NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Tech Talk: Matt Puccia On Martinsville, Aero, And Tires For Texas

Matt Puccia has been on the pit box for Greg Biffle since the middle of 2012. He’s had success on Intermediate tracks with recent car configurations, and the team seems to be getting their hands around the new ride height rules and the myriad of options that opens up for them. He wasn’t as aggressive at Martinsville as some but he was able to put his driver at the point for several laps early in the race, which hasn’t happened many times for the No. 16 team.

In this week’s Tech Talk, Puccia talks about the tires at Martinsville and the ones they are bringing to Texas, the job the teams and drivers have in making their tires last, and what Goodyear shouldn’t do after the last three races. He also talks about the new ride height rules and how they get the side skirts down on the ground, compromising to get the spoiler to work while the center of gravity is as low as possible and the challenges of laying down a good lap in qualifying.

Mike Neff: *Martinsville was an interesting day for your team. You were near the front at one point, slid near the back and then soldiered on to an average finish. How did you feel about your Sunday at Martinsville?

Matt Puccia: I think the results showed we didn’t keep up with the track good enough. We had the car to beat around the 150-200 lap area. Our car was definitely a long run car. It would take 20-30 laps for our car to get going and the cautions in the middle of the race really hurt us. It seemed like their was one after another every 15 laps for a while there and it definitely took our car longer to get rolling than that. If we could have had some longer runs our results would have been better, it just didn’t work out that way for us.

Even though we didn’t get the result we wanted, Martinsville has been a track where we have struggled in the past and it was good to see the stuff we worked on, especially with the limited practice, paid off to get our car up front. Getting to lead laps at Martinsville is something that has always been a challenge for us.

Matt Puccia and Greg Biffle look to find a way to get their Roush Fenway Fords back in contention on intermediate tracks this weekend at TMS.
Matt Puccia and Greg Biffle look to find a way to get their Roush Fenway Fords back in contention on intermediate tracks this weekend at TMS.

Neff: The Goodyear representative told me they needed about 20 more degrees of temperature in the track to get it to take rubber and you could see that because all of the slag ended up piled up outside of the groove and not in the track. Throughout the course of the day did your tires where the same or did it get better like it does when the track takes rubber?

Puccia:Tire wear did get better, although it wasn’t great. It is what it is and I don’t think Goodyear needs to do anything with the tire there. I think it is a great tire. It is perfect. It offers a lot of what I was used to 10-15 years ago. When you went to Martinsville you had to manage your tires, it wasn’t just who could put on the least amount of tires during the day. It offered the drivers a chance to be able to manage their tires and the teams an opportunity to manage when they put their tires on.

NASCAR does a good job of giving you a tire allotment and that is what you are allowed. The teams have to manage those tires. It offered up some strategy on that end rather than the strategy being two or four tires. You’re pretty much doing four tires every time.

Neff: Completely agree with you. The last three weeks between Bristol, California and Martinsville, the tires have been great. There were some random blowouts at California, but the fact that tire management is being required of the drivers again is the best thing they can do. Hopefully they’ll keep it up.

Puccia: For sure. Goodyear has done a good job and I don’t think they need to make any changes. We are one of the teams that had a problem at California but I don’t think they need to do anything. It is something the teams have to manage and the teams have to adjust to these cars with higher speeds and loads and the aero package that NASCAR has for us, not Goodyear.

Neff: It was brisk Sunday morning at Martinsville. What kind of changes do you have to make before the race? Do you have to anticipate less grip and have to adjust to try and make more rear grip or do you anticipate increased grip so that you can take some of the weight away from the rear of the car?

Puccia: I was anticipating the track being a little freer than you normally see there. From practice I thought we would be tighter, which we were, but freer than if the track was warmer and rubbered up. We did see a little bit of that and the track did get tighter as the day went on; that is what we adjusted for from practice.

The biggest challenge with the cold weather is that the track doesn’t rubber up. That is something you have to take into consideration when you are making decisions, whether it is with camber, air pressure or whatever. The track is going to be more abrasive on tires so you have to be more conservative when you make decisions. All of that went into our decision making process and it did make it a little tougher on us having only 20 minutes of practice time just because of the limited time on Saturday.

