.
At Homestead, what you’ll see is as you continue around the corner, the car seems to continue increasing in load, especially in the rear of the car where you’ll actually gain more travel past the center of the corner. Some of the things we’d typically do at Texas or something will act differently at Homestead the way the load carries around the corner. There are definitely differences and some things we’ll do to our setup that we typically do when we go from Texas to Chicago that we would do very similarly we don’t do at Homestead because it is definitely an outlier of a track. Even though we run the same tire combination that we ran earlier this year at Chicago we have a different setup at Homestead because of the load characteristics.
Neff: From a braking perspective is there a little more demand at Homestead because of the fact you’re going straight into both corner one and three than you do at a tri-oval or quad-oval you arc into turn one more?
Wolfe: It is very small. From Brad’s standpoint he doesn’t use a lot of brake. To honestly give you a great answer I’d have to look at the data. There isn’t anything drastic there that stands out to us that we have to adjust for. When you drive into one at Homestead, you don’t have a loading event like you do at Texas where we’re almost landing or dropping in hard to the banking. At Homestead, it is a gradual load up as you head into the corner and it increases as you round the corner. The braking part of it, we have not seen anything there that is drastic for us.
Neff: We’re back down South, although weather has been cooler in general this year. From an engine cooling perspective is there any concern at Miami or is it one of the lighter cooling tracks considering the time of year?
Wolfe: The one concern you have down there, as it will be a little warmer than we’ve seen lately, the surface is quite a bit older. The potential is there, like we saw at Fontana or Darlington, you get a lot of debris in your radiator that is either asphalt material or tire material, just from them wearing out. It is very important to make sure you pay attention to that and don’t clog a radiator up during the race or keep the debris and rubber build up off of your grill opening.
We’re always pushing our limits on all of that because there is a lot of performance gain from running tape on your openings. When you get to a track like this you have to pay close attention to that and make sure you don’t have issues during the race because there is no room for error there because the margins are so close.
Neff: The dirt cars just ran at Charlotte and most of those guys run a shaker screen in front of their radiators to keep dirt from building up on the radiator and reducing the cooling capability. Are you allowed to run a shaker screen and do you run one?
Wolfe: We do. Obviously ours isn’t visible but there is one. Most all teams run those inside the duct work to catch all of the big stuff that heads towards the radiator. Some of the stuff we see that can get into the radiator is really fine stuff so we have to filter that down because it can get into the core and that is where you can potentially see issues of it getting clogged.
Neff: Watching Phoenix last week, it is a mile track but it is still pretty high speed. You don’t have a right side window there. When you’re running speeds like you do there vs. Homestead where you do have a window, does it upset the balance of the car more because of all of the turbulence inside the greenhouse?
Wolfe: I wouldn’t say it upsets it more, but it definitely changes the balance. Having a side window in your car makes the balance different because there is more side force. It is quite a bit different with the side window in or out but it isn’t anything that makes it harder to set the car up. It is just an overall difference in balance. If you set your car up with or without a window and then changed it, the driver would notice a difference but it doesn’t make it any harder to set it up.
Neff: Did you test at Homestead a couple of weeks ago?
Wolfe: No, our Nationwide teams did. We had used up our tests earlier in the year. We have data from the Nationwide cars but we don’t have anything from our Cup cars testing there.
Neff: We’re getting ready to have another test hear at Charlotte next month to try and change the aero dependency of these cars. Have you had to build entirely new cars or is it primarily just tweaks to the aero package with the body panels?
Wolfe: As of right now, it is just modifications to what we have. There aren’t any major body change rules in effect. It could just be a different sized spoiler or a different sized splitter which are obviously just things that bolt onto the car. From the aero side of it, right now, they don’t have any major changes going on with any body panels or anything like that. There are also some ride height changes, which will open up the rules quite a bit in terms of setups or avenues to go down to try and get these things around the race track.
Wolfe and his No. 2 team are going to have a busy off-season preparing to go after a second Cup series title in 2014 and adjusting to whatever aero rule changes come down the pike. He doesn’t have any trips planned for after the season since the testing is still going on for next year’s car.
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