Neff: Headed off to Texas for the debut of the Big Hoss HDTV and our third intermediate track, the surface is abrasive and will wear out the tires so we’re going to have tire management again. What challenges do you see as we head down to the Dallas-Fort Worth area?

Puccia: As you mentioned, tire management. This is a track where tires are worth something. I think the left side tires, just like California, are going to be a concern. I’m sure it is on all of the teams minds after the issues we saw at Fontana. Texas has always offered a little bit of strategy with two tire stops if it is early in the run. It is going to be a deal like California where the tires are going to be big and they are going to be worth something most every time. Managing tires and the number of sets you have over the course of the race is what it is going to take to be there at the end.

Neff: The new ride height rule was a big topic of discussion again this week and certainly will be in Texas too. The cars at Martinsville had the rear of the cars down far as well, in addition to the front. Several crew chiefs at Martinsville said that it has been that was all year, it just hasn’t been as noticeable since we’ve been on bigger tracks. Is that true for you that the rear end has been substantially lower than last year?

Puccia: I think it will be very similar to what we had last year when we head to Texas. It was interesting to see the creativity of all of the teams at Martinsville with their ride heights. Going to Texas I think it is going to be business as normal compared to where we were last year with what we have this year. You won’t see a whole lot of that coming into play on the single car runs as far as what that is helping as far as performance as much as what it is doing to help in traffic. You don’t have all of that spring trying to get the car back up to where inspection height used to be. So you can run the cars a lot lower so they aren’t as sensitive when they are in traffic.

We still have work to do there. It is a hard challenge to get these cars to run behind another car because they punch such a big hole in the air. I think the stuff thatNASCAR is doing is getting us in the right direction and I am sure they will keep working on it. It is definitely a step in the right direction and it will be interesting over the next few months to see how that plays out.

Neff: The side skirts at Martinsville looked like they were all of the way back down on the ground. Didn’t they change the rule last year to make that basically impossible?

Puccia:They opened up the side skirt rule a little more this year. They’ve lowered them a little and opened it up a little bit more than last year. It is a little easier to get those side skirts down. Teams are definitely doing that. It was a little more apparent at Martinsville just because teams were a little more aggressive with their ride heights there. They were trying to get their center of gravity as low as possible and that is what all of the teams were trying to do. It probably was more obvious there compared to last year just because of the change of the rules.

Neff: Bringing these cars down so far gets the spoiler out of the air quite a bit. Is it a balancing act between getting the center of gravity lower versus having the spoiler up there in the air to do its job?

Puccia: It is always a compromise there. Teams know where their limits are and they will do a lot of going back and forth to find their best balance. It is always a compromise with the aero balance to get the center of gravity as low as possible. Teams do a lot of testing in the wind tunnel to find that happy medium where there car needs to be in order to run well. That’s what they try and achieve when they go to the race track.

Neff: The multi-zone tires are going to be back on the cars in Texas. Have you been going over your multi-zone notes from last year to get some ideas of what kind of curve balls you’ll be facing this weekend?

Puccia: Yes, it has been a little bit of a challenge at some tracks for us, while it has been good for us at others. I don’t think it will be an issue. It is a great addition to what Goodyear has been doing. It seems to be a little more durable and lets the teams be a little more aggressive as the speeds have been climbing. It is a compromise for NASCAR to not take away a lot of grip, but still have a beefier inside shoulder of the tire to take the heat of more camber that the teams want to run. I don’t think it is a big issue, it is just something we have to adjust to a little bit.

Neff: The mandatory qualifying question of the week. The tires are going to fall off pretty well, is it going to be a one-and-done shot at laying down the fast lap or will teams get a chance to make multiple runs?

Puccia: I’d say no, but I said no before California and then guys went out there and ran faster on their second run than their first in the first segment. Texas isn’t as abrasive as California so, if you do something to cause you to not get the lap you want on the first run I think it is very possible to run faster on your second lap. I don’t think you can do it on the third lap but your second one just might pay off.

Puccia has led Biffle to a win at Texas as recently as 2012. The ride height rules are making things different for the crew chiefs but the ultimate feel of the car is the same. Puccia and Biffle have been together long enough that they both know what they want in a car to win on an Intermediate track. With the multi-zone tire, Puccia might be able to give Biffle an aggressive setup that will allow him to take it to the front and score a win to set his team up for a Chase berth.

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